A Dictionary with Only One Word

Or, a biography of the bungalow

Journeys: How travelling fruit, ideas and buildings rearrange our environment. Installation view, 2010

BÁNGLÁ, corruptly, BUNGALOW, Beng. (probably from Banga, Bengal) A thatched cottage, such as is usually occupied by Europeans in the provinces or in military cantonments.1

  1. H. H. Wilson, A Glossary of Judicial and Revenue Terms and of Useful Words Occurring in Official Documents Relating to the Administration of the Government of British India (London: W.H. Allen and Co., 1855), 59. 

BU’NGALOW, a species of rural villa or house, so called in India.

Bungalows which form the residence of Europeans, are of all sizes and styles, according to the taste and wealth of the owner. Some are of two stories, but more usually they consist of only a ground-floor, and are invariably surrounded with a verandah, the roof of which affords a shelter from the sun. In the chief cities of Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay some of the bungalows are really palatial residences, while in the mofussil they are of more moderate pretensions. In general, they are provided with exterior offices, to accommodate the large retinue of domestics common in Indian life. Besides these private bungalows, there are military bungalows on a large scale for accommodating soldiers in cantonments ; likewise public bungalows, maintained by government for the accommodation of travellers, and in which seem to be blended the characters of an English road-side inn and an eastern caravanserai. These bungalows, though they vary greatly in actual comfort, are all on the same plan. They are quadrangular in shape, one story high, with high peaked roofs, thatched or tiled, projecting so as to form porticos and verandahs.1

  1. Chambers’s Encyclopædia: A Dictionary of Universal Knowledge for the People, volume II (London: W. & R. Chambers, 1886), 425–426. 

And now for a word about Bungalows and Bungalow Houses. What is a Bungalow?

Our imagination, if we have not travelled beyond Europe, immediately transports us to India, with its glaring sun and arid soil, to low, squat, rambling, one-storied houses, with wide verandahs, latticed windows, flat roofs, and with every conceivable arrangement to keep out the scorching rays of the sun and to promote as much coolness as possible. Or else we think of some rude settlement in one of our colonies, where the houses or huts, built of logs of wood hewn from the tree, and with shingle roofs, give us an impression, as it were, of “roughing it”.

But this is not the kind of Bungalow suitable for our climate, neither is it necessary that it should be a one-storied building or a country cottage. A cottage is a little house in the country, but a Bungalow is a little country house—a homely, cosy little place, with verandahs and balconies, and the plan so arranged as to ensure complete comfort, with a feeling of rusticity and ease.1

  1. Robert Alexander Briggs, “Preface,” in Bungalows and Country Residences: A Series of Designs, and Examples of Executed Works (London: B.T. Batsford, 1891). 

The most usual class of house occupied by Europeans in the interior of India ; being on one story and covered with a pyramidal roof, which in the normal bungalow is of thatch, but may be of tiles without impairing its title to be called a bungalow…

A bungalow may also be a small building of the type which we have described, but of temporary material, in a garden on a terraced roof for sleeping in, &c., &c. The word has also been adopted by the French in the East, and by Europeans generally in Ceylon, China, Japan, and the coast of Africa…

It is to be remembered that in Hindustan proper the adjective ‘ of or belonging to Bengal ’ is constantly pronounced as banga˘la¯ or bangla¯. Thus, one of the eras used in E. India is distinguished as the Bangla¯ era. The probability is that, when Europeans began to build houses of this character in Behar and Upper India, these were called Bangla¯ or ‘ Bengal-fashion ’ houses ; that the name was adopted by the Europeans themselves and their followers, and so was brought back to Bengal itself, as well as carried to other parts of India.1

  1. Henry Yule, A. C. Burnell, and William Crooke, Hobson-Jobson: a Glossary of Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases : and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical, and Discursive (London: J. Murray, 1903), 128. 

