A Passport to Usonia: Two perspectives on Frank Lloyd Wright’s suburbia

Welcome to the Brick & Wonder Podcast, Working Together, where we delve into the art and science of collaboration within the built environment industry. Hosted by Drew Lang, founder of Brick & Wonder, this podcast explores the stories and strategies behind the collaborations that drive innovation and shape the built world around us.

In this episode we spoke with two people whose values and objectives aligned to create a book about the Usonia residential community. Usonia was a planned community and is now a national historic district located in Mount Pleasant, New York, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Michael Biondo is an architectural photographer who has extensively photographed the Usonia homes. After an introduction from Brick & Wonder, Michael joined forces with Gideon Fink Shapiro, an architectural historian and writer to put together a book celebrating the design and history of this famous residential development.

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Architecture has too many mythical heroes and giants. We know that part of the problem of the culture and commerce of architecture is that it rewards the system of lone geniuses, but architecture is about collaboration. When we look at someone like Frank Lloyd Wright, the exercise becomes: is it possible to step back from this huge shadow that Wright casts, and instead look at the work?

—Gideon Fink Shapiro

My interest was in what went right with Usonia. It really is a beautiful example of how a suburban planned community can work out. You don’t see that very often. I grew up  in a Levittown, which is the grid of monotonous house, after house, after house, exactly the same. Usonia is the polar opposite of that.

—Michael Biondo

I would love to see more dialogue between people like myself, the sensualists, the emotive, creative types, and a more rationalist, intellectual perspective. In other words, I’d love to see the professional and the academic come together more and collaborate. I think both could benefit from each other’s perspectives of the world.

—Michael Biondo

What I love about architecture is that it’s mute. On the other hand, it’s the opposite. Architecture is so expressive, and the 18th century theorists talk of architecture parlance, architecture that speaks. Buildings themselves don’t talk, but that’s precisely the opening for us to talk about them.

—Gideon Fink Shapiro

Brick & Wonder is a global community for accomplished professionals in the real estate & design industry. The podcast zooms in on collaborations between Brick & Wonder members and the partnerships engaged by industry luminaries to realize ambitious and complex building projects.
Our host Drew Lang is the founding principal of Lang Architecture and the founder of Brick & Wonder. Drew’s passion for how nature and architecture influences everyday life in expressed in the firm’s work, including Hudson Woods, Splinter Creek and the upcoming Windham Mountain development.
Michael Biondo is a New York and Connecticut based photographer who specializes in architectural, interior and fine art documentation.
Gideon Fink Shapiro is a writer and editor focusing on architecture, landscape and urbanism. An architectural historian and journalist, Gideon studies the power of design to improve daily life and create lasting value for communities.
All photographs above of Usonia by Michael Biondo.
Podcast Recording and Production: Christopher Plant and Radio Kismet

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