The Bungalow

An Indian Contribution to the West
The word Bungalow come from Bangla, the Hindi or Mahratti term meaning "of or belonging to Bengal", as in Bangladesh (East Bengal). As a term to describe a type of dwelling, it is used in practically every continent; something called a bungalow can be found in all English-Speaking countries as well as many ex-colonial ones. As a word of foreign origin, "bungalow" has been incorporated into the main European languages and friends from countries as far apart as Japan and Guatemala confirm that the term and the dwelling it describes can both be found there.

"Bungalow" is also an emotive term. In most countries, the associations are positive; only in Britain, and in certain circles, does it have, at best, a certain risible flavour and at worst, negative associations. Yet on both sides of the Atlantic poems have been written about the bungalow and it has been celebrated in song by artists two generations apart, from Bix Beiderbecke to the Beatles.

Today, the word has two or three common meanings. In Europe and North America, it refers to a separate (or "detached") dwelling, principally on one storey and meant for the permanent occupation of one household or family. It can also describe a simple, lightly or self-built shelter, perhaps by the beach or in the country, and meant for temporary or holiday use. In Africa and India, it might refer to an older, "colonial" type of house which, though perhaps with more than one storey, is always detached, or even, in India at least, to any modern house in contrast to more traditional types of dwelling. In all countries, its diffusion is part of the cultural consequences of colonialism, though in the rich industrial nations of the North, the bungalow, in the first two senses suggested above, is part of two phenomena characteristic of modern, urban-industrial and essentially free market societies: large-scale sub-urbanisation and the growth of mass leisure.

In the Seventeenth Century, bangla was used to describe the very distinctive peasant huts of rural Bengal. Though the earliest identified written reference to these in English is in 1659, the characteristic curvilinear ridge and crescent-like eaves produced by bending bamboo poles for the roof had influenced the architecture of Muslim invaders at least two centuries earlier and was to be reproduced both in Moghul and Rajput building. Depending on their resources and size, peasant families both in the past and today might have one or more of these huts.

Evidence suggests that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Europeans in Bengal, prior to having their own more permanent buildings constructed, or when travelling "up country", would sometimes use such locally built shelters in addition to their own tents, or the budgerows on which they slept when travelling by river. There were, however, many different types of Bengali hut and well into the Twentieth Century, these were used by Europeans in rural areas. According to one source, it was the chauyari, or hut with a "four-sided" roof rather than the curvilinear form of the bangla which was favoured by the British. The main features were the single storey (an obvious outcome of the light walled construction), thatched roof, raised mud plinth, the square or sometimes oblong plan and the "verandah", another colonial term introduced from Portugal or Spain, formed by the supports under the overhanging roof. That the Europeans took to the bangla rather than other forms of North Indian dwelling resulted, firstly, from the obvious fact that Bengal was the main scene of the Company's operations and also, because it was a rural form constructed by local labour. It also accorded more to their own cultural model of a dwelling than the various inward-facing, courtyard house-types of urban northern India.

Though illustrations confirm that native building forms were used, and probably did provide the prototype for the "Anglo-Indian" bungalow, John Lockwood Kipling, Rudyard's father, believed that it had evolved from an adaptation of the army service tent.

The history of the bungalow becomes both confused and interesting from the later Eighteenth Century. After the Battle of Plassey (1757), when the British really became masters of Bengal, new cantonments, or permanent military camps, were established. Here, European officers were eventually housed in thatched roofed bungalows with various devices for thermal control, such as the jaump (a horizontally suspended screen over the verandah), adopted from the local culture. William Hodges provided an accurate description in 1793. Bungalows were

generally raised on a base of brick, one, two or three feet from the ground, and consist of only one storey; the plan of them usually is a large room in the centre for an eating and sitting room, and rooms at each corner for sleeping; the whole is covered with one general thatch, which comes low to each side; the spaces between the angle rooms are viranders or open porticos to sit in during the evenings; the center hall is lighted from the sides with windows and a large door in the center. Sometimes the center viranders at each end are converted into rooms.

Two developments, however, were taking place: as Europeans had modified the Bengali dwelling for themselves, and had incorporated the term into their vocabulary, "bungalow" increasingly came to be applied to any separate house lived in by Europeans. Secondly, developments in design, plan, materials and construction appropriate to a form of "tropical dwelling" seem to have been introduced by Company military engineers using experience not only from India but perhaps from the West Indies and elsewhere. And these developments also incorporated ideas from pattern books and the more formal architecture of Europe. Various early nineteenth-century sources refer to two types of bungalow: the pyramidal, thatched roof variety developed from the indigenous model and the flat-roofed, "classical" or "Military Board" style. Fanny Parkes, however, in Wanderings of a Pilgrim in Search of the Picturesque (1850), clarities the distinction: "if a house has a flat roof covered with flag-stones and mortar, it is called a pukka house; if the roof be raised and it be thatched, it is called a bungalow".

