Casual Modernism

The West German Modernist bungalow 1952-1969: adaptation of an international model and symbol of a levelled middle class society
PhD dissertation by Carola Ebert

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Researching the West German bungalow

In her PhD dissertation Entspannte Moderne. Der westdeutsche Bungalow 1952-1969 als Adaption eines internationalen Leitbilds und Symbol einer nivellierten Mittelschichtsgesellschaft Carola Ebert investigated West German Modernist bungalow architecture of the 1950s and 1960s. In these two decades the Modernist bungalow – a single-storey modern house with a flat roof – became the quintessence of suburban living in postwar West Germany. It is still prevalent on the periphery of German cities and in the suburban sprawl that surrounds them. Modernist bungalows were idealised as “Neutra bungalows” and “dream houses”[1], and became the epitome of West German contemporary living during the decades of the Wirtschaftswunder [economic miracle]. “The bungalow embodied the greatest happiness of the children of the new prosperous times. It was the perfect form for the architect to ‘capture the warming, healing and joyful qualities of light’. ‘A building hugging the ground, clear and spacious, expressing the form of our time.’ … In a home ‘full of light and space’ one felt oneself ‘almost to be on holiday’.” [2].

In German the word ‘bungalow’ refers to something quite different to what it does in English. In (West) Germany the bungalow has been defined as a Modernist single-family home since the middle of the 20th century. However, as the adoption of the English name implies, the history of the Modernist bungalow in West Germany is much more ambiguous than the seemingly continuous use of the word suggests. Architecturally, the Modernist bungalow first referred to contemporary precedents, especially from the US, such as Richard Neutra’s houses of the 1940s or the Californian Case Study Houses. While these houses were never called bungalows in America, in (West) Germany they have been regarded as the quintessence of Bungalow architecture ever since the 1950s. Likewise the image of the bungalow as a glazed pavilion beneath a cantilevered flat roof – as it was represented in contemporary media and discussed in the discourse of architectural history – does not correspond to its material reality as a hybrid residential building. The “history of the reception of the flat-roofed bungalow in West Germany” [3] thus raises many research questions, which, due to renewed interest in the building type, are especially relevant today.

The following pages contain information about the research project, the author’s biography and related publications.
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[1] Walter Betting und J.J. Vriend, Bungalows: Deutschland, England, Italien, Holland, Belgien, Dänemark. Darmstadt, 1959, unpag.
[2] Hermann Glaser, Deutsche Kultur. Ein historischer Überblick von 1945 bis zur Gegenwart. Bonn, 1997, S. 231. Glaser zitiert aus der Zeitschrift Das Schönste, 3/1958, S. 29ff.
[3] Joachim Driller, Amerika in Europa wieder finden? Richard Neutra in den 1960er Jahren, in: Klaus Leuschel und MARTa Herford (Hrsg.), Neutra in Europa - Bauten und Projekte 1960-1970. Herford, 2010, S. 15.

Image: Kanzlerbungalow (Chancellor's bungalow) (2010), Bonn © Carola Ebert

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About the dissertation

Carola Ebert’s PhD dissertation is the first academic investigation of the bungalow in West Germany. Thus far neither the cultural identity of the West German bungalow, nor the typology of the building type have been defined or discussed in relation to the history of global bungalow culture. The thesis is starts by exploring the West German bungalow’s international references. Terminologically, the bungalow is rooted in the history of global bungalow culture, from the Indian bungalow of the 18th century to the American bungalow of the 19th and 20th centuries. In terms of architectural form, it relates to residential Modernism, especially the Californian Case Study Houses and Richard Neutra’s work. The exploration of these international references is complemented by an overview of the specific German context: the history of the single-family house in Germany and the concurrent politicisation of architectural Modernism from 1918 to 1945, and the historical context after 1945.

There are three key strands to the investigation: the way in which the term bungalow was defined in postwar West Germany; the architectural form of what came to be the West German bungalow, and its social and political connotations. The word ‘bungalow’ morphed from being a technical description for a kind of colonial building, to become first a popular term that was rejected by the architectural profession, and later a canonised definition within German architectural discourse. Its history is thus marked by repeated conceptual shifts and the coexistence of different meanings at the same time. Within global bungalow culture, the defining association with architectural Modernism, and traits such as having large areas of glazing and a prominent flat roof, is specific to (West) Germany. This specificity has, however, been masked within Germany by the internationality of the terminology and the architectural references.

Sixty-four examples form the empirical foundation for the analysis of the West German bungalow’s architectural characteristics. These examples include one-off architect designed bungalows, mass production houses, and bungalows in housing estates. They range from a prefab house sold by the German mail order company Quelle, to the most famous of all West German bungalows: Sep Ruf’s residence for the Federal Chancellor in Bonn. All were completed between 1952 and 1969 in West Germany and were published in magazines, books and/or architectural journals. Works both by internationally recognised architects (such as Richard Neutra or Wassili Luckhardt) and houses by unknown architects are included. The majority of examples were designed by architects whose work had a defining influence on the architecture of postwar West Germany, for example Kurt Ackermann, Max Bächer, Kammerer und Belz, Friedrich Wilhelm Kraemer, Bernhard M. Pfau, Sep Ruf, Joachim and Margot Schürmann and Paul Schneider-Esleben. These examples are presented and classified in an appendix catalogue, forming a ‘catalogue raisonné’ of the West German Modernist bungalow.

