Gregory Ain's Small Houses
by Anthony Denzer
Gregory Ain's small houses of the 1930s were completed in a historical context in which the "small house" emerged as a typology of primary importance to architects.
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American architecture of the 1920s was generally oriented to public buildings such as churches, schools, libraries, and movie theaters, but the "small house" provided a conceptual approach and a physical infrastructure for the country's architects practicing in the 1930s. Throughout this period, American law and housing policy favored the "small house" as the physical form for the country's housing patterns.
Rise of the Small House
While the term "housing" in central and northern Europe generally meant multiple-unit integrated projects, in America, with notable exceptions, it generally took the form of the single-family detached dwelling.
Why did American housing evolve so differently than European housing? In the United States, housing law favored private enterprise, and the vast majority of developments were underwritten by banks. Although Herbert Hoover had championed the small house as a national ideal as secretary of commerce during the 1920s, the Great Depression of the 1930s created a national housing emergency, long before the more familiar housing emergency of the late 1940s.
The Depression made clear in the minds of American policymakers the need both to stimulate the economy and to generate a new economic order geared toward stability. The government would maintain an inflationary housing market in order to mobilize workers, banks, and material suppliers in order to stimulate the national economy. Building a house involved a large number of trades and could potentially employ the largest number of workers.
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This article is excerpted from Gregory Ain: The Modern Home as Social Commentary by Anthony Denzer, copyright © 2008, with permission of the publisher, Rizzoli.
Gregory Ain's 1947 offices for his firm Ain, Johnson & Day.
Photo: Conrado Lopez
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Gregroy Ain, circa 1948.
Photo: © Eames Office, LLC/ Courtesy Library of Congress
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