Suntop Homes

The Suntop Homes, also known under the early name of The Ardmore Experiment, were quadruple residences located in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, and based largely upon the 1935 conceptual Broadacre City model of the minimum houses. The design was commissioned by Otto Tod Mallery of the Tod Company in 1938 in an attempt to set a new standard for the entry-level housing market in the United States and to increase single-family dwelling density in the suburbs. In cooperation with Frank Lloyd Wright, the Tod Company secured a patent for the unique design, intending to sell development rights for Suntops across the country. The first (and only one) of the four original quadruple units planned for Ardmore was built in 1939, with the involvement of Wright's master builder Harold Turner, after initial construction estimates far surpassed the project budget set by the Tod Company. There were several reasons that construction of the other three planned units did not move forward, including the escalation of the World War, high construction costs and later, protests by local residents against multi-family housing in the neighborhood.

The design of the Ardmore Experiment was based upon a series of four individual Usonian dwellings arranged together around a central point, in a pinwheel plan, but with the living spaces stacked vertically instead of horizontally, as was typical of Wright's residential work at the time. This concept served to combine the usual suburban front and rear yards into more practical and usable single outdoor spaces or gardens. In planning the initial Tod Company development, Wright arranged the four units asymmetrical on the lot so that no unit looked directly at another (or any existing neighbor), thereby maximizing privacy and shared green space at the same time.

The prototypical Suntop unit consists of four separate quadrants or individual dwellings of approximately 2,000 square feet (190 m2), each containing a small basement, ground floor carport, utility and living rooms; mezzanine workspace, dining area, master bedroom/nursery, balcony and bath; and Penthouse bedrooms and roof level "sundeck" terrace sheltered by a high perimeter parapet wall. The natural materials selected by Wright—brick, concrete, glass and wood (i.e., cypress)--are typical of his early Usonian designs and consistent with the manifestos outlined in Architectural Forum (1938) and finally in The Natural House (1954). In fact, later owner/designers used the pattern of the horizontal lapped board siding as inspiration for the high garden walls that now surround two of the gardens. Fire damaged or destroyed two of the four original dwellings. The first was badly damaged (reportedly) only a few years after construction was completed, and remained as a burned out shell for several decades before it was restored by a private owner in accordance with Wright's original plans and early concepts. A second residence was completely lost to fire in the 1970s during an interior restoration, but was rebuilt with extensive changes to the plan and ceiling heights. In addition, the carports of several residences have been enclosed over the years, in order to provide more interior space.

Later projects designed using the quadruple dwelling unit as a model included the Cloverleaf Quadruple Housing project (1941/42) for the United States Government on a tract near Pittsfield, Massachusetts. A change in housing administration and complaints from local architects that they, not an "outsider", should design the project prevented its construction.

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