U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service
HOUSE AND YARD
THE DESIGN OF THE SUBURBAN HOME
The central motivation for the invention of the suburban house was the desire of Americans to own a single-family house in a semi-rural environment away from the city-what would become the American dream. Several factors influenced the evolution of suburban house design:
The lowering of construction costs, accomplished with the invention of the balloon-frame method of construction in the 1830s and successive stages of standardization, mass production, and prefabrication.
The translation of the suburban ideal into the form of an individual dwelling usually on its own lot in a safe, healthy, and parklike setting.
The design of an efficient floor plan believed to support and reinforce the ideal family.
The evolution of the American home reflects changing concepts of family life and the ideal suburban landscape. From 1838 to 1960, the design of the single-family, detached suburban home in a landscaped setting evolved in several broad stages from picturesque country villas to sprawling ranch houses on spacious suburban lots.
The Suburban Prerequisite: The Invention of the Balloon Frame:
The widespread adoption of the balloon-frame method of construction, invented in Chicago in the 1830s, along with the invention of wire nails and the circular saw, transformed the character of American housing in the mid-nineteenth century. The lightweight balloon frame consisted of narrow wooden studs and larger joists arranged in a box-like configuration capable of absorbing load-bearing stresses. In comparison to traditional post-and-beam and masonry methods, balloon framing could be quickly assembled at a lower cost with fewer and less experienced workers. Allowing considerable freedom of design in both exterior massing and interior layout, it was well-suited for building homes in the Romantic Revival and Picturesque styles that were coming into vogue in the mid-nineteenth century.(99)
Rural Architecture and Home Grounds, 1838 to 1890:
The suburban home first appeared as a rural villa for the fairly well-to-do family in the mid-nineteenth century. Located "on the edge of the city," it was intentionally designed as a therapeutic refuge from the city, offering tranquility, sunshine, spaciousness, verdure, and closeness to nature-qualities opposite those of city. This ideal was aggressively and persuasively articulated through pattern books, the writings of domestic reformers, and popular magazines. As house designs became adapted for more modest incomes and as advances in transportation lowered the cost of commuting, suburban living became affordable to an increasingly broad spectrum of the population.
Early Pattern Books
Alexander Jackson Davis's Rural Residences (1838) marked the transition from builders' guides, which focused on techniques of joinery and architectural detailing, to a new generation of pattern books. Pattern books were directed at the prospective home owner and featured plans and elevations for ornamented villas and cottages in a variety of romantic revival styles all set in a semi-rural, village setting. Catharine E. Beecher's Treatise on Domestic Economy (1841) called for domestic reform, promoting the idea that rural living was ideally suited for family life, and offering elevations and floor plans for simple houses designed for efficiency and family comfort. With the publication of Cottage Residences (1842) and Architecture of Country Houses (1850), Andrew Jackson Downing soon after popularized a market for pattern books that offered a variety of house types and styles suited for country or village living.
Downing gave detailed architectural expression to the ideal of living in a semi-rural environment, offering designs for villas for the well-to-do and less expensive cottages for lower- income households. Through designs that conformed to a romantic aesthetic for the "beautiful" or the "picturesque," Downing promoted revival styles described as "Italianate," "Tudor Revival," "Bracketed," "Swiss," "Gothic Revival," and "Tuscan." His books also illustrated decorative architectural elements, such as brackets and vergeboards, that could be crafted by most country builders to embellish the simplest home.(100)
Pattern books appeared by a number of architects, including Calvert Vaux, A. J. Bicknell, George E. Woodward, Orson Squire Fowler, William H. Ranlett, and Gervase Wheeler. Godey's Lady's Book, a popular magazine, also offered its readers designs for rural villas and cottages, thereby establishing the important role of periodicals in fostering domestic reform and affecting popular taste.(101)
Landscape Gardening for Suburban Homes
Instructions and site plans for embellishing the grounds of suburban homes appeared regularly in a number of periodicals, including The Horticulturalist, Hovey's Magazine of Horticulture, and Garden and Forest. Between 1856 and 1870, plan books appeared by a number of other landscape gardeners, including Henry W. Cleaveland, Robert Morris Copeland, George E. and F. W. Woodward, and Jacob Weidenmann.(102)
Frank J. Scott was among the first to recognize that the new homes being built outside cities formed neighborhoods that were suburban, not rural, in character. His comprehensive landscape manual, Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds of Small Extent (1870), was intended to help the middle-class home owner achieve beautiful landscape effects that were low in cost and easy to maintain, including graded lawns, ornamental trees and shrubs, and foundation plantings. His influence was extensive, and by the 1870s, suburban streets began to take on a unified landscape character with paved roads, shade trees, entry walks, fences, and stairways, giving definition to the ideal suburban landscape.(103)
Eclectic House Designs and Mail Order Plans
After the Civil War, a new generation of pattern books appeared offering greater variety and complexity in house design and plans well-suited to suburban house lots. Henry Hudson Holly's Modern Dwellings in Town and Country, Adapted to American Wants and Climate (1878) was among the first to advocate architectural eclecticism in which visual and artistic effects-in the design of chimneys, gables, and porches, for example- became important aspects of stylistic appeal. Such books popularized late nineteenth-century styles including the Shingle, Stick, Eastlake, Second Empire, and Queen Anne Revival styles.(104)
Mail order services further democratized home building and added variety and complexity to Victorian-era house design. Model Homes for the People, A Complete Guide to the Proper and Economical Erection of Buildings (1876) was the first in a series of best-selling, inexpensive catalogs by George and Charles Palliser which offered detailed architectural plans by mail for a small fee. The Ladies' Home Journal, under the editorship of Edward Bok beginning in 1889, and a host of catalogs by architects George F. Barber, Robert W. Shoppell, William A. Radford, and others similarly made available architect-designed plans for a nominal cost. This practice continued in the twentieth century, carried on by architect-sponsored small house service bureaus and stock plan companies, such as Garlinghouse of Topeka, Kansas.(105)
The Homestead Temple-House
Working-class families sought separation from the city and privacy from neighbors in modest, detached homes on the narrow, rectangular lots of gridiron subdivisions. By the 1860s, a freestanding house type, the "homestead temple-house," gained popularity in the rapidly growing industrial cities of the Northeast and Midwest. Derived from the earlier Greek Revival house and typically adorned by a stylish doorway or colonnaded porch, the house was turned so that the gabled end faced the street and the floor plan extended deeply into the lot.(106)
The popularity of this house type persisted throughout the nineteenth century, allowing working-class families to live in suburban neighborhoods close to railroad stations and later along streetcar routes. It appeared in several forms from a simple one-story, "shotgun" home in the South to the double- and triple-decker multiple family dwellings of the Northeast, this type assumed a variety of architectural styles ranging from Classical and Gothic Revivals to Italianate and Queen Anne Revival. The crowded and repetitious character of such neighborhoods would attract the criticism of twentieth-century reformers.
