While the early part of the 20th century saw little innovation in terms of architectural style--many styles were revivals of earlier American and European styles--the 1930s and '40s spawned major innovation. There was a surge of architectural changes during the 1950s, which created completely new and unique home exteriors.
Architecture and the 1950s
Architecture during this decade was fuelled by several related and influential cultural phenomena. Major scientific advances were made during the early half of the 20th century, largely a result of the first and second World Wars. These advances created the opportunity and means for architects to build in ways that had never before been possible. Stronger and lighter materials were developed; concrete, steel and plastics all became popular during these decades. Modernism was also born during the early part of the century as a reaction to the state of affairs in Europe. Ornate, showy styles were kicked to the curb, and clean lines became the most popular architectural form. The 1950s saw thousands of soldiers returning to the United States. The GIs married, started families and needed new homes. This boom in the working population had a major economic impact, making the 1950s a remarkably prosperous and materialistic period. All of these cultural events created a whirlwind of change throughout the social sciences, and architecture followed suit.
Thanks to suburban development, ranch houses became an iconic symbol of the 1950s. All ranches feature similar exterior architectural elements. They are long, low asymmetrical homes. The front facade is wider than the side facades, often four rooms wide and only two rooms deep. Ranches feature a hipped or gabled roof with wide eaves. The exteriors are relatively unadorned, but large windows are popular. Most of these homes feature an attached garage or carport.
The split-level home is derived from a ranch, but its distinguishing feature is its multiple levels. From the exterior, these homes appear to be half two-story and half one-story. On the interior, the public spaces reside on one level and are connected by half staircases to bedrooms on the upper level and a family room or garage on the lower level. The roof is low and pitched, and like ranch homes, the eaves are deep. Large expanses of glass--such as double hung windows and sliding glass doors--are popular here, too, and a garage is usually incorporated. Decoration is limited.
Modernism is often seen in city apartment buildings and in public spaces, but some single family homes were done in the style of world-renowned architects such as Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Alvar Aalto. These homes are very different from ranches and split-levels and are often made of glass, steel and concrete. They are largely conceptual and unadorned. Modern homes consistently feature clean lines and a combination of smooth curves and sharp angles. The natural materials seen in ranch and split-level homes--including wood and brick--are rarely seen in modern exteriors.