The Chicago bungalow, original to this city, is a unique piece of architecture. It’s adaptable for its users and has always been an affordable option for first time homeowners. But what else is unique about the bungalow? The answer lies in the numbers of bungalows together. They collectively create a sense of place that is evident in a visual street rhythm, tying together common design elements and a shared historical context. In this article, we review three reasons how a bungalow street front works as a whole and why it’s the best for home value.
1. Aesthetics and Composition
Typically, when you think of the Chicago bungalow, a certain picture comes to mind. Whether it is a single-family home, or the whole street in general, this piece of architecture draws on some classic design language that is easily relatable. Elements such as rhythm (easy for the eye to follow), scale (relatable to a person), and order (shapes that are easy to distinguish) all present in the bungalow, play a critical part in creating a pleasing experience to the observer. A single house with these correct proportions, scale, and dimensions will be visually balanced; if one of these elements is off, then the whole composition becomes unbalanced. The same goes for the street in general— if one of the houses is completely different, then the whole street will be out of balance. This is not to say urban developments must be identical, (in fact variety is welcome!) it’s just that a common design language must be consistently present to give a sense of flow. In many of the great historic neighborhoods in Europe and the US, the neighborhoods that share these design elements together have proven time and again what works and what drives up value and demand. The next time you are in an urban setting you find enjoyable, look for common themes that draw the homes together: a shared line, common shapes, or windows, for example, and see if your neighborhood shares those qualities!
Notice the consistent lines and proportion that ties together the houses, regardless of size.
2. Sense of Community
Where there is an inherent similarity in the architecture, the users have a better sense of neighborhood and belonging. With proper visual cues and boundaries, the neighborhood is something that can be mapped in someone’s mind without thinking too hard. Much research has been done by urban planning experts in these regards, but a common architectural theme typically ties a community together. Even in suburbia, from the gated communities to the developer produced subdivisions; the same commonality ties the small neighborhood pocket together. However, unlike a suburban development, the bungalow neighborhood is better leveraged to create a sense of community. The scale of the street is much more pedestrian friendly. Homes that are adaptable are closer together to encourage communication and bonding among homeowners, giving them opportunities to discuss ideas and renovation tips.
In this streetscape, large changes in scale from one house to the next break the sense of rhythm while moving down the street.
3. Historical Context
Historic styles and the bungalow belt were set in place in a very particular time in history. Not only is the bungalow a standout example and prototype of a great affordable adaptable home, but the collection of many bungalows is unique to Chicago. The belt, built in the pre-war period from 1910 to 1940, all share commonalities that give it a historical context and layering to the city. Unique brick patterns, open front porches, and low wide rooflines were all part of this style of building at the time that carry a craftsman aesthetic with them. However, as years went by and families grew, so too did the original home. What was once the preferred building material and style in one period gave way to less expensive materials in later decades. Certain additions became utilitarian though, and their overall form does not blend well with the original aesthetic of the bungalow, as well as the size and scale of many. Though these later additions certainly have a story in the history of the building, it is the original home that brings the charm and edges property values higher. When renovating or remodeling, take careful consideration of the original detailing of the home. It keeps the historic character of the place and maintains the consistent streetscape, while at the same time giving the home a customized, unique flair only found in this type of architecture.
The bungalow house type is one that has been around for over 100 years, yet has proven through time that it intends to stay. The reason it works is not just the genius design of the single house itself, but in the communal neighborhood that it creates. Collectively and visually, the group of bungalow homes together are an aesthetically pleasing sight, encourage a close-knit community, and add a layer of history to the Chicago canvas. Whether you are a homeowner or passing through, you know instinctively by these clues that you are in a charming bungalow neighborhood, one unique to Chicago.
Parker Brock is an ex-carpenter and licensed architect in the state of Illinois who manages the architecture firm Orlynbock Design in Chicago.