'We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.'
W. S. Churchill
|A ground-hugging stone-and-brick foundation, faceted bay window, verandah tucked under the main roof, fancy art glass in a fixed pane beside a front door: all the charms of a modest Colonial bungalow.
Well before the California bungalow came along and swept Victoria off its feet, the city enjoyed a lingering affair with an earlier adaptation of this imported house type. For nearly twenty-five years, starting about 1890, bungalows of ‘colonial’ pedigree appeared along the edges of downtown and in newly emerging suburbia. Mostly workaday, affordable housing, these modern single-storey homes could sometimes be quite gorgeous.
|This fetching bungalow on a large corner lot appears not to be heritage-listed. (CLICK ON PICTURES TO ENLARGE).
In the U.S., the term ‘colonial’ relates to a revival of housing types associated with America's colonial phase. Here in Victoria, ‘colonial’ refers to a house type integral to the British Imperial experience in India, reaching all the way back to a lowly Indian bungalow with a defining hipped roof-form and a surrounding verandah. Victoria's Colonial bungalow is an imported, stylized version of this Anglo-Indian dwelling, a source it shares with the later California bungalow but one whose original form it models more closely.
The experience of living in bungalows transformed the lives of their English inhabitants, creating lasting associations that accompanied the building when it was imported into England and then dispersed throughout the Empire. Life in these single-storey, low-sitting dwellings took a shape very different from the tightly ordered and conventional one back home. It was much more open spatially and more separate physically, while in practice it was far less formal and socially confining. This was especially true of life on the verandah, an intermediate social and physical space where ideas of 'free and easy' living took hold. For it was in the cool relief from scorching heat on the bungalow's deep fronting verandah, under its often hipped and sometimes exaggerated roof form, that informality of conversation and manners, and a more relaxed approach to social life, developed.
Successive iterations of the Anglo-Indian bungalow elaborated the verandah as both an outdoor room and as a novel and appealing social space. One enters a bungalow through this transitional environment, and the experience of entering and lingering carried unique impressions. As the verandah's design came to be refined, the building's shape evolved around it. Over time its elements became more playful and eclectic, absorbing features from European architecture - like classical detailing - quite readily. When the bungalow came to be built outside of India, a hipped roof with a recessed verandah was frequently employed to invoke the building type. A significant fronting verandah under a styled hip roof was thus both symbolically and practically important when a local version of the Colonial bungalow began taking shape.
|This 1914 stunner has a full-width porch that wraps around both corners, its roof supported by slender Tuscan-revival columns. Designed for the McBeath family by architect Hoult Horton, with classical detailing and sleeping porches.
|No dormers on this plainjane builder's version
|Even on a workaday builder's model, the dormers echo the curving lines of the main roof.
|Growing interest by better-off clients led to architect involvement and finer proportioning and finishing.
Like its California cousin, the Colonial bungalow exhibited great variation of key features: pier and column treatments, verandah widths and placements, plinth or base treatments, and detailing of bays and windows. Inventiveness around the mix of features allows differentiation of structures even in repetitive subdivision layouts. This ability to vary facades would later become the forte of the California bungalow in the hands of promoters and development companies.
|Elegant scroll-sawn balusters between cobblestone piers on a full-width verandah. Architect L.W. Hargreaves designed this stately bungalow in 1911-12.
|This projecting gable forms a Craftsman-like entryway to a transitional Colonial Bungalow showing Craftsman details like the window in the gable peak. Likely this verandah has been enclosed to gain an interior room.
|Here the gabled-over verandah has become enormous, supported on huge columns. Oriental, classical and craftsman detailing (verge board, window trims) disport in an unusual symbiosis.
A complete inventory of these often-charming houses would be helpful to future conservation efforts. Maintaining the vernacular term Colonial bungalow for these often worthy, sometimes-inspired buildings is preferable to obscuring their origins by calling them 'Edwardian bungalows' (and then dismissing them as 'ubiquitous'). Was Victoria in fact the only place in North America where these bungalows were vernacular housing? An answer to that question, along with a history of their use prior to emerging as a builders’ housing type, would be invaluable.
Books for looks: The Buildings of Samuel Maclure, by Martin Segger (1986), is a superb read with plans, drawings, and photographs that provide context for the analysis. Maclure achieved artistic expression at many levels of the domestic housing markets in Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia.
The Seattle Bungalow, People & Houses, 1900 - 1940, by Janet Ore (2007) is a fascinating history of 'the first modern house type' drawn from the record of a single Seattle family, the Stapps. It maps how the homebuilding industry evolved and the role small contractors played in adapting the form and materials for the modern bungalow. It also analyses the role played by bungalow promoters and development companies.
The Ontario Cottage: The Globalization of a British Form in the Nineteenth Century, Lynne D. Distefano, 2001; an insightful history of the connection between the Ontario Cottage and the Anglo-Indian bungalow. One wishes for a similar analysis of the process of localisation of the Anglo-Indian bungalow as Victoria's Colonial bungalow. Go to: Ontario Cottage