Skilful designing and planning of small houses has recently been made available to all American home builders. Until this past decade few but the well-to-do have had access to the expert service of professional architects because of the inability of others to pay for such service. Inexpensive homes in the past were designed by contractors, builders or owners or else were built from stock plans which had been drawn by persons untrained in the principles of design. One of the most significant indications of progress in the past ten or fifteen years has been the insistence of leading architects, magazines and newspapers that even the small home could be made a thing of beauty, efficient in its arrangements and yet within the reach of families of moderate incomes.
Professional and business organizations are increasingly broadening their outlook with reference to civic responsibility. Their first interest used to be the making of quick profits and all too frequently their members have been willing to make large profits at the expense of their clients. More recently, however, it has been recognized that it is the prerogative of each business and profession to discover the needs of its clients and if necessary help its patrons to raise their standards and create a demand for quality.
1 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farmers' Bull. 1513, p. ii.
2 In American Building Association News, March, 1930.
President Hoover, during his service as Secretary of Commerce, was responsible for the inauguration of hundreds of conferences among specialized business groups which developed this idea of public responsibility and interest in civic service through the daily business routine. For each individual can usually make his greatest contribution to the general welfare through his daily activities. The codes of business and professional ethics which have developed amazingly among our commercial organizations in the past ten years are but an expression of this new constructive tendency.
. Architects are professionally trained in the principles of efficient design and sound construction. Beauty of line and workmanship and practical efficiency are the chief ideals inculcated in their training. Their original interest may have been chiefly in monumental architecture, magnificent public buildings which would be a source of community pride and inspiration for generations to come. But the developing recognition of civic responsibility has led them to see the necessity of bringing beauty and practical efficiency in architecture within the reach of the home builder of modest income. It is greatly to their credit that through their national professional organization, the American Institute of Architects, they have established a national Bureau to educate public taste in small house architecture and to bring good design and practical economic planning for comfort and convenience, within the reach of virtually all builders and owners of small homes.
The Architects' Small House Service Bureau of the United States, Inc., is a professional organization composed of many practicing architects from the leading architectural offices of the country. The Bureau is controlled by the American Institute of Architects and endorsed by the United States Department of Commerce. It is the only housing Bureau in America, producing and offering plans for three, four, five and six-room homes, that is so controlled and endorsed.
In purpose it is a public service, operating on practically a non-profit making basis, to give the small home builder a square deal, and to improve the architecture of a class of dwelling which seldom has the architect's service.
The Bureau offers a limited service. For those willing to use "stock plans" prepared by architects, but none the less desirable because they are "stock drawings," the Bureau provides many of the privileges of architectural service at a price within the reach of all.
More than two hundred and fifty plans, including a wide variety of types, materials and sizes of small homes are ready for use. These plans are not the work of one, two or three architects. They represent the cooperative study of many men. Even though they are "stock drawings" they are quite as complete as would be produced by an individual practicing architect. Because they are distributed in quantity, they can be sold at a nominal charge.
Each plan is studied to provide modern conveniences, adequate living accommodations, sound construction and good taste. Simplicity, elimination of waste and extras, flexibility of plan to meet lot conditions and many other essentials of good housing are given careful study.
Each plan is accompanied by a bill of materials listing all the quantities to be used in the erection of the house. More than fifty printed pages of specifications and two contract agreements accompany each plan. In addition to these instruments of service, the Regional Bureaus provide what is perhaps quite as valuable an aid to the builder as the plans themselves; namely, professional counsel and advice, and at no extra charge over the cost of the blue prints.
The Small House Service Bureau sells its service for an average cost of approximately $6.00 per principal room. For this nominal charge home builders may now secure dependable plans from an authoritative source, and enjoy many of the privileges afforded those who build larger homes at greater cost, and employ the services of an individual practicing architect.
The Bureau does no individual designing. It recommends to all who want homes larger than six rooms in size that the service of an individual practicing architect be employed.
The following statement prepared by Robert T. Jones, Technical Director of the Architects' Small House Service Bureau and editor of The Small Home, explains clearly and forcibly the values of the service of that Bureau:
Plans for small houses are not developed by guess work or by some strange background of artistic sensibilities. They represent the hard work of an expert to solve a problem. The problem is the home builder's requirements. When the home builder tells what he wants that is the problem. The solution consists in answering those requirements. Now it takes much skill to do this well. It takes long years of experience. It takes a knowledge of materials, workmanship, costs, and it requires the power to assemble the necessary forms so that they will have good architectural quality.
