The Bungalow: The Production of a Global Culture

Anthony King published The Bungalow: The Production of Global Culture in 1984. King combined an interdisciplinary approach with a transnational perspective, tracing the growth of the “bungalow” from its indigenous existence in India to the colonial appropriations by British imperialists in India and Africa to its North American counterparts ending with Australia’s adoption. Moreover, like many other historians of the period, King discusses the bungalow in the context of cultural production, economics, politics (notably imperialism and urban planning), and imperialism.
For King, three primary reasons justify his study 1) no comprehensive evaluation of the bungalow‘s development existed 2) the bungalow represents a distinct form of development and progress (capitalist consumption/imperial dominance – here this housing form contains the economic, social, and phenemona of an ideology again imperialism and capitalism) and 3) the near universal presence of the bungalow suggests the formation of a global culture (of course this also refers to the ubiquitous spread of capitalism for King).
Beginning with the bungalow’s emergence among India’s people, King illustrates how British imperialists adopted many of its aspects while altering it in various ways (not necessarily in structurally different ways rather as King notes, “On the one hand, many items of structure, technology and materials were comparable to the Bengali dwellings. On the other, the political and cultural needs of its British inhabitants had radically transformed its setting and site. Social changes were to increasingly modify its form.” ). Imperialists utilized the bungalow to house its civil servants and officials ruling India. The spatializatoin of such housing effectively helped socially segregate both the British from its Indian subjects but also later for class divisions between Indians themselves. With the onset of the 20th century, Indian elites employed by the British empire as government officials and the expansion of the colonial economy (though notably geared to benefit British interests rather than those of the native population) contributed to the growth of an Indian middle class that came to occupy similar housing. Patterns of racial spatialization easily slid into social segregation by class. A key factor in the spread of the bungalow rests on this economic expansion. Bungalows served as a key form of capital accumulation in this context. The bungalow also recast family relations. Extended families in colonial Africa found themselves unable to occupy such housing, forcing the nuclear family formation on people’s who practiced a different set of familial relations. In India, this was less true as King argues the stereotyped of extended families remains a subject requiring greater investigation. Nonetheless, the growth of the bungalow related directly to consumption western products and services previously not apparent in India.
Yet, the bungalow remained a primarily Indo-British product. Its initial appearance in England revolved around in part changes in the rural economy and the value of rural land due to industrialization and transportation innovations but also the result of expanding London businesses and capital mobility. Located predominantly in seaside locations, the bungalow was imbued with health and sanitary ideals stressing the value of nature, sea air, and open green space. Additionally, upper middle class values found expression in the housing form, “If the economic basis was supplied by London’s surplus capital, the site and design of the bungalows were determined by the beliefs and social behaviour of its upper middle class.” The prefabrication of the bungalow in early 20th century England resulted in a reorganization of land use and value, “What the invention of the prefabricated bungalow had done was to bring a type of land into use which had not been used for building before. Before planning, laws brought controls, the beach below high water mark, and even sand dunes above, were often treated as common land or were available for temporary use … with only a token rent to the lord of the manor.” As these processes progressed, the cultural forms taking shape around the bungalow emphasized simplicity and a bohemian lifestyle. Ironically, the as colonial expansion continued, the bungalow was re-exported to other colonies, notably those in Africa, “Larger markets were necessary an draw materials required for the increasingly sophisticated industries which developed from the 1880s.” Government subsidies led to a proliferation in their development. Interestingly, just as the bungalow came to be a possible dwelling for working class English, bourgousie critics began to disparage its architectural traits while urban planners made their construction less feasible (since most working class occupants often self-built these homes … this is somewhat reminiscent of My Blue Heaven’s working class suburbanites outside Los Angeles which is also noteworthy because of King’s focus on the importance of the California bungalow’s influence on its growth in places such as Australia), ostensibly limiting the lower classes from sharing space with the middle and upper classes.
In North America, the bungalow appealed to reformers (who emphasized space, nature, and gendered spatialization of the interior), feminists (who stressed simplicity and efficiency) and anti-communist tropes that privileged its individualistic aspects over more communal architecture such as apartments. However, post WWII prosperity left the bungalow in dire straits as it was seen as too austere and limiting. The California bungalow drew increased attentions as its cultural form spread far and wide.
Africans witnessed the re-importation of the form, which King argues forever altered familial structure, social segregation (during and after colonialism), and cultural values, “the bungalow was an important element in the vast process of urbanization which, during the course of the twentieth century, was instrumental in transforming the economic, social, cultural, and political life of Africa.” For imperialists it supplied shelter and protection from malaria and other diseases (tropical bungalows had been established precisely to protect inhabitants from such threats, but it also contributed to the conflation of both Africans and urban areas as inherently diseased or ill). The imposition of nuclear family structures disrupted more typical extended family arrangements common to Africa (to be fair, King really focuses heavily on Western Africa). Perhaps, of equal importance, imperialism’s decline did not remove the spatial markers associated with the Bungalow. African elites embraced social segregation (“With independence, African elites moved into European housing in exclusive residential areas. In the 1970s, an ‘invariable feature of all major towns in East and Central Africa’ was that the broad racial division into European, Asian, and African residential areas is nowadays increasingly giving way to one based on status groups and classes’” This is a point discussed in Cities and Development in the Third World where it noted that class divisions emerged in former European housing now inhabited by Africans) while firmly placing themselves in the wage earning sphere of western capitalist expansion. If land had been under a form of collective ownership, the bungalow and the spatial patterns that came with it led to a more individualistic/commercial form, “Traditional structures were undermined and gradually destroyed by the penetration of the capitalist mode of production. Specifically, this meant the further monetization of the economy (which had become before the colonial impact) with the basic factors of production, land and labor, turned into commodities to be bought and sold.” Moreover, western materials and techniques pervaded African housing (i.e. corrugated iron which later became a common material for roofs etc.)
Coming to Australia last, King notes that the world’s smallest continent serves as a control subject, “The particular advantage of Australia is that, with its absence of indigenous urban development, the relative cultural homogeneity of its early settlers and the time and circumstances of its colonization, a case study is provided which, even more so than in the cases of India and Africa, demonstrates the importance of political, economic, and cultural factors in shaping the built environment.” Australia’s lack of development meant it grew wholly from Britain’s economic surplus or what King calls ‘dependent urbanization’. Moreover, the lack of previous development meant that none were ever industrial nor did they inherit “old preindustrial housing or newer rented ‘industrial’ housing built to accommodate labor close to factories.” Ironically, California’s example rather than Britain’s provided the basic inspiration for Australia’s bungalow proliferation. The bungalow combined with zoning to protect and maintain property values. Australians turned to the bungalow because its artistic individualism and rustic appearance appealed to the capitalist development taking hold.
Ultimately, the bungalow emerged as a form of capitalist accumulation and consumption. New needs from the romantic ideal of newlyweds sharing their first home to the materials required for construction to the consumer products employed within. The bungalow became embedded within a broader ideology that connects to today, “The individualism and privatization characteristic of modern capitalist societies is clearly very much bound up with the private ownership dwellings and land, nowhere better expressed than in the bungalow, and more recently, the growth of owned ‘studio apartments’” Additionally, King calls attention to the influence of imperialism and colonial urban development in spreading the bungalow and its apparent “global culture”.

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