Frank Lloyd Wright
There is USA and there is Usonia. “Usonia” is a term coined in 1903 by James Duff Law, an American writer, who proposed it as an alternative to the term America. Law’s logic was that USA was not the only country in North America – there were also Canada and Mexico. So Law felt that “we, of the United States, in justice to Canadians and Mexicans, have no right to use the title ‘Americans’ when referring to matters pertaining exclusively to ourselves.” It was a diplomatically tactful sentiment. But it didn’t take.
Frank Lloyd Wright adopted the term Usonia in 1927 to describe his vision of American landscape, both in its outer and inner dimension. In Wright’s use, the word Usonia is best understood as a pun-like play on the word “utopia” and USA – an American utopia, a perfect American society.
More specifically, for Wright, the American Revolutionary War meant not only political independence from Great Britain but also aesthetic independence from the architectural tradition of the Old World. And, for Wright, the aesthetic and the architectural was psycho-spiritual. Thus, for Wright, the New World had to have new architecture – both in form and in spirit. Only the Usonian could be the true American. The New Usonian World was to be self-styled rather influenced by tradition.
While the material architecture is built from without, by others, the psychological architecture is built from within, by ourselves. And now you begin to get an idea of what I mean by this chapter’s title – “Usonian Self-Architecture.”
But just like Wright borrowed the term from Law and made it his own, I too want to make this term my own. I want to modify its connotational valence. For Wright, as I noted above, the Usonian had a quintessentially patriotic feel – for him the Usonian was rigidly synonymous with American. For me, Usonian connotes “open,” “free,” “harmonious,” “natural,” and “nondual” – the elements of Wright’s architectural symbolism that I set out to translate into the language of psychology. So, whatever is “open, free, harmonious, natural, and nondual” is fundamentally non-territorial, non-tribal, and cosmopolitan. It’s neither American nor non-American. It’s cosmic, global. It’s of oneness, not of our parochial and provincial attempts to divide oneness into “this” or “that,” or “yours” or “mine.”
Now, try and do me a favor – shake your head like it’s full of lice and try to forget everything I just said. What follows is more important than what precedes.
To paraphrase Frank Lloyd Wright, consciousness is the simplest form of architecture. Consciousness is the original drawing board. And for most animals, who build dwellings, consciousness is the only drawing board for their architectural designs. Indeed, birds and beavers, as they design their nests and dams, use no drawing boards or CAD (computer-aided design programs). Consciousness is the original blank piece of sketch paper, the original palette of Platonic mind-paints ready to be mixed, the original computer screen for 3D simulations, be they pragmatic or far-fetched.
And, therefore, consciousness is an internal landscape populated by mind-forms of our own design. Thus, thinking – cognition – and even meta-cognition – is info-processing architecture that transforms the space of being – the field of awareness – into mind-constructs that box us in.
Put simply, the arrow-tip of our evolutionary development put us in a cave, our first abode. The Psychology of Shelter is Psychology of Paranoia – separation of Self from Other. Thus, from the standpoint of evolution, architecture is born out of fear – out of the defensive need to hide, protect and separate from reality. (In trying to reinvent architecture, Wright was trying to reinvent humankind – from fear to fearlessness, from hiding to openness.)
Consider this: our skulls were our first exoskeletal caves. Human dwellings are but glorified caves – modernized turtle shells that we retract into for respite and to recoup. Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) – first in my opinion – reversed the cave-like vector of human architecture and tried to re-plug us back into our environment. FLW attempted to erase the paranoid boundary between Self and Other, between what is inside and what is outside.
Here’s Wright’s own thoughts on this matter:
“Then there was the open plan – instead of a building being a series of boxes and boxes inside boxes it became more and more open – more and more aware of space – the outside gradually came in more and more and the inside went outside more … So I started out to destroy the box as a building.”
Let’s taste this language once more: “the outside gradually came in more and more” … “and the inside went outside more.” Destroying the box … Peeking out of the cave through the corner windows that FLW pioneered … Flowing internally through open floor plans … How is all this not a psychology?! How is this not a living philosophy? How is this not a must-try solution to the cave-man mindset suddenly intensified by the challenges of the 21st century?
Our skin and skulls were the first boxes, the first boundaries between us and not-us.
Then there were caves and architecture.
Then – our minds and our divisive ideologies. These too became our boxes.
We have to redesign our sense of self – our field of being – to leave the dualistic caves that imprison and box us in. We must move towards a more organic (less dual) architecture of mind.
Usonian self-architecture – in my use of the term – plays on yet another pun-like element. There is an “us” in non-us.
We must un-box ourselves.