By Mitzi March Mogul
From Issue 10
About the time of World War 1, the image of the United States as the Great Democracy had created an idyllic view of American life. People in other parts of the world were looking to the U.S. for inspiration, and the bungalow, which was the very essence of being American, made its way into a variety of foreign places. A photo of one of these neighborhoods, even today, could easily be mistaken for a town in America.
Australia and New Zealand, although part of the British Empire, were more influenced by the United States when it came to lifestyle and architecture. The similarities in history, geography, climate and natural resources created an instinctive relationship between those countries and the U.S. There was also a Western European cultural connection. Although geographically closer to Japan and India, the United States remained the dominant influ nce, the filter through which Far Eastern concepts gained acceptance.
There was a tremendous exchange of information between American architects and designers and their Australian and New Zealand colleagues. Professional journals and popular magazines were widely reporting on Arts and Crafts architecture. Architects traveled to other countries and even settled there, bringing with them their own country’s designs.
In one of the more notable exchanges, American architect Walter Burley Griffin and his wife, archit ectural designer Marion Mahoney, went to Australia in 1914 and achieved some of his most notable work there. He had earlier worked with Frank Lloyd Wright, and many of his visions were founded in the Prairie School designs. He pioneered the use of regional materials and introduced the relationship of the environment to building, much the same as Wright was doing with his “textile block” houses in Los Angeles, and later, with his residential masterpiece, Fallingwater, built in 1935 at Mill Run, Penn.
The Society of Arts and Crafts, established in Sydney in 1907, promoted a variety of Arts and Crafts and the use of regional motifs, and earlier, in 1895, an arts and handicrafts magazine had been published. But these focused on decorative arts, not architecture, and owed more to British influence. There was some work in English vernacular and Gothic Revival styles, but the complete environment that was Arts and Crafts had not yet taken hold.
Another seminal moment occurred in 1911 when Australian architect James Peddle opened an office in Pasadena, Calif., and returned to Sydney in 1914, the same year as Walter Burley Griffin. The three years he spent in Southern California were enough to impress upon him the social changes being represented in architecture. Combined with the flow of journals, magazines, books and other informational material, the bungalow grew in its appeal. In 1916 a prefabricated bungalow from Southern California was imported as an exhibition house, furthering the promotion of the bungalow style.
Similar exchanges were taking place in neighboring New Zealand. The bungalow was perfectly suited to their climate and social structure. The Spanish Mission style, which represented the romance of history and Hollywood glamour while introducing modernist theories, was also enthusiastically embraced.
Following World War I, Australia tried to settle into a new and hard-won, modest prosperity. It was not easy — the cost of living had risen dramatically and the global influenza epidemic cast its shadow there as well. Increased home ownership, at that time only about 30 percent, was seen as both a social and economic answer. Bungalows seemed ideal for domestic architectural design. Some of the reasons were purely economic. The cost of wood, even Australian timber, had more than doubled since before the war. Thus, the bungalow’s compact home design, which eliminated central hallways, lowered ceiling heights and saved money, was much in demand.
Throughout the 1920s and ‘30s, the American Craftsman bungalow was the dominant building type in domestic architecture for Australia and New Zealand. Interior design incorporated Art Deco design as that style increased in popularity, but there seems to have been a wide variety of building types. It was an unusual moment in time, when Craftsman, Art Nouveau, Spanish Mission, Moderne, International and Art Deco styles were all being built simultaneously in Australia and New Zealand. The time lag between the development of these styles in the U.S. and Europe and their eventual export to the Southern Hemisphere was in many ways a benefit to those architects, who were able to study and absorb all the styles and make them their own.
Today, most of the bungalows are still standing, occupied, and carefully maintained. Bungalow neighborhoods in Australia and New Zealand, even in urban areas, are moderately upscale residential areas. Residents haven’t been “urban pioneers” or even preservationists. They haven’t returned to the past, but seem quite comfortable continuing to live with the past in a contemporary framework, to enjoy the qualities that have always been inherent in the bungalow.
The vast number and range of bungalows and Craftsman homes around the world indicate how pervasive the style was. It crossed socioeconomic levels, creating a new dynamic in architecture and in the social order. What remains allows us to appreciate the impact of a philosophical design ideal and the far-reaching significance of an architectural style.
Mitzi March Mogul, a free-lance writer, native of Los Angeles and owner of a Craftsman bungalow in the West Adams district, has been active professionally in preservation for more than a decade. She recently worked for the Prince of Wales Architectural Foundation, assisting Prince Charles. She is president of the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles and taught preservation at the American College of Applied Arts.