Sat 28 Jan 2006
Low and behold
IN 1971 a book was published that sparked a craze for a new style of DIY building: the bungalow. Written by Irish architect Jack Fitzsimons, Bungalow Bliss was the first publication to give people the designs and know-how to build such a home for themselves. Soon bungalows were popping up all over the Irish countryside. It's obvious why the bungalow caught on so quickly - it was affordable, easy to construct and could be put up without the help of an architect.
However, these initial designs were also ugly, and 35 years later architects are still wondering what could have been built in their place. Bungalows were dismissed variously as "blots on the landscape" and "stunted, architecturally uninteresting little structures" by critics, but this weekend Glasgow architecture and design centre The Lighthouse gives the public a chance to decide what they think.
Bungalow Blitz, an exhibition celebrating these 1970s designs, showcases a series of images of the bungalows built from the book and examines the impact these self-built suburban low rises have had on the landscape.
Stuart MacDonald, the director of The Lighthouse, hopes that the images of the homes in Ireland will inspire people to think about architecture and the relationship buildings have with their surroundings closer to home.
He says: "There are parallels to be made between the west coast of Ireland and Scotland. Go to the Highlands or the west coast and there are lots of these boxes which have been put up with no thought to the surrounding landscape and without much design aspiration.
"You wouldn't get away with building houses like that today because they are so terribly ill-considered."
However, as much as Fitzsimons can be berated for popularising these one-storey wonders, he cannot be blamed for their invention. The bungalow is actually an import from India (the word originates from the Hindi word "Bangala" meaning "of Bengal") and these low, timber-frame kit builds were offered to the British men who served there in the 1800s.
It was a Colonel Bragg who built Britain's first bungalow in South London when he returned from India in the 1860s. Others quickly followed his example, with the seaside bungalow becoming popular with the holidaying middle classes. Yet more bungalows were constructed after the First World War when the government encouraged people to build their own homes in the countryside and, during the Second World War, these same bungalows provided shelter for families from London's East End looking to escape the Blitz.
As practical as they may have been, bungalows have never been considered a thing of beauty. Yet despite an often snobbish approach from architects and design experts, bungalows are more popular than ever.
A recent study by the building society Halifax says the humble bungalow makes the happiest home as it provides the perfect amount of floor space, privacy and garden area. And, despite making up only a small percentage of our housing stock, bungalows are among the most sought-after properties in the UK. Last year the Bank of Scotland reported that bungalows enjoyed the highest price growth in Scotland over the past ten years.
"Bungalows sell incredibly well," says solicitor Gavin Bain a director at the Aberdeen Solicitors' Property Centre. "They tend to be on extensive sites so are spacious and have sizeable gardens. Many of them tend to centre around one big living space with all the rooms coming off it, which fits in with the current trend for open-plan living. However, primarily they are popular with old people who love the fact that they are on one level."
Scottish homemakers seem to be particularly fond of the bungalow. According to Halifax, 7 per cent of new homes north of the Border are of the one-storey variety compared with a national average of just 3 per cent.
Despite what designers say, the bungalow does appear to have won a place in the heart of the nation and, as MacDonald points out, thanks to some new developments even architects are warming to them.
"There is nothing wrong with the idea of a bungalow per se, it's just that the design quality and the building's relationship with the surrounding area has always been poor," he says, "However, people are becoming more demanding and there is a growing realisation that building homes that fit in with the landscape doesn't have to be expensive, so the stereotypical image of a bungalow is changing. There are several architects who have started designing bungalows that take the geography and the kind of materials that should be used into consideration so they are no longer such an intrusion."
One of these firms is Dualchas, a firm of architects on the Isle of Skye which specialises in designing one-off houses for rural Scotland. Its designs often take the form of the traditional west-coast one-storey longhouse. "We have to be careful that what happened in Ireland doesn't happen here - we have to make sure we have a more appropriate quality of housing," says architect Neil Stephen, a partner at the firm. "We live in a beautiful country and no longer have to accept mediocrity and destroy the landscape. The houses we build are based on traditional designs but are also site specific so they always blend in. It's not housing that ruins a landscape, but inappropriate housing, and we have a responsibility not to let that happen in our communities."
If more architects and builders think like Neil Stephen, one day there may be an exhibition that celebrates, rather than laments, the rise of bungalow living. Until then there are always the pictures of the bungalow boxes in Ireland to remind everyone how not to do it. sm
n The Bungalow Blitz exhibition runs until 26 March at The Lighthouse, 11 Mitchell Lane, Glasgow. Tickets cost Â£3 for adults and Â£1 for children and concessions. For more information, tel: 0141-221 6362 or visit the website at http://www.thelighthouse.co.uk
This article: http://news.scotsman.com/features.cfm?id=138602006