The Practical Suburban House, 1890 to 1920:
The expansion of streetcar transportation in American cities coincided with fundamental changes in the perception of the ideal family and a revision of what constituted the best suburban home. Progressive ideals emphasizing simplicity and efficiency called for house designs that reflected less hierarchical relationships, technological innovations, and a more informal and relaxed lifestyle.(107)
New subdivisions provided utilities and amenities not available elsewhere. In many places, they benefited from the street improvements, park and boulevard systems, and public utility systems that resulted from the City Beautiful movement and an emerging interest in city planning as the means for Progressive reform.
Technological innovations introduced to improve household life-central heating, gas hot water heaters, indoor plumbing, and electricity-entailed expensive mechanical systems that increased the cost of construction. The reduction of floor space and the use of standardized plans helped offset the rising cost of home construction and put home ownership within reach of more Americans. First appearing in the 1890s, the bungalow reflected the desire for an affordable single-family house for households without servants. These houses, and a somewhat large type known as the foursquare, were sold by catalog and became the first mass-produced houses in the United States.(108)
The Open Plan Bungalow
By 1910, the bungalow had become the ideal suburban home and was being built by the thousands, giving rise to what has been called the "bungalow suburb." The typical bungalow was a one- or one-and-a-half-story house having a wide, shallow-pitched roof with broad overhanging eaves. The interior featured an open floor plan for family activities at the front of the house and private bedrooms at the back or upstairs. The wide open front porch, a distinctive feature of the ideal bungalow, provided a transition between interior and outdoors.(109)
The design of the bungalow was influenced by the Prairie School movement of the Midwest, the California Arts and Crafts movement, and a number of vernacular housing types. Part of the bungalow's appeal was its adaptation of these and other architectural influences in the form of a small comfortable house. The suburban bungalow-in styles ranging from English Cottage styles to the Mission Revival style of the Southwest-was popularized nationwide by periodicals such as Western Architect, Ladies' Home Journal, Craftsman, and Bungalow Magazine. Numerous catalogs and books appeared, many in multiple editions, including William A. Radford's Artistic Bungalows (1908), Henry L. Wilson's Bungalow Book (1910), Henry H. Saylor's Bungalow Book (1911), H. V. Von Holst's Modern American Homes (1913), Gustav Stickley's Craftsman Homes (1909) and More Craftsman Homes (1912), and Charles E. White's Bungalow Book (1923).
The American Foursquare
The American foursquare made its appearance in the 1890s, and by the 1930s, was a fixture of American neighborhoods. A typical foursquare was a two-and-one-half-story house having a raised basement, one-story porch across the front, and plan of four evenly sized rooms on each floor. Often crowned with a pyramidal roof and dormers, the foursquare appeared in a variety of architectural styles, the most popular being the Colonial Revival.(110)
Factory Cut, Mail Order Houses
The availability of complete, factory cut homes, which could be ordered by mail from illustrated catalogs, was largely responsible for the widespread popularity of the bungalow and four-square. The Hodgson Company of Dover, Massachusetts, was one of the first to market factory cut dwellings, sheds, and cottages. During the first decade of the twentieth century, several companies-Aladdin of Bay City, Michigan; Sears and Roebuck; and Montgomery Ward-began to market precut homes that could be shipped by railroad and assembled on site. This trend grew in popularity and at the height of its popularity in the 1920s the industry included a host of other companies, including the Gordon-Van Tine Company of Davenport, Iowa, and Pacific Ready-Cut of Los Angeles.
