New Usonian House
We’re excited to report that New Usonian House is preparing to break ground in the southeast corner of Hendricks County in spring of 2020!
Our clients for this exciting project contacted us in mid-2018. Specifically, they were ready to begin taking action on their plan to design and build a one-story, Usonian-inspired residence. Without a doubt, creating an environment to age-in-place was a big priority; something low-maintenance, high-performance, light-filled, and one with the surrounding site. And most certainly, low-maintenance living was a big priority for this retirement dwelling. They hoped to subdivide their 15-acre property and build on the side pasture (5-7 acres).
Owners had been doing their homework. For example, over the past few years, they have vacationed in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Samuel Eppstein Residence and other intimately-scaled modern homes. These experiences helped inspire and shape their vision for how they would like to live into retirement before ever contacting HAUS.
Having resided in a 19th-century brick Italianate farmhouse for several years, they were ready for something different to accommodate their future; something one-story, and universally-designed.
Inspired by the beautiful views to the north-northeast treeline, our clients have aptly named the property, “Sunset Ridge”. In fact, we have designed and oriented the house to capitalize on these excellent views. And interestingly, this view angle also aligns with the primary jet flight-path over this site, which is just a few miles southwest of the Indianapolis International Airport.
New Usonian House
Clients: Private Owners (retirement, universally-designed dwelling)
Architecture: HAUS | Architecture For Modern Lifestyles with Client
Interior Design: HAUS with Client
Photography/Renderings: HAUS (except where noted otherwise)
Usonian Vision – Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Vision (excerpt from Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation)
Responding to the financial crisis of 1929 and ensuing Great Depression that gripped the United States and the rest of the world, Wright began working on affordable housing, which developed into the Usonian house. Wright’s Usonians were a simplified approach to residential construction that reflected both economic realities and changing social trends. In the Usonian houses, Wright was offering a simplified, but beautiful environment for living that Americans could both afford and enjoy. Wright would continue to design Usonian houses for the rest of career, with variations reflecting the diverse client budgets.
“Hey, that sounds familiar! Our clients also all have various budgets!”, says HAUS
Here are some relevant links about Usonian Architecture:
CURBED: Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian house becomes architect’s home in Lake Forest
DWELL: A Renovated Usonian Gem Shows Off Modern Organic Architecture
ARCHITECT MAGAZINE: Usonian House at Florida Southern College
FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT FOUNDATION: Usonian
The Design Process – New Usonian House:
With our clients, we began the design process in the middle of 2018. By the end of the year, we had established a firm design direction and overall project scope. However, before continuing forward to develop more detailed design development, our clients wanted to pause and take care of a few due-diligence items.
First, the property needed to be subdivided. This wasn’t totally straightforward, as there were a few tricky zoning hurdles to clear involving street-side landscaping, sidewalks, and drainage. Also, we needed to confirm that new well and septic service was workable, and determine how we were handling utilities. While all of this was happening, our client worked to also get their existing property ready for sale.
After exploring a few different organizational concepts, we settled on the plan layout below. Public and private areas are segregated in plan. Subsequently, the 3D architectural solution followed suit, utilizing a combination of flat and shed roofs to reinforce the inherent hierarchies established in the diagram.
For this project, we are planning for a future ground-mounted solar array to serve the home. Also, we are currently scoping for use of ICF-insulated concrete forms for the basement and foundation walls.
We re-engaged the design in fall 2019. Currently, build team is pricing-out the basic construction documents to make sure we’re in-budget for the scopes identified. For the most part, we are holding on final design refinements until we cross that bridge.
Spring 2020 Update
We are sorry to report that construction of this particular design will not be moving forward as planned due to budget concerns. Instead, our client has decided to change course and build something more common on the site. They ultimately decided that they would rather retire earlier than work longer to pay for this particular vision. Most certainly this is very disappointing, and a circumstance that the “HAUS process” was specifically designed to prevent.
Question: If that’s the case, then how did this happen?
Budget + Design Scopes Management
Early in the Schematic Design process, our client did share their budget range goals. They said they could possibly go a bit over these goals, but prefer not to do that. During that process, HAUS advised that the current design was most likely over that range. We suggested that we either make the project smaller, simplify the design, increase the budget, or a little of each. HAUS also advised that WERK | Building Modern be the construction manager to help facilitate the design + budgeting process in anticipation of likely challenges ahead. The HAUS + WERK design-build process ensures the closest communication possible between client-design-budgeting-budget pricing-construction and helps avoid inefficiencies.
Our client was very happy with the design as-is, and was not interested in cutting any scopes or area. They expressed reservation about HAUS’ suggested cost-sf allowances (too high), and instead elected to work with another builder based on a referral. This decision was largely based on Owner dialogue with that party about building for a lower cost-sf. However, HAUS advised client that that this suggested lower cost-sf allowance was for a much different kind of project. HAUS also advised that construction costs should not have radical variations between parties for clear, apples-to-apples scopes of work (among quality, reputable operations).
We were still excited about the project, and it was a pleasure working with this client. Even if WERK was not gong to be the builder, we had high hopes for what the vision could become. And if we had to pick a builder to work with other than WERK, this builder was on the list.
So instead of making the project smaller, simpler, or agreeing to increase the budget allowance, we proceeded forward with the design to complete budget-pricing documents. Along the way, we actually increased the overall size and added more energy-efficiency enhancements to the details of the project. And since an outside builder was pricing the project, we completed these preliminary documents to a higher level of detail than if WERK were negotiating with client.
The pricing process took longer than anticipated, and we don’t recall getting any design or scope questions along the way. Our drawings were a pretty good start, but still, it’s unusual to not have an ongoing dialogue and understanding between architect and builder during the pricing process. Also, our client was the intermediary between architect and builder, which was odd. And we learned that client had never shared their budget goals with builder. It wasn’t surprising that the pricing came-in high, but was surprising how high. In the end, we were not able to find a workable scope-budget balance, unfortunately. Our client paid us to design a project that they will not be building.
On the bright side, our client’s modified design does appear to have maintained most of the plan layout concepts. See the construction process here. Owner worked with RLS Building Corporation on the modified plan and implementation.
Due to our refined design + construction process, this scenario very rarely happens. But now that it has popped-up, we need understand the why, and work to eliminate it from happening in the future.
We need to be sure to follow an architect-led process.
If there is a budget concern, we need to raise the red-flag higher and louder.
There has to be good communication between client, architect and builder.
If anyone has any questions or feedback on the above, please feel free to contribute dialogue in the comments section below or contact us!