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Richard and Ruth Smith House

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1950–1951, Frank Lloyd Wright. 332 E. Linden St.

The Smith House illustrates things that owners criticized in houses designed by Wright. The Smiths found the rooms too small and the temperature too hot or too cold, both due to a failed radiant-heat system and the southern orientation. The roof leaked. Although the plan wrapped around an ancient oak tree, which was the focus of the design, Wright paved the terrace surrounding the tree, causing it to wither. And the house cost nearly twice as much as the estimate.

In many ways, though, this Usonian design expresses Wright’s favorite themes at the end of his career. The one-story building is constructed primarily of Wisconsin limestone, randomly laid and projecting from the plane of the wall to mimic a natural outcropping. An extremely broad chimney thrusts above the low-pitched hipped roof. On the street elevation, small clerestory windows emphasize privacy for the primary living spaces. The wooden interior walls consist of a three-layer sandwich, with a plywood core between cypress board-and-batten. Wright designed the house on an equilateral parallelogram (or diamond) module using 120- and 60-degree angles. In plan the parallelograms revolve around the oak tree. Wright’s blueprints indicate that he began with an imaginary triangle surrounding the oak and drew all of the grids around that point. From there, his plan takes the form of a lowercase H, with the axis containing the bedroom wing extending perpendicular to the street and ending in a carport. From the entrance (adjacent to the carport), the bottom of the H—containing the kitchen, dining area, and living room—wraps around the rear terrace, thereby turning the actual front of the house to the garden and golf course at the rear. A parallelogram forms a pool extending at an angle from the living room. Wright carried out the parallelogram motif throughout the house, piercing the eaves with diamonds and even designing the drawers of the built-in bedroom cabinets as parallelograms. The emphasis on privacy and the natural landscape, the use of design modules that become motifs, and the creation of public and private zones on the interior are all quintessentially Wright.

Writing Credits

Marsha Weisiger et al.


What's Nearby


Marsha Weisiger et al., "Richard and Ruth Smith House", [Jefferson, Wisconsin], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Wisconsin

Buildings of Wisconsin, Marsha Weisiger and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017, 250-251.

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