The success of mail order home building depended on inexpensive transportation, vast selection of housing types and prices, financial arrangements where home owners could pay in installments, and marketing programs whereby designs were constantly being revised and retired as new ones reflecting changing popular taste were introduced. Thousands of precut houses were sold and shipped annually. Sears alone offered approximately 450 ready-to-build designs ranging in style, type, and size from small bungalows to multiple family apartment houses. Sears's sales reached 30,000 by 1925 and nearly 50,000 by 1930.(111)
Introduction of the Garage
Shelter for the automobile became an increasingly important consideration after 1900. Driveways were readily accommodated in the progressive design of new neighborhoods having road improvements such as paved surfaces, gutters and curbs, and sidewalks. The earliest garages were placed behind the house at the end of a long driveway that often consisted of little more than a double tract of pavement. By the end of the 1920s, attached and underground garages began to appear in stock plans for small homes as well as factory-built houses. Among the earliest homes with built-in garages were the detached and semi-detached models designed by architect Frederick Ackerman in 1928-1929 for Radburn, New Jersey. The design of an expandable two-story house with a built-in garage and additional upper-story bedroom was introduced by the FHA in 1940. By the 1950s, garages or carports were integrated into the design of many homes.(112)
Keith's Magazine, Carpentry and Building, Building Age, and American Carpenter and Builder were among the first magazines to offer instructions for building garages. William A. Radford is credited with popularizing the term "garage" and introducing the first catalog devoted to the type in 1910. Manufacturers of pre-cut homes, such as Aladdin Homes, began to offer a variety of mail order garages, often matching the materials and styles of popular house types.(113)
Home Gardening and the Arts and Crafts Movement
The American Arts and Crafts movement spurred an avid interest among homeowners in gardening and a desire to integrate a home's interior space with its outdoor surroundings. To unify house and garden and integrate indoor and outdoor living, many bungalow designers used natural construction materials, incorporated porches and courtyards into their designs, and encouraged the arrangement of yards with simple terraces, rustic paths, and garden rooms. Periodicals such as The Craftsman featured articles for embellishing the grounds of bungalows with patios, gates, fountains, pools, arbors, pergolas, and rockery. Features such as hanging vines, water gardens, and creeping ground covers added to the variety and rich textures of the Arts and Crafts garden.
Books by landscape architects educated home owners about domestic yard design; these included Ruth B. Dean's The Liveable House, Its Garden (1917), Herbert J. Kellaway's How to Lay Out Suburban Home Grounds (1907 and 1915), Elsa Rehmann's The Small Place: Its Landscape Architecture (1918), and Grace Tabor's Gardening Book (1911), Making the Grounds Attractive with Shrubbery (1912), Suburban Gardens (1913), and Planting Around the Bungalow (1914). Plan books such as Eugene O. Murmann's California Gardening (1914) provided gardening advice, planting plans, and plant lists for home owners according to local climate and growing conditions.
Garden writing flourished in popular magazines, such as Ladies' Home Journal, House and Garden, Country Life in America, House Beautiful, Garden Magazine, and Woman's Home Companion. Garden columns-by Frances Duncan, Wilhelm T. Miller, and Grace Tabor-and articles by noted designers, nursery keepers, and amateur gardeners, showcased successful gardens, provided horticultural information, and offered gardening advice.(114)
Horticulturalist Liberty Hyde Bailey of Cornell University bridged the gap between science and practical landscape gardening. As editor of Country Life in America and author of Garden-Making: Suggestions for the Utilizing of Home Grounds (1898) and The Practical Garden Book (1904), he translated his extensive botanical knowledge into simple principles for suburban gardeners.(115)
With the publication of Helena Rutherford Ely's A Woman's Hardy Garden in 1903, Victorian practices of carpet bedding and lush displays of exotic plantings gave way to simpler gardens featuring harmonies of color, seasonal changes, and perennial displays. Numerous books by successful amateur gardeners followed including, Louise Shelton's The Seasons in a Flower Garden (1906), Louise Beebe Wilder's Colour in My Garden (1918), and Nellie Doubleday's American Flower Garden (1909) written under the pseudonym Neltje Blanchan.(116)
Better Homes and the Small House Movement, 1919 to 1945:
After World War I, improving the quality of American domestic life took on special importance. Alliances formed among architects, real estate developers, builders, social reformers, manufacturers, and public officials-at both national and local levels-to encourage home ownership, standardized home building practices, and neighborhood improvements.
The Better Homes Campaign
Better Homes in America, Inc., a private organization founded in 1922, spearheaded a national campaign for domestic reform focused on educating homeowners about quality design and construction. Promoted by The Delineator, a popular Butterick publication for women, the organization gained the support of U.S. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover and formed a nationwide network of local committees that encouraged both the construction of new homes and home remodeling projects. A national demonstration home, "Home Sweet Home," a modernized version of songwriter John Howard Paynes's Long Island birthplace, was constructed on the National Mall in 1923, and "Better Homes Week" activities and competitions were held nationwide. Annual competitions recognized the work of architects, such as Royal Barry Wills of Boston and William W. Wurster of San Francisco, whose small house designs would influence popular taste nationwide for homes described as New England Colonial or Monterey Revival.(117)
Architect-Designed Small Houses
The Small House Architects' Service Bureau was established in Minneapolis in 1919 with the purpose of providing architect-designed plans and technical specifications to builders of small houses. A "small house" was defined as one having no more than six rooms. Sponsored by the AIA, the bureau was a nonprofit organization made up of architects from all parts of the country devoted to the problem of designing small homes in a variety of popular forms and styles. Home builders could order complete working drawings from The Small House, a periodical, or plan catalogs such as Small Homes of Architectural Distinction (1929). The bureau endeavored to raise the public's awareness of the value of professional design and encouraged homeowners and builders to secure a local architect to supervise construction.(118)
In New York, the Home Owners Service Institute, headed by architect Henry Atterbury Smith in the 1920s, ran the weekly "Small House Page" of the Sunday New York Tribune, sponsored local design competitions and model home demonstrations, and published The Books of A Thousand Homes (1923). The institute raised the variety and quality of American homes by disseminating a large number of working drawings and plans nationwide-all the work of professional architects such as Frederick L. Ackerman and Whitman S. Wick-and forming alliances with private trade groups and manufacturers, including the American Face Brick Association, Curtis Woodwork Company, and National Lumber Manufacturers Association.(119)
Popular magazines-including Better Homes and Gardens, American Home, House and Garden, Garden and Home Builder, McCall's, and Sunset-reflected the growing interest in home improvement and appealed increasingly to owners of small homes. They carried articles on new house designs, interior decoration, and gardening, as well as advertisements for the latest innovations in manufactured products. Trade pamphlets such as Richard Requa's Old World Inspiration for American Architecture by the Monolith Portland Cement Company of Los Angeles reflected emerging alliances between the building industry and designers interested in promoting regional trends.
