22 Avenue Road, Leicester, photograph courtesy of The Modern House
The Mid century Bungalow: formative years
If I have a particular affinity for the mid century bungalow perhaps it’s because I spent the first years of my life living in one. Completed in early 1967, my parents had commissioned a local architect to design them a home fit for an aspiring young couple with their first child on the way. Built in a light grey brick, open plan with split level lounge/dining room, plenty of glazing for indoor-outdoor living, vaulted timber boarded ceilings, and a stone-faced fireplace, this house was the manifestation of a modernity that they readily embraced.
The Mid century Bungalow: a chequered history
Bungalows have a somewhat chequered history in this country. They first rose to popularity in the inter-war years, typically built in coastal locations for retirees. Unfortunately their spiritless type quickly took on the derogatory name ‘bungaloids’ and the subsequent speculative developments of the 1950s and 1960s form the flaccid bulk of Britain’s bungalow stock, tainting the image of the bungalow in Britain to this day.
The Mid century Bungalow: the influence of Mies van der Rohe
Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion of 1929 offered a glimpse of a brighter future. Constructed as an exhibition space, its ‘Miesian’ aesthetic would be realised in a residential form in the Farnsworth House of 1950, and in many single-storey dwellings of the Case Study House Program in California between 1945 and 1966, including those by Pierre Koenig and Craig Ellwood. Marcel Breuer’s 1936 Gane’s Pavilion in Bristol was an early demonstration of the application of vernacular materials to a Modernist form, a style that he subsequently developed in several residential commissions in Massachusetts with Walter Gropius in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
The Mid century Bungalow: modern architecture in England
When residential building restrictions were finally lifted in 1954, a generation of progressive young British architects were eager to adopt these new modes of dwelling. Hyper-modern low horizontal forms began to appear, often designed by the architect as their own family home. The move away from traditional pitched roofs to flat ones allowed for the development of more adventurous floor plans beyond the plain rectangles and squares of the inter-war years. Central courtyards could be enclosed in walls of glazing, juxtaposing transparent interiors with enclosed exteriors, bringing light into the core of the house whilst retaining privacy. Bi-nuclear schemes separated sleeping and living quarters into separate wings, linking in a kitchen that had been liberated by an open plan layout. And as a nod to America, carports showcased the latest family car.
Many of the bungalows that were built on larger plots of land have in recent years succumbed to the wrecking ball of the opportunist developer keen to build something larger (and usually less refined) in its place. Some have been listed, though not enough. Fine examples include High Sunderland in Selkirk by Peter Wormersley (1957), Peter Moro House (an ‘upstairs bungalow’) in Blackheath by Peter Moro (1958), and 22 Avenue Road in Leicester by James Cubitt and Partners (1955).
The Mid century Bungalow: a renewed appreciation
Fortunately, a new generation of design conscious homeowners are rediscovering the style that we now know as Mid-century Modern. Thirty-five years after leaving, I took my parents back to visit the bungalow I was born in. We tentatively knocked at the front door and were greeted by the owner, an architect himself, who readily invited us in and regaled us with the highs of bungalow living.
There’s more from Jeremy Tracey on his blog House of Tomorrow
Jeremy Tracey’s article The Highs of Bungalow Living was first published in MidCentury issue 07
Read Jeremy’s account of high-rise living in Tower Power: 1968 interiors at the Balfron Tower Pop-up