Many people, not knowing what the architect does, believe that the architect adds only the froth - whatever ornamental quality the house has - nothing more. This is not the least important part of his work, but it proceeds from a basis far more fundamental. As I have said, it begins with the knowledge of the home builder's problem. That means the plan. The rooms have to be arranged in an orderly manner, so that they will be commodious, comfortable, taking advantage of the site and locality, providing for furniture, the circulation about the house. Then those things have to be assembled so that the construction is sound and without extravagance.
It is comparatively easy to assemble them if there is no question of cost, but to get a rational plan within a limited expense budget requires study, and this background of skill and experience of which I have spoken. Shifting these things so that the balance will be fine, the massing of walls, openings, roofs, decorative in themselves, without the necessity of added ornamentation, is the third part that most people see first of all.
Now what does all this save the home builder. Simply this: It saves his investment, for it assures him a marketable house. Disregarding all the satisfaction that comes from the feeling that a house bears the owner a good reputation for fine taste, disregarding the satisfaction that results from living in a house that is well planned, there is this perfectly tangible value of a marketable property and one that does not deteriorate either as to the durability of its construction or as to the soundness of its good taste.
We can be more specific. We can say that a set of working drawings, produced as they should be, by a competent architect saves the home builder money directly, for with such drawings the owner knows exactly what he is going to get. With complete drawings and specifications it is unnecessary to make changes, add or subtract matters, involving heavy expense for extras. Sketch plans can at best tell only part of what is to be done, leaving much to the caprice of the contractor. It is only human for him to supply no more than is required. The complete working drawings thus take the guess work out of home building. They are the basis for a contract providing for the delivery of a specific thing. The peace of mind of the home builder is saved with a technical service such as this behind his home building operations.
On the other hand, the incomplete working drawings leave whatever is incomplete to guess work, changes, dissatisfaction. Such plans are not made by architects. Many of them show only the most casual knowledge of architectural form and substance. Produced, as many of them are, apparently over night, they cannot possibly contain the qualities which come from constant study and careful development, which, from the architect's experience, must necessarily take a number of days.
The building of a home is for most people the most important financial experience of their lives. Rarely the small home builder spends more than once or twice in his life sums ranging between $5,000 and $10,000. To do so without an adequate buying scheme represented by a complete set of working drawings and specifications is manifestly poor business policy.
All over the nation are seen houses built from sketch plans, from drawings seen in books, pictures in magazines and newspapers. Almost invariably such houses show that the careful consideration of the architect has been set aside to the ultimate loss of the home builder. The finenesses of the plan, sound construction methods; massing of the architectural parts, and the more delicate lines of cornices, moldings, and minor details of architecture cannot be materialized from these small sketches. Every architect knows it. These sketches must be appreciated only for their limited worth, that is, the exploitation of general ideas, for they are nothing more.
If we had a nation of building mechanics capable of producing architecture to its fullest extent and with unlimited time at their disposal, who were able to materialize houses within the limited funds of home builders by the simple process of going out and building from sketches, there would be no need for the architect to make complete drawings. But the economics of house building is not built on any such basis. We develop architects to design. They do not build. We develop builders to build. They are not trained to design. To obtain a good building manifestly requires the employment of both these factors - a competent architect and a good builder. Their capacities do not cross. There is not enough in the sketch plan to guide the hand of the most skilled builder.
So we say; make sure. Have complete plans. Do not be deluded with the fallacy that complete working drawings are not essential.
In their trade circular entitled "Our Answers to Questions Home Builders Ask" the Bureau outlines its recommendations and services in the following terms:
Before you build your home you must know exactly how much it is going to cost. No amount of guessing by the most expert guesser will give you this information. The only way to find it out is to have contractors submit proposals to build based on the definite plans and specifications of the house. This leaves out the guesswork.
