Your Home by Mail: The Rise and Fall of Catalogue Housing

Gordon-Van tine’s ready-cut homes (1918). Image Courtesy of

is one of the most persistent challenges faced by the construction industry, and over the course of decades certain trends rise and fall, as entrepreneurial providers carve out new niches to provide for expanding populations and changing demographics. Originally published by BuzzBuzzHome as “The Rise and Fall of The Mail-Order House,” this article explores the craze of so-called “catalogue homes” – flat-packed houses that were delivered by mail – which became popular in North America in the first decades of the 20th century.

The testimonials make it sound effortless: building your own house is no sweat.

In the front pages of a 1921 Sears Roebuck catalogue for mail-order homes, a resident of Traverse City, Michigan identified only by the pseudonym “I Did Not Hire Any Help” wrote to the company: “I am very well pleased with my Already Cut House bought off you. All the material went together nicely. In fact, I wish I had another house to put up this summer. I really enjoyed working on such a building, and I do not follow the carpenter trade either.” It’s estimated that more than 100,000 mail-order homes were built in the United States between 1908 and 1940. It was the IKEA of housing, but instead of spending an afternoon putting together a bookshelf, buyers would take on the formidable task of building a house. Or, more commonly, get a contractor to do it. Homebuyers would pick a design of their choice out of a mail-order catalogue and the materials – from the lumber frame boards to the paint to the nails and screws – would be shipped out to the closest railway station for pickup and construction.

Casa Na Mouraria / José Andrade Rocha

© Ricardo Oliveira Alves

Location: Rua Mouraria, 1100-341 Lisboa,
Area: 64.0 sqm
Year: 2015
Photographs: Ricardo Oliveira Alves

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Video: Frei Otto Experimenting with Soap Bubbles

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“The computer can only calculate what is already conceptually inside of it; you can only find what you look for in computers. Nevertheless, you can find what you haven’t searched for with free experimentation.” – From A Conversation with Frei Otto, by Juan Maria Songel

For Frei Otto, experimentation with models and maquettes was a fundamental part of his work as an architect. In 1961, he began to conduct a series of experiments with soap bubbles (featured in the video above). His experiments centered on suspending soap film and dropping a looped string into it to form a perfect circle. By then trying to pull the string out a minimal surface was created. It was these created surfaces that Otto experimented with.

Through these types of experimentation he was able to build forms and that were previously believed to be impossible. “Now it can be calculated, but for more than 40 years it was impossible to calculate it. I have not waited for it to be calculated in order to build it.”

SHIFT Restaurant / Lama Arhitectura

© RaduMalasincu

Architects: Lama Arhitectura
Location: Bucharest,
Architect In Charge: Dan Enache,CalinRadu
Design Team: AliceIonita, Ioana Stan
Landscape Architect: Alexandru Gheorghe-Poteca Studio
Area: 165.0 sqm
Year: 2015
Photographs: RaduMalasincu

TAC-SEV New Campus / Erginoğlu&Çalışlar

© Cemal Emden

Architects: Erginoğlu&Çalışlar
Location: /Mersin,
Design Team: İ. Kerem Erginoğlu,Hasan C. Çalışlar, Arın Tanrıkulu, Onat Över, Ayça Taylan, Sezen Bilge, Zeynep Şankaynağı, Yasemin Hacıkura, Işık Süngü, Emre Cestel
Area: 9399.0 sqm
Year: 2014
Photographs: Cemal Emden

Company Building in Kanagawa / HMAA

© Nobuki Taoaka

Architects: HMAA
Location: Kanagawa Prefecture,
Area: 218.0 sqm
Year: 2014
Photographs: Nobuki Taoaka

1102 Penthouse / Apical Reform

© Apical Reform

Architects: Apical Reform
Location: Paarijat Residences, Judges Bunglow Road, Sumeru, Bodakdev, , Gujarat 380054,
Area: 5000.0 ft2
Year: 2014
Photographs: Apical Reform

Arquitetas Invisíveis Presents 48 Women in Architecture: Part 6, Landscape Architecture

Courtesy of Arquitetas Invisíveis

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we asked the Brazilian non-profit group Arquitetas Invisíveis to share with us a part of their work, which identifies women in architecture and urbanism. They kindly shared with us a list of 48 important women architects, divided into seven categories: pioneers, “in the shadows,” architecture, urbanism, , social architecture,  and sustainable architecture. We will be sharing this list over the course of the week.