The small house of the 1920s appeared in many forms and a variety of bungalow and period revival styles, the most popular being drawn from the English Tudor Revival and a host of American Colonial influences, including Dutch, English, French, and Spanish. The movement resulted in a great diversity of architectural styles and types nationwide as regional forms and the work of regional architects attracted the interest of an increasingly educated audience of prospective home owners.
Federal Home Building Service Plan
Although the demand for architect designed small houses was seriously curtailed during the Great Depression, AIA-sponsored service bureaus continued to operate in a number of major cities across the United States, including Boston, New York, Memphis, Houston, and Los Angeles, where they found support from local savings and loan associations interested in ensuring that the homes they mortgaged were a sound investment. In 1938, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, Producers Council of the NAREB, and the AIA joined together to sponsor the Federal Home Building Service Plan, a program of certification which, during the next decade, helped make home financing available to home owners who used service bureau plans and retained the services of registered architects to supervise construction. Although regionally-inspired Colonial Revival designs dominated, new forms such as the California Ranch house, appeared in the portfolios of approved architect-designed plans.
By the late 1920s, professional landscape architects, such as Stephen Child and Sidney and S. Herbert Hare, had well established reputations for subdivision design and small residential projects in upper-income planned suburbs, such as Tucson's Colonia Solana and Kansas City's Country Club District. In 1923, the Home Owners Service Institute drew attention to the value of using the services of a professional landscape architect to arrange dwellings on site, lay out home grounds, and develop planting schemes in neighborhoods of small suburban homes. Garden City planners Stein and Wright recognized the profession's role in creating moderate-income neighborhoods when they hired Marjorie Sewell Cautley to assist their work at Sunnyside and Radburn, and encouraged the Buhl Foundation in Pittsburgh to hire Ralph E. Griswold to assist with the layout and planting of Chatham Village.(120)
Mrs. Francis King (Louise Yeomans King), a leader in the garden club movement, introduced the "Little Garden Series" in 1921, marking an increasing interest in the design of the small suburban lot. The series, which included Fletcher Steele's Design in the Little Garden (1924), brought home owners practical and aesthetic advice from professional landscape architects and successful gardeners. Other books by landscape architects reflecting this trend included Myrl E. Bottomley's Design of Small Properties (1926), Cautley's Garden Design (1935), Frank A. Waugh's Everybody's Garden (1930). Helen Morgenthau Fox's Patio Gardens (1929) and Richard Requa's Architectural Details of Spain and the Mediterranean (1927), both featuring Spanish and Mediterranean influences, encouraged the development of regional gardening forms that corresponded to emerging trends in house design and were suited to the warmer climates of California and Florida.(121)
Public and Private Initiatives: The Efficient Low-Cost Home, 1931-1948:
As the Great Depression deepened, housing starts declined precipitously, coming almost to a standstill. Discussion of the ideal small house took on new urgency with the collapse of the home building industry and the rising rate of mortgage foreclosures.
With the recommendations of the Nation's leading experts, the 1931 conference endorsed the objective of reforming the Nation's system of home financing, improving the quality of housing for moderate and lower-income groups, and stimulating the building industry. For house design, these measures meant improving the design and efficiency of the American home while lowering its cost. Through a combination of private and public efforts, the design of efficient, low-cost housing-in the of form single, two-family, and multiple family dwellings-became a national priority, reflecting to a large extent the recommendations made by the conference committees.
The Committee on Design brought together experienced architects and developers who called for improvements in small house design such as building houses in well planned groups to avoid the monotony created by the repetition of uniform houses on narrow lots and siting houses to benefit from sunlight, air, and outdoor space. Representatives from trade organizations, building associations, and materials manufacturers formed the Committee on Construction, which upheld the need for labor and time conserving methods, standard building codes, improved standards of workmanship, education and research by trade associations, and economies of prefabrication. Another committee examined the affordability of heating, ventilating, and air conditioning, and set basic requirements for plumbing and sanitation, electric wiring, and refrigeration.(122)
The Committee on Landscape Planning and Planting, which brought together landscape architects experienced in residential design and representatives of the organizations such as the Garden Club of America and National Council of State Garden Club Federations, upheld the importance of attractive yard design and landscape plantings to enhance a home owner's comfort and enjoyment as well as increase property values.(123)
FHA's Minimum House and Small House Program
Through its approval of properties for mortgage insurance and the publication of housing and subdivision standards, the FHA instituted a national program that would regulate home building practices for many decades. House designs, first published in FHA's Principles of Planning Small Houses (1936), were updated periodically. Circulars, such as Property Standards, Recent Developments in Building Construction, and Modern Housing, addressed issues of prefabrication methods and materials, housing standards, and principles of design.
