Standard Houses

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  • Row of Standard Houses in Melrose Park, 1940-41, n.d. Row of Standard Houses in Melrose Park, 1940-41. (n.d.)
  • overall site view showing private gardens and housing overall site view showing private gardens and housing
  • Standard House Layfayette Indiana, 1937 Standard House, Layfayette, Indiana, 1937.
  • Standard House under construction. Maywood, Illinois Standard House under construction, Maywood, Illinois.
  • Standard House under construction. Maywood, Illinois Standard House Kitchen, Melrose Park, 1938.
  • plan of first and second floors plan of first and second floors
  • Standard Houses plan (one of several) Standard Houses plan (one of several)

The Government needed housing. It was wartime. You could walk into a government office and say, ‘We have the technology. Put us to work.’ It was a mad scene, an impossible scene but we did it.
- Oral History

Standard Houses Corporation was begun by Bertrand Goldberg and his associate Gilmer Black with partners Edwin "Squirrel" Ashcroft and Ross Beatty. The first Standard House was built in Lafayette, Indiana, as part of Purdue University's Housing Research Project. This was followed by five homes built as a small development in Melrose Park, Illinois, on land owned by Beatty. These houses were simple single story structures with a gabled roof providing attic storage. Each house had two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen, and living room. Standard Houses also manufactured wardrobes and cabinets. The Melrose Park Standard Houses were a local phenomenon. Marketed at only $2,995, Architectural Forum reported that three thousand people visited one of the unfurnished houses on opening day, September 24, 1939. The five homes were sold in one day.

Goldberg and Standard Houses went on to build prefabricated housing in Indian Head and Suitland, Maryland. Both projects were sponsored by the Federal Works Agency's Public Buildings Administration. Between 1940 and 1944, the Federal Government built approximately 625,000 wartime housing units. With Standard Houses, Goldberg put his long-standing interest in prefabrication to work and joined the ranks of leading modern architects such as Walter Gropius, Richard Neutra, and Louis Kahn who were commissioned by the government to design defense housing communities. The Indian Head Standard Houses, part of a much-touted PBA demonstration, was a development of fifty-seven homes based on Farm Security Administration design for one-story "paired-houses," or duplexes which contained two dwelling units separated by a party wall, a common feature of defense housing. The project in Suitland, Maryland was ten times the size of Indian Head, and the Suitland homes were the most developed of the Standard Houses. These houses were built in a Richmond, Virginia factory with a fully wired and piped kitchen and bathroom. Architect Eero Saarinen was hired to do color studies for the project.