Building costs depend on local markets, the quality of materials, the finish and equipment demanded, and the contractors who do the building. We have found variations of as much as thirty per cent in the cost of houses built from the same plans in the same town. We can give you broad, general estimates of cost, but you will see how difficult it is for us to tell exactly how much it will cost to build from a certain plan in your city, without knowing all the conditions imposed by yourself and by local markets, and the quality of the contractors you employ.
In order to learn exactly how much it will cost you to build a home from a Bureau design you may obtain the complete home building documents for fifteen days on approval. You may submit them to different contractors for bids, and thus learn exactly what they will charge to build the house for you, in your city, finished and equipped as you desire it.
Obviously you will not care to keep the plans if the prices made by the contractors run above your means. Therefore in the following paragraph we offer you an inexpensive method of getting these figures:
First, plans may be obtained on approval for a period of fifteen days, by sending your check for the full amount of the service fee (explained later on).
Second, if you find the cost of building is more than you expected, and you return the documents to us within the fifteen day period, not counting the time they are in transit, a service charge of $5.50 will be deducted from your deposit, and the balance returned to you. If the drawings or other documents are worn or soiled we will deduct also a small replacement charge, at the following rates: Blue prints, $3.00 a set; specifications, $1.00 each; quantity surveys, $2.00 each; forms of agreements, 15c each.
Third, if you decide to retain the drawings, your check in the full amount of the service fee is accepted as payment in full. In other words, there is no charge for taking the plans on approval if you keep them. You will see that the above offer enables you at a very small cost to obtain home building estimates, and thus to determine whether or not you can afford to build. We do not ask you to buy the plans if you find you cannot afford to build from them.
Fourth, if the cost of construction runs higher than you expected, or if you encounter any other difficulties, we ask you to discuss your problems with us. It may be that we can offer suggestions that will enable you after all to build the house you want.
When you purchase a set of Bureau documents you receive three complete sets of blue prints, three sets of specifications, three quantity surveys, two forms of contract agreements. Also, during the building of your home we stand by to help you. Any questions you ask us by mail about materials and methods will be answered promptly, without bias, fear, or favor. We maintain in our organization qualified experts who have devoted years of their lives to the building of homes and who are competent to give you the information you ought to have. There is no extra charge for this service. It is included in the fee you pay.
Our fee for service is based on the rate of $6.00 a principal room, with 50c more for packing and postage. Thus our charge in connection with a five-room house is $30.50. By principal rooms we mean living room, dining room, kitchen and bedrooms. Halls, vestibules, sewing rooms, porches, and bath rooms are not counted.
Minor changes to meet your individual requirements or taste can often be made in Bureau plans without injuring the durability of the construction or the good design of the house. For example, such changes might be the re-location of a door, the omission of a partition or fireplace, or the addition of a porch, pantry or breakfast nook. Many houses shown with siding exteriors may readily be finished in stucco, or shingles. It is decidedly in your interests that you discuss such changes as you desire with us, to determine whether or not they are practical and durable architecturally, and to enable us to make necessary changes in the working drawings.
The charge for making such revisions depends upon the amount of time required by the draftsman. Often it is possible to estimate in advance what the maximum extra expense will be.
If your lot faces North it is obvious that a plan designed for a lot facing South will not give you the best exposure. This difficulty may be overcome by building the house reversed. Any contractor of average ability can build a house reversed from Bureau drawings without trouble, but we shall send you an additional set of blue prints printed upside down showing the reversed room arrangement, which your contractor may find convenient to use in connection with the original blue prints. There is no extra charge for the first set of reversed prints.
Each home builder has his own individual requirements for plans which depend upon a number of conditions - the size of his family, his taste in architecture, the amount of money he has to spend, the restrictions of his building code, the size and exposure of the lot, and so on. If we were to place before you a catalogue illustrating all our designs - almost four hundred altogether - of many different types of exterior and arrangement of floor plan, your problem of plan selection might only become more complicated.
Therefore if you will tell us something about your needs, we shall select illustrations of the plans that approximate or meet your requirements, and forward them to you promptly.
The Bureau does not design duplexes or apartment houses of any kind. It does not undertake the remodeling of existing buildings or the drawing up of plans to meet special requirements. Bureau service is strictly limited to stock plans for single family residences of not more than six principal rooms. Larger buildings and houses of unusual design have special problems which require the personal attention of an individual architect, and cannot be handled through the use of stock plans.