The five FHA house types that appeared in Planning Small Houses in 1936 offered "a range in comfort of living," and in succession a "slightly increasing accommodation." Illustrated by floor plans and simple elevations, each type was void of nonessential spaces, picturesque features, and unnecessary items that would add to their cost, following FHA's principle for "providing a maximum accommodation within a minimum of means." Houses could be built in a variety of materials, including wood, brick, concrete block, shingles, stucco, or stone. To increase domestic efficiency, new labor saving technologies were introduced: kitchens were equipped with modern appliances, and the utility room's integrated mechanical system replaced the basement furnace of earlier homes.(124)
The simplest FHA design became known in the home building industry as the "FHA minimum house." Measuring 534 square feet and having no basement, House A was a one-story, two-bedroom house designed for a family of three adults or two adults and two children. A small kitchen and larger multipurpose living room extended across the front of the house, while two bedrooms and a bathroom were located off a small hallway at the back of the house. The slightly larger House B provided 624 square feet of living space and had more lasting appeal.(125)
Houses C and D were two-story homes, having two upstairs bedrooms, with the latter offering a simple attached garage. House E, a compact two-story, three-bedroom house, was the largest and most elaborate of FHA's early designs. Illustrated with a classically inspired doorway and semicircular light in the street-facing gable, it demonstrated that a house could be "attractively designed without excessive ornamentation."(126)
FHA's 1940 edition of Planning Small Homes introduced a dramatically different, flexible system of house design based on the principles of expandability, standardization, and variability. Praised for its livability, the simple one-story "minimum" house became the starting point from which many variations arose as rooms were added or extended to increase interior space, often forming an L-shaped plan. Exterior design resulted from the combination of features such as gables, porches, materials, windows, and roof types. Factors such as orientation to sunlight, prevailing winds, and view became as important as the efficient layout of interior space. Fireplaces and chimneys could be added, as well as basements. The revised edition also included designs for two-bedroom, two-story houses having central-hall and sidewall-stair plans, some offering built-in garages and additional bedrooms.(127)
The new FHA principles provided instructions for grouping similarly designed houses in cul-de-sacs and along streetscapes by varying the elements of exterior design in ways that avoided repetition and gave the neighborhood an interesting and pleasing character, for example, by varying the placement of each house on its lot and introducing a variety of wall materials and roof types. The principles were directed at operative builders who, taking advantage of the cost-reducing practices of standardization and more liberal financing terms, were becoming increasingly aware of the advantages of building homes on a large scale and, for the first time, were creating what has become known as "tract" housing.(128)
FHA's Rental Housing Program
FHA's Large-Scale Rental Housing Division worked closely with operative builders to design apartment villages that were efficient cost-wise, but also attractive and desirable places for moderate-income renters. Utilizing superblock planning and incorporating garden courts and common greens, they were strongly influenced by Stein and Wright's Garden City projects at Sunnyside Gardens, Radburn, and Chatham Village, as well as the highly recognized World War I defense housing communities of Seaside Village at Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Yorkship Village at Camden, New Jersey.
The overall aesthetic effect of garden apartment villages relied on the varied and irregular massing of units within a superblock, separation from automobile traffic, an interlocking arrangement of housing units to fit a site's topography which avoided the appearance of either rowhouses or large apartment blocks, and the provision of landscaped walkways, gardens, and recessed entry courts. Staggered roof lines and unifying cornices, fascia, and dentil friezes, and the repetition of modest and similar architectural embellishments-doorways, transoms, mouldings, window surrounds, roof designs-unified each complex's over-all design.
Economies of scale and the use of standardized building components dictated the design of communities such as Buckingham in Arlington, Virginia. Functional efficiency and cost reduction relied on the use of standardized components and appliances, the development of consolidated mechanical systems, and an efficient arrangement of rooms within each apartment, and of apartments within each dwelling unit. Influenced by Henry Wright, who had advised on the design of Buckingham and whose Rehousing Urban America was published in 1935, FHA architect Eugene H. Klaber developed a series of efficient "unit plans," which published in FHA's monthly Architectural Bulletin (1940), guided much market-rate rental housing construction through World War II.(129)
The 1930s became a decade of experimentation. A number of private organizations assumed the role of "scientific housers" with the purpose of creating a house that a majority of American wage earners could afford. Others explored the principles of mass production and prefabrication to reduce the cost of building materials and housing.(130)
Bemis Industries, Inc., under the direction of Albert Farwell Bemis, experimented with prefabricated modular systems using a variety of materials including steel, gypsum-based blocks and slabs, and composition board and steel panels to create a series of model homes; this work established the principles for Bemis's three-volume The Evolving House (1936), which became a standard reference work on prefabrication. Bemis pursued a three-fold strategy: first, simplify the house by eliminating seldomly used space; second, streamline the construction process by using time and labor-saving equipment, materials, and techniques; third, apply principles of modern industrial management for production based on economies of scale and the sequential production of components.(131)
The John B. Pierce Foundation of New York City examined the American home from the standpoint of efficiency. Through space-and-motion studies of family living habits, the foundation developed the prototype for a 24 by 28 foot house, having four rooms and a bath which became a community building standard. The foundation developed a number of models, including a demonstration village at its laboratory in Highbridge, New Jersey, and worked with manufacturers to develop small marketable dwellings using innovative materials and prefabricated components, which were manufactured on a large scale and purchased by the U.S. government during World War II.(132)
In 1935, the Forest Products Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Agriculture developed a "stress-skin" plywood house, which spurred a series of efforts to develop insulated, prefabricated wood panels that could be manufactured on a large scale and shipped for easy assembly on site. Such prefabricated systems were adopted by a number of manufacturers, including the Celotex Company of Chicago and Homasote Company of Trenton, New Jersey, which would both become leading manufacturers of housing for defense workers during World War II.(133)
In its annual revision of Recent Developments in Building Construction, FHA reported on new developments and provided a list of the materials and methods approved by the U.S. Bureau of Standards. In 1940 the list included methods ranging from a system of steel panel construction manufactured by Steel Buildings, Inc., of Ohio to concrete construction methods promoted by the Portland Cement Association.(134)
Prefabricated methods took on increasing importance with the onset of World War II as the construction of both temporary and permanent housing in places determined critical for defense production became a national priority. The need to speed production and lower construction costs guided these efforts, many of which were funded under the Lanham Act and public housing programs. After the war, manufacturers continued to shape the suburban landscape based on principles of mass production and prefabrication. Federal loans for the construction of manufacturing plants through the Reconstruction Finance Corporation made it possible for manufacturers such as Carl Strandlund of Chicago and Harvey Kaiser in California to fund large-scale efforts to produce housing components that could be shipped and assembled on site to provide housing for the families of returning veterans.(135)
Many attempts to produce factory-made prefabricated dwellings experienced limited success and failed, including the demountable Acorn houses introduced in 1945 by Carl Koch and John Bemis of Massachusetts and the porcelain-enamel steel Lustron House, manufactured from 1947 to 1950, the invention of manufacturer Carl Strandlund and architect Morris Beckman.