The extension of the term to mean "any house that stands apart in its own grounds", as in the Anglo-Indian Dictionary of 1885, provides a nice comment, not only on the way in which, as part of the colonial process the term was appropriated by India's rulers but also, on the social, political and cultural reality of British residential habits in India.

After 1857 and the transfer of authority from the East India Company to the Crown, the number of Europeans increased, whether in the army, government service, commerce or the missions. In these years, the typical tripartite urban pattern of Cantonment, Civil Station and "Native City" became established, though more especially in northern India: the vast, but sparsely-populated cantonment was strategically located two or three miles from the densely packed "native city", with European officers housed in bungalows which, after 1857, were tiled rather than thatched as a precaution against incendiarism. Close by was the Civil Station where lived the District Magistrate, Civil Surgeon, Superintendant of Police and other Europeans. The rambling bungalows were each set in a walled compound of anything from two to ten acres.

The contrast, social, spatial and cultural, between the Civil Station and the Indian city was immense, and left an indelible mark on the Indian consciousness: "An unbridgeable chasm existed between (the Europeans) and the people [...] They lived in two different countries, Anglo-India and India, and the two never met. The one governed the other" (K.M. Pannikar, Asia and Western Dominance , 1965).

The isolated bungalow and compound resulted from many factors other than the obvious political one: a concern with health and a belief in the aerial transmission of disease; the transfer of social and cultural expectations about middle class family life, with separate rooms for separate functions and space for material goods; of ideas about privacy and a garden that provided "views" from the verandah. In a hierarchical and status-conscious society, the size was an expression of rank; but space, and the servants needed to service it, was also compensation for spending one's life abroad. During the long hot summers, the bungalow "on the plains" was exchanged for a cooler one "in the hills".

Though living conditions and urban development in Calcutta and especially Bombay were considerably different to those in Delhi and elsewhere in northern India, the large, single storey bungalow became the characteristic dwelling both for "official" and other middle-class Europeans in India. When, from 1911, New Delhi was created, its spacious tree-lined avenues, with two or three bungalows to the acre, stood in stark contrast to the densely-packed city of Old Delhi. In 1947, it presented its Indian inheritors and planners with a major problem of adapting an imperial city, both socially and spatially, to the needs of a new democracy. Like other aspects of Anglo-Indian life, both the term and concept of the bungalow became increasingly familiar to the middle-class "back home" in the first half of the Nineteenth Century. English women as well as men were now in India, sending home letters and drawings, or writing accounts describing life in up country "mofussil" stations. Thackeray, with his Indian connections, often used Indian terms and images, including references to the bungalow and from the 1850 photographs slowly became available. This cultural transfer, however, was a surface phenomenon, the manifestation of more fundamental economic and political changes which were transforming the economic and social structure of both Britain and India, the first positively, the second, negatively. The wealth which flowed into England from Bengal in and after the era of "the Nabobs" helped to fuel the industrial and capitalist transformation of Britain. In the first half of the Nineteenth Century, the undermining of India's handcraft textile industry was part of her development as a market for British goods. Both processes were to contribute to Britain's industrial and economic predominance in mid-century. In what Church calls the era of "the Great Victorian Boom" and Hobsbawm, "the Age of Capital", which overseas trade and imperial profits helped to create in the third quarter of the Nineteenth Century, the beneficiaries were the rising English middle-class. It was largely for these that the seaside holiday resorts expanded so rapidly during these years, absorbing surplus capital which had been accumulated elsewhere. And it was also for this increasingly urban middle class that the slower pace, and more leisured life of the British in India which they perceived, and as part of this, the positive image of the bungalow in the hills, had such an appeal.

It was at one such resort, the newly created and exclusive Kent development of Westgate-on-Sea, and nearby Birchington, that the first few bungalows to be built and named as such in England were begun in 1869-70. Principally of one storey, and simply constructed, they were large and spacious, with built-in leisure facilities such as croquet lawns and tunnels to the beach. The rationale for their location and construction was both social and, as the Victorians would say, sanitary. Apparently financed from London, and only two hours away by the newly-opened railway, they were typical of the new, family-centred "quiet" upper and middle-class resort which deliberately eschewed the more plebian facilities of places like Margate and Ramsgate. With excellent rail connections, electric telegraph and telephone soon to come, the adjective "isolated", used to describe the bungalows in 1879, had positive, not negative associations.

