Over a career of seven decades, Frank Lloyd Wright took special interest in creating architect-designed affordable homes. In a 1901 speech entitled, “The Art and Craft of the Machine”, Wright outlined his vision of affordable housing. He asserted that the home would have to go to the factory, instead of the skilled labor coming to the building site.
Between 1915 and 1917, Wright designed a series of standardized “system-built” homes, known today as the American-System Built Homes, an early example of prefabricated housing. The “system” involved cutting the lumber and other materials in a mill or factory, and then brought to the site for assembly; thus saving material waste and a substantial fraction of the wages paid to skilled tradesman.
The homes were marketed through builders who would meet prospective buyers in their offices. An advertisement in the March 4, 1917 edition of the Chicago Tribune stated, “The American System of home building enables you to secure homes — correct and charming in design, perfect in taste and intelligent in arrangement – putting at your command the services of Frank Lloyd Wright, America’s foremost creative architect — without extra cost.”
The Frank Lloyd Wright designed American System-Built Home Model B-1 is the first home purchased for restoration by Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin and the only surviving example of this design. In 2008/09, through the assistance of a Save America’s Treasures grant through the National Park Service and numerous matching grants from private individuals and foundations, the home was restored to its original 1916 appearance. The Model B-1 is intended to remain a house museum and symbolizes a challenge to the design and construction communities to create beautiful, affordable space that not only provides shelter but allows their occupants and visitors to feel more alive and appreciative of the world around them.
Tours of the American System-Built Homes Model B1 will provide the opportunity of learning about the history of the W. Burnham Street neighborhood at the time of construction, dialogue about space-saving homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that would be affordable to every American and docent-led tours of the interior spaces of the Model B1 to experience his architectural principles.