To architects such as William Wurster and Walter Gropius, prefabrication promised a solution to housing America's lower-income families. During the 1940s, Gropius worked closely with Konrad Wachsmann and the General Panel Corporation to develop a system of prefabrication that would markedly reduce the cost of housing. Although the final model called "the Packaged House" was technically a success, the company's efforts to market the system and remain financially solvent failed.(136)
More successful were house manufacturers such as National Homes Corporation of Lafayette, Indiana, and Gunnison Homes of New Albany, Indiana, which readily adapted their factory operations to postwar conditions and offered a number of designs suited to the needs, incomes, and tastes of postwar middle-income home buyers. These companies engaged the services of well-known architects, including Royal Barry Wills and Charles M. Goodman, and offered expanding portfolios with the latest in interior and exterior features, such as heat-insulated windows and exposed redwood ceilings.(137)
Postwar Suburban House and Yard, 1945-1960:
By 1945, several factors-the lack of new housing, continued population growth, and six million returning veterans eager to start families-combined to produce the largest building boom in the Nation's history, almost all of it concentrated in the suburbs. From 1944 to 1946, single-family housing starts increased eight-fold from 114,000 to 937,000. Spurred by the builders' credits and liberalized terms for VA- and FHA-approved mortgages by the end of the 1940s, home building proceeded on an unprecedented scale reaching a record high in 1950 with the construction of 1,692,000 new single-family houses.(138)
The experience of World War II demonstrated the possibilities offered by large-scale production, prefabrication methods and materials, and streamlined assembly methods. In 1947 developer William Levitt began to apply these principles to home building in a dramatically new way, creating his first large-scale suburb, Levittown on Long Island, which would eventually accommodate 82,000 residents in more than 17,500 houses.(139)
Levitt's idea was to lower construction costs by simplifying the house, assembling many components off-site, and turning the construction site into a streamlined assembly line. The economy of using factory produced building components, such as precut wall panels and standardized mechanical systems, significantly lowered the cost of construction. By adapting assembly line methods for horizontal or serial production, Levitt and Sons was able to systematically and efficiently assemble the components on site. The construction process was divided into 27 steps, each performed in sequence by a specialized crew. The tasks, skills, and manpower to complete each step were precisely defined and each member was trained to perform a set of repetitive tasks, enabling work crews to move efficiently and quickly through each site, thus establishing the firm's reputation for completing a house every 15 minutes.(140)
The vast subdivisions of Cape Cods and later Ranch homes, mocked by critics as suburban wastelands, represent not only an unprecedented building boom, but the concerted and organized effort by many groups, including the Federal government, to create a single-family house that a majority of Americans could afford. Levitt actually perfected a construction process that had been in the making for more than two decades. Other developers did the same, including Harvey Kaiser at Panorama City, near Los Angeles, and Philip M. Klutznick of American Community Builders, Inc., at Park Forest, Illinois. The success of Levitt and others resulted in the emergence of large-scale developers, called "merchant builders," who would apply their successful formulas for building large communities in one location after another, often accommodating changing tastes, economics, and consumer demand in new and improved house designs.(141)
From the FHA Minimum House to the Cape Cod
The Cape Cod provided most of the low-cost suburban housing immediately following the war and was built in groups of varying sizes, sometimes numbering the hundreds. Often located on curvilinear streets and cul-de-sacs that reflected the FHA guidelines for neighborhood planning, Cape Cods appeared in a variety of materials, including sheets of insulated asbestos shingles available after the war in an increasing assortment of colors.