The architect, John Taylor, had fused the image of the single storey Anglo-Indian bungalow with an adapted pattern book design to create a specialised holiday or vacation house. A contemporary observed that he had given "a capital reproduction of a cool, spacious, Indian-like hill-dwelling". An expert in the design of "portable buildings", Taylor also constructed the Bungalow Hotel close by and, using the same system, built the first ever timber pre-fabricated bungalow to be actually named as such about 1877. Here, just a century ago, an ailing Dante Gabriel Rossetti was invited by his architect friend, J.P. Seddon, Taylor's partner and owner of the development, only to die in the first wooden bungalow in the West at Easter 1882.

Taylor's notion of the bungalow was of a simple but well-constructed holiday house by the sea, generally of one storey and under one span of roof. His idea was to have global repercussions. Illustrated in the Building News in the early 1870s, the concept was picked up by an Australian architect, J. Horbury Hunt, who built a "Bungaloo (sic) Residence" as an early second home in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales in 1876. Four years later, an illustration for a timber bungalow used as a "summer cottage" at Monument Beach, Cape Cod, appeared in the American Architect and Building News.

From the later 1880s, the spread of both the term and idea were part of what Hobsbawm calls the "standardisation of culture" which increasingly accompanied the development of a global economy. Hobsbawm has well described how, with the development of the steamship, the rapid spread of railways, the electric telegraph, international banking and the increased circulation of ideas both in print and in person, a genuine world economy was created in the third quarter of the Nineteenth Century. In the years to come, cultural transformation was to accompany the global expansion of capitalism.

What might be called the "gestation period" of the bungalow occurred, both in England and the United States, between 1890 and the First World War. In retrospect, its development is easily understood. The great railway cities of the Nineteenth Century were, by today's standards, dense and closely-packed, the characteristic forms of housing often in terraces, rows or perhaps working class tenements and "buildings". In the United States, skyscrapers had been introduced. The middle and upper class suburbs of the Nineteenth Century were generally of two and three storey villas, many semi-detached, for large Victorian families with cellars and attics for the work and rest of servants. Suburban extensions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries resulting from increased capital investment and transport developments, whether in railways, the electric tramway, and later the motor car and bus, reached out into cheaper land. And with British agriculture increasingly depressed by competition from the world market, outer suburban land also became cheaper, especially after the First World War. The idea of a dwelling appropriate to these new, more spacious country or outer suburban plots, with accommodation entirely or largely on one floor, was, in retrospect, a revolutionary development. There had, of course, always been single storey cottages, but these were essentially artisan or proletarian dwellings. The Edwardian middle class had to rediscover the convenience of single-storey living on a larger scale.

The first identified reference to the bungalow as suitable not just for seaside and country but also for suburban locations is in 1891 and it occurs in that year not only in the up-market book of designs, Bungalows and Country Residences by the architect R.A. Briggs but, at a much more modest level, in The Illustrated Carpenter and Builder . Though many of Briggs' designs were for what today would be called "second homes" for a London bourgeoisie, he also referred to "the desire [...] for artistic and appropriate dwellings [...] among the large number of persons of moderate income [...] hitherto content to reside in the ordinary suburban villa of a stereotype pattern". "What is a Bungalow?" Briggs asked in his preface.

Our imagination [...] immediately transports us to India [...] to low, squat, rambling houses, with wide verandahs, latticed windows, flat roofs and with every conceivable arrangement to keep out the scorching rays of the sun [...] Or else we think of some rude settlement in one of our colonies where the houses or huts [...] give us an impression [...] of roughing it.

This was not, however, the kind of bungalow suitable for the English climate, nor was it necessary that it should always be one-storied or a country cottage.

A cottage is a little house in the country, but a Bungalow is a little country house - a homely, cosy little place, with verandahs and balconies, and the plan so arranged as to ensure complete comfort with a feeling of rusticity and ease.

Cheapness and economy were also important, and a compromise could be made with the accepted notion of the bungalow as a house on one floor by having solid walls for one storey but then making the bedrooms mainly in the roof. Built in this way, bungalows were "very cheap in comparison to houses as the great aim in the designs (is) simplicity".

Given the conditions for the bungalow's development, the influence of five editions of Briggs' book between 1891-1901, and frequent discussion on the bungalow in the Building News in these years, seems to have been considerable. In England, growing commercial and industrial wealth, whether in London or Leeds, financed a handful of spacious country and suburban bungalows for the expanding bourgeoisie. In California, his phrases about "cosy" and "artistic" dwellings, and "a feeling of rusticity and ease" were repeated in home-making and architectural journals such as Indoors and Out (1907), though they were applied at a much more modest level. From the United States, the ideology of the California Bungalow was transplanted to Canada and Australia in the first decade of this century.

