houses of the less affluent draw the scholarly attention of
UC Berkeley architecture professor
Kathleen Maclay, Public Affairs
over, mega-mansion and trophy home.
associate professor of architecture at the University of California,
Berkeley, is turning his attention to the bungalows, cottages
and other shelters inhabited by people on a budget.
love writing and reading about the houses and the kitchens of
the rich and famous," says Paul Groth, also an architectural
historian. "There's no House and Garden (magazine) for
the working class people."
while the small house lacks the "great room" of the
contemporary home, said Groth, that doesn't mean it isn't commendable.
He thinks "minimal homes" of the 20th century are
making a comeback.
he's teaching a new course this spring devoted to the history
and present status of small homes - perhaps even the arty little
condo in a high-style city neighborhood - for the working class.
And, next year he plans to research the history of workers'
cottages of West Oakland, sampling the approximately 250-block
neighborhood to the south of MacArthur Boulevard and Interstate
poked around the area two years ago with colleague Marta Gutman,
interpreting houses and home life artifacts. They worked for
an archeological team hired by CalTrans to document 20-plus
blocks on the edges of West Oakland, a neighborhood that gave
way to the new Cypress Freeway.
interested in the small house because I think we (as an American
society) need to downsize," Groth said, adding that he
thinks it's already happening.
indicators of resurging minimalist lifestyles, he cited reports
of increased communal living among Bay Area college students
and adults because of skyrocketing housing and premium land
costs. Nearby Silicon Valley boasts the most expensive housing
market in the country.
finding out there are a lot of different ways for people to
live," Groth said. "If we appreciate (the small home)
and learn to live with it, it may be an educational process
to teach Americans that bigger isn't necessarily better."
of Groth's students are living in small homes by choice, circumstance
student moved from a four-bedroom home on two acres into an
in-law cottage behind her parents' home to care for the couple.
Another student lives in a crowded dormitory built in the 1930s,
in a room about 140 square feet in size. Yet another rents a
500-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment. A student who grew up
in India said a single-family home there "is like a dream."
Today, she lives in a house with 1,600 square feet and four
bedrooms and said she's starting to think it's too small.
teaches in the architecture department and once practiced architecture
for a brief time. He earned his PhD at UC Berkeley in human
geography in 1983, studying with James Vance, a specialist in
the history and form of European and North American cities.
He also studied at the College of Environmental Design with
John Brinckerhoff Jackson, whom Groth described as a "maverick
scholar and environmental philosopher" who also had a strong
interest in all types of American homes.
said his fascination with the small home may have begun to take
form while he worked on his doctoral dissertation, which resulted
in a book about residential hotels in the United States. The
days he spent living in one room of an 1840 New York row house,
with a loft over the kitchen table, also may have been a factor.
the start of the 19th century, many middle class and wealthy
Americans lived in hotels, Groth said. The apartment, as we
know it today, didn't exist. But industrialization changed that
as people - first in Europe, then the United States - flocked
from the countryside to the city. Residential hotel owners began
frowning on guests cooking in their rooms, and developers realized
the profit potential of multiple-unit dwellings or smaller homes
squeezed into tighter spaces.
a natural disaster or two, like the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco,
and the changes picked up the pace. After the '06 quake, the
Murphy Bed Co. and its folding bed capitalized on the housing
of the small home now dot the Bay Area, with workers' cottages
in Berkeley and Oakland, bungalow subdivisions and post World
War II subdivisions.
1930, one-half of all Americans had, at some point, rented a
room from a family, or rented out a room in their own homes.
"And high rents and the lack of affordable units has caused
us to go back to that," Groth said. "People with ordinary
incomes are starting to reinvent things that were common in
the '20s and '30s."
only do smaller homes consume fewer natural resources than the
sprawling ranch home in suburbia or the Silicon Valley mansion,
but residents of smaller homes generally tend toward greater
use of mass transit.
small homes in Groth's studies primarily include:
Workers' cottages. These wooden houses first had two to four
rooms, measuring a total of 400 to 600 square feet. Residents
considered them a big step up economically and socially from
shanties and shacks built of scrounged materials and often on
land the residents didn't own. "Proper" middle and
upper class people lived in larger, seemingly more permanent
homes, Groth said.
Expanded workers' cottages. Skilled workers with steady employment
often owned these homes and built on, adding rooms at the back.
Bungalows. They began as one-story, open-lot homes built for
English residents in India. In this country, the bungalow usually
means a one-story house with five or more rooms that runs from
800 to 1,500 square feet.
Studio or efficiency apartments. These dwellings are one-room
apartments with a fold-down bed or couch. The history of the
apartment is "still very spotty," Groth said, and
only has started to be compiled in the last 10 years or so.