There is nothing either affected or insincere about these little houses. They are neither consciously artistic nor consciously rustic. They are the simple and unconscious expression of the needs of their owners, and as such they can be credited with the best kind of architectural propriety. Nothing, indeed, could be more flimsy than their method of construction. Higher than two stories they do not soar.1

  1. Frederick T. Hodgson, Practical Bungalows and Cottages for Town and Country (Chicago: F.J. Drake & Co., 1906), 34. 

The Bungalow is a tangible protest of modern life against the limitations and severities of humdrum existence. It is homey and comes near to that ideal you have seen in the dreamy shadows of night when lying restless on your couch you have yearned for a haven of rest. Maybe it has a wide, low, spreading roof, which sweeps down and forms a covering for the porch. It has a large healthy chimney, patios, with fountains, large verandas, good sized living and dining rooms, so arranged possibly that by the use of portable wood screens they may be partitioned off or thrown into one apartment.1

  1. Radford’s Artistic Bungalows (Chicago: Radford Architectural Co., c.  1908), 3. 

Correctly speaking, the word “Bungalow” describes a one-story thatched or tiled house, with wide verandas on at least three sides.

The word is of Anglo-Indian origin; and was first used to describe this type of building, so well known in India.

The adaptability of the bungalow form of dwelling to the requirements of families of moderate size has been realized by architects for many years, and the results achieved, particularly on the pacific Coast, where climatic conditions favor this type of house, have been satisfactory in a high degree.

Where a second story has been added the building loses its chief characteristics and cannot be truthfully designated as a bungalow. It becomes simply a cottage on bungalow lines.1

  1. The American Architect and Building News 94 (19 August 1908): 63.  

It is a house reduced to its simplest form…

It never fails to harmonize with its surroundings, because its low broad proportions and absolute lack of ornamentation give it a character so natural and unaffected that it seems to sink into and blend with any landscape.

It may be built of any local material and with the aid of such help as local workmen can afford, so it is never expensive unless elaborated out of all kinship with its real character of a primitive dwelling. It is beautiful, because it is planned and built to meet simple needs in the simplest and most direct way…1

  1. Gustav Stickley, Craftsman Homes (New York: Craftsman Pub. Co., c.  1909), 89.  

The bungalow, as we know it in America, had its origin in the mild equitable climate of California and the Southwest, which brought to homebuilders the desire for a closer relationship to the great out-of-doors. It is distinctly an American idea.1

  1. Building a Bungalow (New York: The Atlas Portland Cement Company, c.  1916), 3. 

The bungalow craze, which began around the turn of the century, was a more radical reaction oriented toward nature and rustic simplicity; by 1926 its features are only dimly visible, though the porches so integral to the bungalow concept have become almost ubiquitous.1

  1. “Publisher’s note,” in Honor Bilt Modern Homes (Chicago: Sears, Roebuck & Co., 1926). 

The average New Zealand bungalow, the product of the land speculator and the builder, is the typical home of a large percentage of the population.

Built usually in wood with a low pitched corrugated iron roof, its main features are its restless roofline and its fussy windows, as a rule with a high glass line and traces of Art Nouveau still lingering in the fanlights. The plan is usually neat, providing four or five rooms and with a large area of passage space, and is carefully oriented to the street frontage irrespective of sunlight, wind or privacy.1

  1. H. Courtney Archer, “Architecture in New Zealand,” The Architectural Review 91 (March 1942): 54. 

A lightly built dwelling of one storey, as used in the East. The ironical term ‘bungaloid growths’ was coined in the twentieth century to describe badly designed and badly built suburban outcrops along our coasts and highways.1

  1. Martin S. Briggs, Everyman’s Concise Encyclopaedia of Architecture (London: J.M. Dent, 1962), 62. 

A single-storey house.1

  1. Nikolaus Pevsner, John Fleming, and Hugh Honour, A Dictionary of Architecture (New York: Overlook Press, 1976), 66. 

The emotive term ‘bungalow blight’ has come in for increasing usage by those concerned about ribbon development and housing sprawl…

Why do so many urban workers want a rural base? Doubtless there are many reasons. Among them must surely be an anxiety to get away from all these social problems and pressures. Since Bungalow Bliss was published in 1971, over 100,000 people have bought a copy, surely underlining this anxiety. It is a source of great pleasure to me that I had the privilege of helping so many.1

  1. Jack Fitszimons, “Preface,” in Bungalow Bliss, 8th ed. (Meath, Ireland: Kells Art Studios, 1986). 

These definitions were gathered for Journeys: How travelling fruit, ideas and buildings rearrange our environment, an exhibition and publication we produced in 2010.


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