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June 11, 2018

Bungalow Courts – Tiny Homes 1.0

John Sheehan

In our collective search for solutions to California’s affordable housing crisis - we can look no further than our own backyard for one proven solution worthy of reconsideration. We refer to the ubiquitous Pre-WWII bungalow court. Small cottages encircling a semi-public open space - San Diego and its neighboring cities have a veritable catalog of examples. Designed to address the workforce housing challenges of their day - these compact developments comfortably slipped into standard 50 X 100 foot lots among single-family homes in leafy neighborhoods. Though diminutive,  the bungalows provided all the comforts of domesticity along with a shared garden in which to mingle among like-minded neighbors. Most were built near transit (street cars) and neighborhood shops and services. With the current interest in Tiny Homes and Accessory Dwelling Units - the courts offer a close-at-hand example of highly livable medium-density housing. Architects and developers would do well to take note!

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Stoops and porches
...provide a necessary semi-private buffer between the private interior and the semi-public court.

Landscape matters
ven in these small spaces good planting offers structure, texture and coolness to the court.

Horatio West
Modern master Irving Gill designed this landmark court in Santa Monica in 1921.


 Pedestrians and cars share the central spine that leads to a plaza/parking court at the rear. 

Yours, mine and ours
…the idea of the community front yard was literally central to the bungalow court ethos.

HomeSafe, San Jose
Bungalow courts inspired our HomeSafe project in San Jose. A set of duplex cottages surrounding a shared lawn provide supportive housing for women and children fleeing domestic violence.

Pueblo Ribera
In nearby La Jolla - Architect Rudolf Schindler created a jigsaw puzzle site plan that offered every cottage its own very private postage-stamp front yard. 

Pueblo Ribera’s cottages as seen shortly after their 1923 completion – before the open air living/sleeping terraces were enclosed. 

All the comforts of home a smaller scale are present in this recently refurbished court cottage. Many cottages have back doors that lead to tiny but useful private patios…perfect for drying clothes (their historic use) or container gardening (or a plein-air siesta!)

Shared open space invite neighborliness
Many historic courts include fountains, fireplaces and pergolas. This court in Venice was recently rebooted with interesting landscape and pocket patios for gathering.

Small is beautiful!
Careful attention to detail and proportion give dignity to the very tiny cottage. 

Friendly to the street
Bungalow courts offer a view from the sidewalk of welcome green spaces.  

This is a handful of local examples. We are curious about others. Please snap a shot of a favorite cottage court near you and share it with us!