Canadian Small House Competition, 1946: the first CMHC postwar initiative
Held in 1946 by the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the Canadian Small House Competition urged architects across the country to design innovative and affordable single-family houses. The idea competition received a massive response of three hundred and thirty-one design submissions. Albeit, as pointed out by the jury, the elite of the architectural profession failed to show up, thirty-seven designs were recognized across the five regions. This first CMHC competition takes us back to its aspiration to address Canada's housing needs post-World War II.
Countless Canadian families were looking to settle into affordable and well-designed single-family houses following the end of the Second World War. In response to the housing demands the competition focused its intentions on the design of convenient, healthful and innovative plan arrangements in line with a family of four's needs, new building techniques and a budget of approximately 6 000, 1946 Canadian dollars (77 000, 2015 Canadian dollars).
Hence, in a time of material shortage, architects were faced with the challenge of designing well-planned domestic spaces at minimum cost. They were to follow guidelines such as interior space was to be bright, furniture was to be built-in, rooms to be large and arranged so that it would be possible to watch children all the while doing housework. Lots that were considered were flat and up to 40 feet wide and the jury's report points out that "a fundamental issue of consideration was [...] land coverage, since the bungalow type occupies a large proportion of the lot while a two storey house economizes on roof and lot areas".
This initiative, approved by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, was launched right when the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation (now Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation) was created in 1946. The CMHC was established to carry out the National Housing Act adopted two years earlier in 1944. It meant to act as an intermediary between landlords and architects.
First, second and third prizes as well as honorable mentions were awarded in each of the five sub-competitions (the Maritimes region, the Quebec region, the Ontario region, the Prairie region and the West Coast region). Regrettably, out of the three hundred and thirty-one design submissions, the CCC was only able to gather material for these thirty-seven designs. The jury, which included Humphrey Carver and Ernest Cormier, agreed that the outcome represented an "exhaustive study of different ways of putting together the elements of the small house plan" and thus it was very evident that the plan arrangements presented to them was the fruit of rigorous efforts but they "doubted whether there had emerged any great distinction between the regions in the form of plan." The jurors added that a design submitted in any region may very well be "suitable" in another.
The Maritimes region did, however, seem to stand out from the other regions. It was awarded only two honorable mentions (whereas the four other regions were awarded five) yet, its first prize, awarded to G. Burniston & J. Storey, was considered by the jury "to be amongst the best submitted". It offered large openings oriented south, allowing for maximum light into the living-dining area. Additionally, both of Michael G. Dixon's designs presented to the Maritimes region and the Quebec sub-competition caught the jury's eye. His playroom design that could be turned into a bedroom over time, as well as the achievement of accommodating not two but four bedrooms, were very well regarded by the jury.
Noteworthy submissions in the Prairie region suggested the idea of either adding a dining area to the kitchen or a vast living-dining-kitchen area. Whereas David J. Moir's Quebec sub-competition proposal was a genuine clin d'oeil to traditional Quebec domestic architecture, throughout the West Coast region plan submissions were thought to be very similar. However, one was considered the most contentious of all submissions: E. A. Mulford's design, although well regarded for its unique features, failed to provide an affordable solution, key element of the design brief. Harry Leblond, on the other hand, put forward a low-priced West Coast type bungalow.
Finally, the jury regretted that no new building techniques emerged from the competition. Besides, despite the jurors feeling disappointed by the limited attendance of experienced firms that "had been unable to contribute on account of the pressure of present business" they applauded the effort put forward by participants and claimed that "the first three choices in each Region would well provide the Canadian public with some novel and interesting designs for future house construction".
The jury's comments, both laudatory and bitter, suggested an outline strategy that would lead to the investigation of new lieux d'habitation. Surely, this competition launched a series of research studies of new model homes that remained at the core of the CMHC's mandate. A year later the CMHC published 67 Homes for Canadians, a collection of the valuable thirty-seven designs from the Canadian Small House competition along with thirty additional compositions, in order to provide attractive, affordable designs and helpful information to the house-builder.
For a broader historical understanding of how the Canadian Small House competition fits within the history of the CMHC you may refer to the History of CMHC section of their website.
67 homes for Canadians
History of CMHC
In the opinion of the judges, this competition produced an extraordinary variety of plan arrangements. Competitors made a most exhaustive study of. different ways of putting together the elements of the small house plan. In previous competitions there has been some concentration on pretty elevations to make nice exteriors, but in this competition the concentration of the designers on plan arrangelnents was very noticeable. The plan arrangement was superior to the architectural form in which it was expressed. In fact, perhaps the great outstanding outcome of the competition was the tremendous variety in the architectural character. It is apparent that we are moving away from what is generally considered to be a house of orthodox appearance. The judges doubted whether there had emerged any great distinction between the regions in the form of plan. It is quite possible that the designs contributed in any region could have been suitable and successful in any other region. The general quality of entries was not up to expectation. The judges felt some disappointment that many experienced firms of architects had been unable to contribute on account of the pressure of present business. The hope was expressed that in any subsequent competitions it would be possible to draw in the practising architectural firms in greater numbers than had been .possible on this occasion. Nevertheless, it was obvious to the judges that a great deal of fundamental thinking on Canadian small house planning has now been done. Much discussion took place concerning the ability of small contractors and speculative builders to carry out some of the designs. It was recognized that a few of the best designs would require careful supervision and skillful craftsmanship for execution. The fear was expressed that if left to second class firms of contractors some designs which looked beautiful might result in very poor creations. A fundamental issue of consideration was, of course, land coverage, since the bungalow type occupies a large proportion of the lot while a two storey house economizes on roof and lot areas. Preference was given to the house with a basement, particularly on the urging of one of the jury members. The overflow of storage space was regarded as very important in a house of minimum room sizes. Other plan features most carefully examined by the judges was the communication from front entrances to the rest of the house. Preference was given to those designs which avoided using the living room as a passage. The judges continually considered the difficulties of the housewife in keeping floors clean and keeping the mess left by children· away from the living room. The ease of access from the kitchen, as the working center of the house, to all other parts was a very important factor in decision. Some difficulty arose concerning the question of garages. It was noticeable that many plans occupied the greater part of a forty-foot lot and therefore made it necessary to place the garage either in front of the house or on the back lot line, assuming a rear lane in many municipalities. Either of these locations would not be very satisfactory within present restrictions. Another important factor considered was the cost of maintenance throughout the life of the house. A design with a simple roof has obvious advantages since breaks in roofline, pitch, etc., are obvious causes of future maintenance trouble. It is felt by the judges that the first three choices in each Region would well provide the Canadian public with some novel and interesting designs for future house construction. It is hoped that further Competitions will be held to stimulate thought and interest in house design and in the development of an architecture which will express the Canadian way of life. In general the judges believe that this Competition was well worthwhile even though no new building techniques or materials evolved. Three hundred and thirtyone designs were submitted. It is gratifying that the Competition obtained such a wide response throughout the Dominion.
(From jury report)
67 homes for Canadians : attractive house plans designed especially for Canadian requirements : including prize winners of the Canadian Small House Competition, 1947
Coutu, Simon, Ode au bungalow, 2013
Lawson, Harold; Carver, Humphrey; Cormier, Ernest; Fairn L.R.; Fredk, William; Green, L.J.; Ingles, Ernest B.; McQueen, Monica; Riddell, W. Bruce, Report of the judges : Canadian Small House Competition, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, 1947
Teodorescu, Ioana, Big Ideas, Small Houses, 2009