Model Homes through History

Homeownership has long been a key part of the American Dream and, as such, is integral to our identity as Americans.  With this consideration, what do our homes say about us as individuals and as a society?  Similar to how a historian can study the design of a home and make certain inferences to the lives of those who inhabited it, so too can an individual study the lives of people and infer the design of a home that best fits their lifestyle and socio-economic situation.  In the latter instance the result is typically referred to as a model home.

The first half of the twentieth century witnessed a proliferation of people promoting various model home concepts.  Beginning in the period of industrialization and urbanization that swept across the United States after the Civil War, publications attempted to spread an image of what the new American home could be.  House plans and renderings were printed in magazines, such as the Ladies Home Journal (1895-1919) and The Craftsman (1901-1916), illustrating homes that were equal parts an embrace of the newly forming middle class and a reaction against the industrialization that spurred the economic growth of these American families.  Then, during the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, the Homes of Tomorrow exhibition altered this narrative through its exploration of pre-war optimism in the promise of technology.

A decade later World War II began, and changed everything.  The war effort made great strides in construction technology and material sciences while the U.S. population spiked and the suburbanization of America exploded across the landscape.  Responding to these drastic changes, the magazine Arts & Architecture sponsored the Case Study House Program (1945-1966).  Through this program they commissioned major architects of the day to design and build inexpensive and efficient model homes for the housing boom that came with the end of the war.

These new ideas seem to flourish during moments of societal flux.  As the lives of people drastically change they look for homes that fit their new reality.  It appears we are once again at a flux-point in the curve of American evolution.  Similar to the period after the Civil War and World War II, we are in a period of rapid technological and sociological change.  Yet, where is the model home for us?