Early in 1940, Gregor S. Affleck retained Frank Lloyd Wright regarding the design of a new house. Mr. Affleck had grown up in Spring Green, Wisconsin. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1919 with a degree in Chemical Engineering, Mr. Affleck invented a fast-drying paint that found use in the automotive industry. "Affleck paint" is still used to day and is highly regarded for its qualities of drying and durability.
In response to Mr. Affleck's letter, Mr. Wright told him to go far out of the city and find a site nobody wanted or could build on. At the time the Afflecks lived in the City of Pleasant Ridge, one of Detroit's outer most suburbs. Mr. Affleck found a hilly area along Woodward Avenue in the city of Bloomfield Hills. A subdivision had been planned on the site, but the lots did not sell well because of terrain. The site consisted of a ravine with an artesian spring at the top. Mr. Affleck sent a topographical map to Mr. Wright.
The Initial plans that Mr. and Mrs. Affleck reviewed were essentially the same as the house that was ultimately constructed. In the revisions a balcony was replaced by the loggia porch, the kitchen was redesigned, and the window profiles were changed, among smaller items.
Construction of the Affleck's "Usonian" house was finished in 1941. As construction proceeded, local interest brought many visitors to the house on Woodward that was so "unusual" compared to the currently popular 'colonial' style. It was perhaps interest in the architect himself that brought out the visitors.
Beginning in the 1920s, Frank Lloyd Wright's argument that modern cities were no longer habitable led to develop his solution for urban problems - Broadacre City. Wright use "Usonia" as his substitute for the reformed, future "America" of Broadacre City, and he used the Usonians as his solution to the "small house problem." These Usonians - and in particular the pre-World War II designs - were a direct response to the changes in the lifestyles of the clients and their needs for a low cost but satisfying dwelling.
Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian design was his answer to the need for low-cost housing for the average American. Usonian houses were typically one story, to express the horizontal element of the American midwestern plains. Attics were eliminated as to avoid building unusable space and, thus, save money. Instead, Usonian homes had flat roofs. Wright introduced skylights as a way of providing additional light into the house. He believed his new ideas of the home should involve new materials and new technology. Built for $19,000.00 (approximaterly $312,000.00 in 2013 dollars) this house never achieved the Usonian target proce of $5,000.00, but of the 60 built none ever did, owing to Wright's insistence on the use of quality materials and intricate detailing.
The interiors of Usonian houses were based on modular grids, usually 2 feet x 4 feet, or 4 feet x 4 feet as in the Affleck house. This grid was the basis for laying out the plan of interior partitions, furniture, rugs and cabinets. The living areas consisted of spacious and interconnected rooms, combining spaces such as the entry, the dining room, the living room and the music room. Mr. Wright's idea of the modern kitchen was one that opened directly into the living area. At the time, no one would have designed a kitchen in full view of the living room, it was meant to be closed off behind a door, preferably at the rear of the house. Mr. Wright believed the housewife was the worker of the American home, and he designed his kitchen such that she could cook and watch the children of the house at the same time. Mr. Wright believed that windows should not be 'punched out' of walls, as it gave the feeling of living in a box. Instead, the windows took up the entire wall space to enhance the open natural living that Mr. Wright desired.
Mr. and Mrs. Affleck lived in the house until they passed away; Elizabeth in 1973 and Gregor in 1974. Over the years the house had withstood the elements and the design details of Mr. Wright, who had the habit of pushing materials and structure to their limits. In 1978 the children of the Gregor and Elizabeth Affleck, Mrs. Mary Ann Affleck Lutomski and Mr. Gregor Affleck Jr., donated the house to Lawrence Technological to ensure it would continue to be available to the public and to inspire students of architecture, much as it had over forty years. The Friends of Frank Lloyd Wright, a non-profit group, was formed to lead fundraising efforts to preserve and restore the house under the direction of Lawrence Technological University's College of Architecture and Design.
Although Wright houses typically don't have "sides" in the traditional sense, we typically view the entry as the "front" of the house. Today that side is accessed from Woodward Avenue to the North. However, the original design included an access road that came in from Woodward Avenue to the South and wound through the woods and around the house, affording a number of views until one came into the carport, arriving from the West. The drive has since been extended to a full loop so that one arrives from the East today. It is a shorter trip, albeit without the views, and it is certainly not what Wright intended
Wright typically included a stylized version of the first letter of the Owner's last name somewhere in most of his houses. For Affleck, that of course means the letter "A". We see the stylized A at several locations throughout the house including in small cut-out reliefs above the entry canopy roof, backlit by a large skylight over the front door, and as colums of small windows that bring light into bedrooms on the South facade
The original design included an ingenious approach to cooling. An artesian well to the West on the property fed a small stream that ran under the house. Although the well no longer functions, its source was the overgrown area in the top photo
The stream ran under the house through the route depicted in the other photographs. Directly above is what is effectively a skylight in the floor that could be opened to allow the cooling effect of the flowing water to cool the house.
A retention pond to the East remains. Although the stream will not be relied upon for its cooling properties, we are investigating the possibility of installing recirculation pumps to restore the flow from and to the retention pond so that visitors can experience that active part of the original design
Due to the efforts of a small group of past winners of the Lawrence Technological University College of Architecture and Design Distinguished Alumni Award, a meaningful restoration program is underway for the first time in the 34 years the University has owned the house. Feel free to peruse the companion pages on this website to view and track the progress of those efforts.
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