The core of the thesis is based on a detailed analysis of twelve selected projects. Four related themes are explicated: the West German bungalow’s representation in the media; the typological variations of the architectural form; the place of the bungalow in architectural discourse; and its political and sociological significance in particular in relation to the expanding postwar middle class. Contrary to its iconographic representation in the media as a modern pavilion, which also dominated its reception in architectural history, the thesis portrays the West German Modernist bungalow as a hybrid residential building, that was not true to Modernist ideology, but whose undogmatic, casual Modernism adopts the Californian ideal for the postwar West German middle-class.

The PhD dissertation was submitted to the University of Kassel in summer 2015, the viva voce took place in 2016. It is published online (in German), a book publication is being prepared.

Image: Haus Nieaber (ca. 1959), Bad Salzuflen, Deutsche Bauzeitschrift no. 9 (1960), 1096.

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Carola Ebert graduated in architecture at the Technische Universität Berlin in 1998, and in architectural history at the Bartlett, UCL, London, in 2001. She holds a PhD in architecture from Kassel University (2016).

After eight years practising independently as an architect on residential projects in Berlin and Brandenburg, from 2006 to 2010 she taught architectural theory and design at the University of Kassel. She works as a communications and strategy coach (artop / Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin 2006) for architects, academics and designers and has been a visiting lecturer at various universities (Technische Universität Berlin, Universität der Künste Berlin, Brandenburgische Technische Universität Cottbus, Universität Kassel, Universität Potsdam and Universität Stuttgart). From 2015 to 2016 she was part of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin's bologna.lab for new ways of teaching and learning. Since September 2016 she is Professor for Interior Design, History and Theory of Architecture and Design at BAU International in Berlin.

Since 2001 she has been conducting academic research, publishing and lecturing on architectural ideologies, 1960s' design strategies, architectural authorship and the West German Modernist bungalow. She has presented the findings from her PhD research on the West-German modernist bungalow at various international architecture conferences. Aspects of the work have been published in various journals and anthologies. She is a founding member of Netzwerk Architekturwissenschaft, coordinator of the section 'architectural education' and was vice chairwoman from 2010 to 2013.


Image: Haus Dr. W. (ca. 1959), Hanover, Deutsche Bauzeitschrift no. 6 (1960), 710.

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Related publications

Carola Ebert, Entspannte Moderne. Der westdeutsche Bungalow 1952-1969 als Adaption eines internationalen Leitbilds und Symbol einer nivellierten Mittelschichtsgesellschaft, Universität Kassel (2016).

Carola Ebert, “Pavilionizing the Bungalow. A recurring motif in (West) German architectural history,“ in: ARCH+ 217 (2014), 40-51.

Carola Ebert and Stefan Locke, “A house for the world. From a Bengali peasant's hut to global phenomenon,“ in: Bauhaus 5 “Tropics“, ed. Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau (2013), 54-59.

Carola Ebert, “Private vistas and a shared ideal: photography, lifestyle and the West German bungalow,“ in: Camera Constructs. Photography, Architecture, and the Modern City, ed. Andrew Higgot and Timothy Wray (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2012), 73-89.

Carola Ebert, “Moderate Middle Class Modernism. The Architecture of the West German Bungalow,“ in: 45+. Post-War Modern Architecture in Europe, ed. Stephanie Herold and Biljana Stefanovska (Berlin: Institut für Stadt- und Regionalplanung der Technischen Universität Berlin, 2012), 161-172.

Carola Ebert, “Moderate Modernism for the Middle Classes - The West German Modernist 'Bungalow' and the Ideal of a Prosperous
,Levelled Middle Class Society' in Postwar West Germany,“ in: Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference of the European Architectural History Network, ed. Hilde Heynen and Janina Gosseye (Brussels: VWK, 2012), 579-584.

Carola Ebert, “Privatisierte Landschaft. Westdeutsche Architektenbungalows 1952-1959 zwischen kalifornischem Traum und (nicht-)städtischer Realität,“ in: dérive 47 (2012), 18-23.

Carola Ebert, „Into the great wide open: The West-German modernist bungalow of the 1960s as a psycho-political re-creation of Home,“ in: Multi. The RIT Journal of Plurality and Diversity in Design, vol. 2, no. 1 (2009), 35-51.

Carola Ebert, “Into the Great Wide Open: The Bungalow in 1960s’ West-Germany between Housing Industry and Stately Representation,“ in: Estonian Academy of Arts Proceedings 16: Constructed Happiness – The domestic Environment in the Cold War Era, ed. Mart Kalm and Ingrid Ruudi (Tallin: Estonian Academy of Arts, 2005), 144-155.

Image: Quelle-Bungalow (1963); Quelle-Fertighaus- Fibel: Vom glücklichen Wohnen. Fürth (1962), Cover.









Prof. Dr. Carola Ebert
Klosterstr. 44
D - 10179 Berlin, Germany
Tel.: +49 . (0)30 . 99 00 72 45