The Cape Cod that eager prospective renters lined up to inspect in the first Levittown in June 1947, was one-and-a-half stories and built on a concrete slab. Its 750 square feet of living space was divided into a living room, a kitchen, two bedrooms, and a bath. Set on a lot of 6,000 square feet, the exterior of the house-with a steeply pitched gable roof pierced by two dormers above a clapboarded first story-was a variation on a Cape Cod cottage and was a somewhat larger version of the FHA minimum house, which had been improved and expanded in FHA's 1940 Principles for Planning Small Houses.(142)
Large-scale subdivisions not only took form on the periphery of the Nation's largest metropolitan areas, but also around many smaller cities. For middle- and upper-middle-income families, especially in the East, simplified versions of prewar "small house" designs such as brick or clapboarded Cape Cod and other Colonial Revival forms continued in popularity, in large part due to architect Royal Barry Wills, who published numerous plan books, including Houses for Good Living (1940), Better Homes for Budgeteers (1941), Houses for Homemakers (1945), and Living on the Level (1955).(143)
The Suburban Ranch House
The suburban Ranch house of the 1950s reflected modern consumer preferences and growing incomes. With its low, horizontal silhouette and rambling floor plan, the house type reflected the nation's growing fascination with the informal lifestyle of the West Coast and the changing functional needs of families.(144)
In the 1930s California architects Cliff May, H. Roy Kelley, William W. Wurster, and others adapted the traditional housing of Southwest ranches and haciendas and Spanish Colonial revival styles to a suburban house type suited for middle-income families. The house was typically built of natural materials such as adobe or redwood and was oriented to an outdoor patio and gardens that ensured privacy and intimacy with nature. Promoted by Sunset Magazine between 1946 and 1958 and featured in portfolios such as Western Ranch Houses (1946) and Western Ranch Houses by Cliff May (1958), May's work gained considerable attention in the Southwest and across the nation.(145)
In the late 1940s popular magazine surveys indicated the postwar family's preference for the informal Ranch house as well as a desire to have all their living space on one floor with a basement for laundry and other utilities and a multipurpose room for hobbies and recreation. Builders of middle and upper-income homes mimicked the architect-designed homes of the Southwest, offering innovations such as sliding glass doors, picture windows, carports, screens of decorative blocks, and exposed timbers and beams, which derived as much from modernistic influences as those of traditional Southwestern design.(146)
Builders of low-cost homes, however, sought ways to give the basic form of FHA-approved houses a Ranch-like appearance. By late 1949, Levitt & Sons had modified the Cape Cod into a Ranch-like house called "The Forty-Niner," by leaving the floor plan intact and giving the house an asymmetrical facade and horizontal emphasis by placing shingles on the lower half of the front elevation and fitting horizontal sliding windows just below the eaves. Picture windows, broad chimneys, horizontal bands of windows, basement recreational rooms, and exterior terraces or patios became distinguishing features of the forward-looking yet lower-cost suburban home.(147)
In the 1950s, as families grew larger and children became teenagers, households moved up to larger Ranch houses, offering more space and privacy. With the introduction of television and inexpensive, high-fidelity phonographs, increasing noise levels created a demand for greater separation of activities and soundproof zones. The split-level house provided increased privacy through the location of bedrooms on an upper level a half-story above the main living area and an all-purpose, recreation room on a lower level. The Ranch house in various configurations, including the split level, continued as the dominant suburban house well into the 1960s.
The Contemporary House
The influence of Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Richard J. Neutra, Mies van der Rohe, and other modernists inspired many architects to look to new solutions for livable homes using modern materials of glass, steel, and concrete, and principles of organic design that utilized cantilevered forms, glass curtain walls, and post-and-beam construction. The contemporary home featured the integration of indoor and outdoor living area and open floor plans, which allowed a sense of flowing space. Characteristics such as masonry hearth walls, patios and terraces, carports, and transparent walls in the form of sliding glass doors and floor-to-ceiling windows became hallmarks of the contemporary residential design.(148)
The principles of European modernism expressed in the International Style had been introduced to the American public in the 1932 Museum of Modern Art exhibition. The Century of Progress World's Fair at Chicago in 1933 introduced Americans to a number of modern houses, including the House of Tomorrow by George Fred Keck, noted for its polygonal form, innovative use of glass, and showcase of modern building materials.(149)
James and Katherine Ford's Modern House in America (1940) and professional magazines, such as the Architectural Record, Progressive Architecture, and Architectural Forum, promoted modernistic architect-built homes and featured the work of a rising generation of modernists including Edward D. Stone, Paul Thiry, William Lescaze, George Howe, Alden B. Dow, Pietro Belluschi, and Gregory Ain. Under the editorship of John Entenza, the Case Study Series in Arts and Architecture from 1945 and 1966 included designs for 36 houses that reflected new approaches to domestic design and featured mass production techniques, innovative planning, and new materials. The series not only featured outstanding examples of upper-income homes in California by noted designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, Raphael Soriano, and Ralph Rapson, but also a proposed but never-executed 260-home subdivision in San Fernando Valley, designed by A. Quincy Jones, Jr., and Frederick E. Emmons and co-sponsored by merchant builder Joseph Eichler and the Producers' Council.(150)
Architects and others promoted the development of small houses reflecting modernistic design principles to meet the postwar housing shortage through plan books and detailed instructions that pointed out the construction and space efficiencies offered by modern design. Such books included The Small House of Tomorrow (1945) by Los Angeles architect Paul R. Williams; Tomorrow's House: How to Plan Your Post-War Home Now (1945) by designers George Nelson and Henry N. Wright; and the Museum of Modern Art's If You Want to Build a House (1946) by Elizabeth B. Mock.(151)
Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian houses of the 1930s were forward looking with their horizontal emphasis, flat and sloping roofs, large windows, corner windows, and combination of natural wood and masonry materials. Wright continued to explore the problem of the small home, designing in 1938 an interesting group of quadraplexes, the Suntop Houses, at Ardmore, Pennsylvania. He gave new form to the Usonian house in the 1950s, and published The Natural House (1954), where he elaborated on his principles of organic design to create livable dwellings that integrated home and site.
