A Usonian Automatic Home in New Hampshire

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A "Usonian Automatic" House

Driveway to decorative concrete home, clerestory windows, wooded landscape
The Toufic Kalil home by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photo ©Jackie Craven

Frank Lloyd Wright used the term Usonian Automatic to describe the design of economical Usonian style houses constructed of modular concrete blocks. The home of Dr. Toufic H. Kalil in Manchester, New Hampshire illustrates Wright's creative use of this inexpensive material.

Typical of Wright's Usonian style, the Kalil house draws its beauty from simple, linear forms rather than ornamental details. Symmetrical rows of rectangular window openings give the heavy concrete a sense of airiness.

The Kalil house was designed in the mid-1950s, near the end of Frank Lloyd Wright's life. The house is privately owned and not open to tours.

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Usonian Floor Plans

Side yard, wooded lot, one-story concrete home
The Toufic Kalil home by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photo ©Jackie Craven

Usonian houses were always one story, with no basements or attics. The interior rooms formed a linear arrangement, sometimes L-shaped, with the fireplace and the kitchen near the center. Perched on top of a hill, Frank Lloyd Wright's Kalil house appears to be larger than it really is.

Frank Lloyd Wright called homes like this "automatic" because they used preformed concrete blocks that buyers could assemble themselves. The blocks were usually 16 inches wide and 3 inches thick. They could be placed in a variety of configurations and secured using a "knit block" system of steel rods and grout.

The floor was made of concrete slabs, typically in a grid of four-foot squares. Pipes carrying heated water ran beneath the floor and provided radiant heat.

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Sheltered From The World

Carport and front door of the Toufic Kalil Home by Frank Lloyd Wright
The Toufic Kalil Home by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photo ©Jackie Craven

Frank Lloyd Wright believed that the home should provide an escape from the world outside. The entry door of the Kalil house is set in a nearly solid wall of concrete block. Light filters into the house through narrow windows. The windows, wall openings, and embossed insets in the concrete blocks make the masonry seem light and airy.

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Narrow Windows

Clerestory Windows and Concrete Block, Frank Lloyd Wright's Design for the Toufic Kalil Home in New Hampshire
Clerestory Windows and Concrete Block, Frank Lloyd Wright's Design for the Toufic Kalil Home in New Hampshire. Photo ©Jackie Craven

The Kalil house has no large windows. Light filters into the house through high clerestory windows and fixed glass inserts set into the concrete blocks. Some of these glass panels have been converted into casement windows to provide more modern ventilation.

This detail also shows Wright's use of the mitered window on the upper level. Notice the windows at the corners—there is no window frame on the corner. Wright insisted to his construction team that if they would miter wood, they could miter glass. He was right, and his design provides an uninterrupted 180° view of the surrounding wooded New Hampshire landscape.

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Open Carport

The Toufic Kalil Home by Frank Lloyd Wright
The Toufic Kalil Home by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photo ©Jackie Craven

Usonian houses did not have garages. To economize on building costs, Frank Lloyd Wright designed these homes with open-air carports. At the Kalil house, the carport is attached to the main house, making a T from the L-shaped floor plan. The half wall of the carport not only offers views of the lawn and garden, but blurs the space between indoors and outdoors.

The Toufic H. Kalil house is a private home that is not open to the public. When you gawk from the roadway, respect the lucky owners of this Frank Lloyd Wright in New Hampshire.

Learn More:

  • "The Wright Neighborhood" by Jenny Donelan, The Boston Globe, July 7, 2005
  • Wright Sites edited by Arlene Sanderson, Princeton Architectural Press
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  • The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright by Neil Levine, Princeton University Press
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  • Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian Houses: Designs for Moderate Cost One-Family Homes by John Sergeant
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