Parallel to the appearance of the middle class bungalow in country and outer suburbs was its introduction for temporary, holiday use by a much more modest clientele. The development of the pre-fabricated bungalow, with wide verandahs, for export to planters in colonial Asia, or to mining engineers in the informal empire of Latin America, or for country and seaside use at home, occurred in the twenty years before the First World War. It was helped by the introduction of new materials such as "Ruberoid roofing", the raw materials of which also derived from the Empire. The growth of "bungalow villages", often self-built and sometimes utilising discarded railway carriages, was part of the increase in leisure accompanying rising living standards, shorter hours and the introduction of the concept of the "week-end" as leisure time. Pre-fabricated "week-end bungalows" for #100 were being advertised in 1904. Again, much of the under-pinning of this rising standard of living rested on imperial trade and colonial exploitation, with India figuring largely in this.

It is not surprising, therefore, that at the turn of the century, a whole ideology and symbolism developed round the bungalow. Because it was, by definition, separate, simply built and "away from the madding crowd", a place to spend the weekend, it came to symbolise alternative, unconventional life styles and "the simple life" - the word "Bohemianism" constantly springs up. And because it was simple, unimposing and on one floor, it appealed to people with socialist tendencies. To Gustav Stickley in the United States, a disciple of Morris and Ruskin, it also embodied three main principles of his "Arts and Crafts" architectural philosophy: it was simple, craftsmanlike and was literally "close to Nature".

In the United States, the bungalow became an outstanding success. Introduced for suburban use from about 1905, it was a cheap, timber-built, individual and "artistic" dwelling providing - especially in California - many people moving from the dense cities of the east with their first suburban home. Hundreds of bungalow plan books were published and, until it went out of fashion in the later twenties, it was enormously popular. From then, it graduated into the ranch-house. Its popularity was also due to its rationalisation of space and simplification in plan. By the turn of the century, the commercialisation of domestic activities by laundries, bakeries, prepared foods and canning firms was taking many processes out of the home. Servants disappeared and the space-saving "progressive" and democratic bungalow came in.

Architectural historians ponder about "the influence of the bungalow" on Frank Lloyd Wright or Californian architects Greene and Greene or even, whether the latter "introduced" it. It is rather that the same forces produced them all: the surplus capital generated by industrialisation, technological developments in transport and construction, cultural beliefs in private property and family-centredness, and a free market in housing and land which led to the "sprawling suburb". The relevance of the latter is best seen in comparison to the cities of the Soviet Union or East Germany where state planning and publically-owned housing result in a profusion of multi-storey flats.

The inter-war years in England saw an enormous growth in the number of small, inexpensive bungalows. Extensive sub-urbanisation resulted from investment in building, with cheap mortgages and new building societies, the growth of car and motorbus transport, electrification and a continuing fall in land prices as the country increasingly depended on overseas food. These and other factors combined with the disappearance of servants, small families and the fragmentation of kin to account for its popularity. For a few brief years, many people had the chance to acquire (sometimes to build) their own bungalow in the country, an aspiration they adopted from the upper class. Yet it was just this democratisation of the countryside which was attacked by powerful professional and landed interests. The Town and Country Planning Act of 1932 and more stringent legislation after the war reinforced professional and class control over the location and appearance of building. Instead of the cheap bungalow and suburban spread typical of North America and Australia, there were planning controls and council tower blocks.

For some, the opprobrium attached to the term during these years lingers on, despite the fact that the bungalow is now, with the detached, semi-detached and terraced house, and the purpose-built and converted flat, one of the six main dwelling types recognised by government surveys and building societies. And after the detached house, it is also, on average, the most expensive to buy. As in most urban-industrial nations of North America and Western Europe the largest cities now lose in population as people move to outer suburbs or smaller towns in a process of "counter-urbanisation". And many retire to the coast. As the rented terrace and row house were typical of nineteenth-century urbanisation so, with increasing home ownership in the capitalist countries of the world, perhaps the detached house and bungalow will become typical of the twenty-first. As a single-storey dwelling, the bungalow has a lot to say about the development of modern architecture and in name and form, it is a good example of the emergence of a world wide urban culture.

By Anthony King

Typical Colonial Bungalow
Typical Colonial Bungalow
Further Reading
The Bungalow: The Production of a Global Culture
by Anthony D. King

Colonial Urban Development: Culture, Social Power and Environment
by Anthony D. King

Old bungalows in Bangalore, South India
by Janet Pott


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