Private organizations, such as the Revere Quality House Institute, Southwest Research Institute, and John D. Pierce Foundation, promoted the use of modern principles of design by sponsoring award programs and offering seals of approval for successful innovative designs. These programs encouraged the collaboration of developers and modernist architects and recognized the broadening array of new and innovative home building materials and prefabricated methods of construction.(152)
John Hancock Callender's Before You Buy a House (1953), a joint publication of the Southwest Research Institute and the Architectural League of New York, was designed to educate prospective home buyers about the efficiency, livability, and low-cost afforded by the "contemporary residential style." The book showcased dozens of communities of small homes from all parts of the country, including Arapahoe Acres in Englewood, Colorado; and many of merchant builder Joseph Eichler's subdivisions in California.(153)
In the 1950s AIA sponsored a Homes for Better Living award program in conjunction with House and Home, Better Homes and Gardens, and the National Broadcasting Corporation. This program recognized successful merchant-built communities such as Hollin Hills in Alexandria, Virginia, which featured the innovative domestic architecture of Charles M. Goodman.(154)
Appealing to an increasingly well-educated and prosperous audience, popular magazines heralded innovations in contemporary house design. The distinction between the Ranch and contemporary house became blurred as each type made use of transparent walls, privacy screens of design concrete blocks, innovations in open space planning, and the interplay of interior and exterior space. House Beautiful promoted Wright's designs as well as other upper-income homes in the modernistic styles. Better Homes promoted designs to meet the incomes of a wider range of families and showcased successful owner-built designs alongside those of established architects, such as architect Chester Nagel's home in Lexington, Massachusetts. In the late 1940s Better Homes began to recognize outstanding examples, which were showcased as "Five Star Homes." Other magazines offered similar awards, including Parents' Magazine, which sponsored the "Best Home for Family Living" competition.(155)
Exploring the possibilities inherent in combining modern design and prefabrication methods, architect Carl Koch and John Bemis introduced the popular, mass-produced Tech-built house in the early 1950s. From 1952 to 1956, the U.S. Gypsum Corporation sponsored a well-publicized demonstration project at Barrington Woods, Illinois, which featured model homes by a number of leading designers. In addition, sources such as Koch's At Home with Tomorrow (1958) and Jones and Emmons's Builder's Homes for Better Living (1957) spurred a whole series of contemporary homes, whose facades by the end of the 1950s were dominated by overhanging eaves, broad gables, transparent walls, and aboveground balconies.
Postwar Suburban Apartment Houses
Modernism was embraced as the rental housing market expanded in the suburbs of large cities. Title 608 of the National Housing Act, which guaranteed builders 90 percent-mortgages on multiple family projects conforming to FHA standards, continued until the mid-1950s. Publication of Clarence Stein's Toward New Towns (1951) revived models for low- and mid-rise apartment villages, such as the Phipps Apartments at Sunnyside Gardens and the modernistic Baldwin Hills in Los Angeles. Housing Design (1954) by Columbia University professor Eugene Klaber set forth principles of unit-planning similar to those Klaber had developed for the FHA two decades earlier. FHA began to provide mortgage insurance for apartment buildings having elevators in the late 1940s. By the 1950s apartment buildings were equipped with improved mechanical systems, elevators, up-to-date appliances, central air conditioning, outdoor balconies, and newly available prefabricated components such as steel-framed windows and sliding glass doors.(156)
Unlike their urban counterparts built on the site of cleared slums, high-rise suburban developments, which became increasingly popular in the late 1950s, were modeled after Le Corbusier's vision for the "radiant city" and luxury high-rise apartment houses in American cities, including Mies van der Rohe's Promontory Apartments (1949) and Lake Shore Drive Apartments (1951) in Chicago; Frank Lloyd Wright's Price Company Tower (1952) in Bartlesville, Oklahoma; and 100 Memorial Drive (1950) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, by the firm of Kennedy, Koch, DeMars, Rapson, and Brown. Their location along major expressways leading from the center city was motivated by convenience of location as well as advances in air conditioning, elevator design, mechanical systems, and structural design.(157)
Contemporary Landscape Design
New directions in landscape design accompanied the development of the Ranch house and contemporary residence in California. Emphasis on the integration of indoor and outdoor living encouraged the arrangement of features such as the patios and terraces, sunshades and trellises, swimming pools, and privacy screens. Several of the Case Study houses in Arts and Architecture featured the landscape work of Garrett Eckbo. Architects such as Paul Williams designed houses "with the living side facing a private garden." Sunset magazine publicized western gardens by Doug Baylis, Thomas Church, and Eckbo, a number of which formed the grounds of Ranch houses designed by Cliff May, and published Landscape for Western Living (1956). In addition, Thomas Church's Gardens Are for People: How to Plan for Outdoor Living (1955), and Garrett Eckbo's Landscape for Living (1950) and Art of Home Landscaping (1956) brought to a national audience simple principles for organizing the domestic yard into dignified lawns, private patios, informal garden rooms, and activity areas with simple, easy-to-maintain plants and shrubbery.(158)
The modern style sought to achieve an integration of interior and exterior space by creating lines of vision through transparent windows and doors to patios, intimate garden spaces, zones designed for special uses, and distant vistas. Hedges, freestanding shrubbery, and beds of low growing plants, arranged to form abstract geometrical patterns, reinforced the horizontal and vertical planes of the modern suburban house.(159)
Developers of contemporary subdivisions often secured the services of landscape architects as site planners to lay out their subdivisions and advise on the layout and planting of common areas, street corners, streets, and sidewalks. Others urged home owners to consult with landscape architects on the design of their suburban yards. The Southwest Research Institute encouraged such collaboration and recognized its achievement in suburban neighborhoods of contemporary homes, such as Hollin Hills in Alexandria, Virginia, where several landscape architects, including Dan Kiley, drew up planting plans for home owners and advised the developer on the planting of common areas.(160)
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