Yesterday we brought you The Urbanists, and today we present women leaders in landscape architecture.

NORD Architects’ Brønshøj Parish Centre Fosters Community Gathering

Courtesy of

The Brønshøj Parish Centre by NORD Architects provides a space for community congregation informed by the surrounding religious architecture. With warm materials, a multi-functional program, and a form that physically opens up to the city, the Parish Centre presents an inviting social and reverent space for Copenhagen.

Archiculture Interviews: Joe Brown

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“We know that buildings are destroying the environment as well as building the environment.” In the latest Archiculture extras interview from Arbuckle Industries, architect and CIO of AECOM Joe Brown talks about the changes and challenges he has witnessed in the architecture industry. He discusses the dynamics of being part of a multinational firm and the effects it has on design, as well as the political notions embedded in the field. Additionally, Brown touches on the problems associated with the built environment and how they are inspiring change in the next generation of designers.

Izabelin House / REFORM Architekt

© Marcin Tomaszewski

Architects: REFORM Architekt
Location: Izabelin,
Area: 400.0 sqm
Year: 2014
Photographs: Marcin Tomaszewski

“A Joy of Things”: The Architecture World Remembers Michael Graves

The Portland Building. Image © Flickr user camknows

This past Thursday Michael Graves, the famed member of the New York Five and one of the Postmodern movement’s great icons, passed away at age 80. With a legacy spanning more than 350 buildings and 2,000 product designs for companies like Alessi, Target and J.C. Penney, Graves will be remembered as a prolific designer, but for many within the profession his 50-year career will be memorable for so much more. Since news of Graves’ death broke on Thursday, tributes have been posted all around the internet, starting with his company’s official statement which said:

“Since founding the firm in 1964, Michael transformed the role of architects and designers, and even the place of design in our everyday lives. For those of us who had the opportunity to work closely with Michael, we knew him as an extraordinary designer, teacher, mentor and friend. For the countless students that he taught for more than 40 years, Michael was an inspiring professor who encouraged everyone to find their unique design voice.”

Read on after the break for more reactions and tributes to .

Goat Barn in Bavaria / KÜHNLEIN Architektur

© Erich Spahn

Architects: KÜHNLEIN Architektur
Location: , Germany
Year: 2014
Photographs: Erich Spahn, Michael Kühnlein

Boston Living with Water Competition Names 9 Finalists

The Hydrokinetic Canal. Image Courtesy of Living with Water

Nine finalists have emerged in the Boston Living with Water design competition. The ongoing initiative challenges competitors to address shifting climate conditions and sea level rise at one of three Boston sites anticipated to be affected by 2100. Although the 50 participating teams took different approaches to designing for climate change, all the submissions treated the rising sea level as a positive design force in Boston’s built environment.

Check out the finalists, after the break.

Courtesy of SOILED
Courtesy of SOILED

Head in the Clouds with SOILED’s 5th Issue

Self-described as “a periodical of architectural stories that [makes] a mess of the built environment and the politics of space,” SOILED zine‘s 5th issue has been released, abounding with tales of the aerial. Entitled Cloudscrapers, the issue is the second in a series of limited-edition, locally produced publications by CARTOGRAM Architecture.

Exploring “air-space as a site for activated atmospheres, a privileged perch, and otherwordly occupation,” Cloudscrapers promises readers a diverse and entertaining read, whilst provoking thoughts of spatial wonders otherwise unconsidered. Learn more about SOILED and purchase a copy of Cloudscrapers here.

Collective housing AGVC / De Gouden Liniaal Architecten

© Bart Gosselin

Architects: De Gouden Liniaal Architecten
Location: Statielei, 2640 , Belgium
Area: 473.0 sqm
Year: 2013
Photographs: Bart Gosselin

Public Space in Gora Pulawska / 3XA

© s.zajaczkowski

Architects: 3XA
Location: Góra Puławska,
Design Team: Ewa Czerny, Maciej Kowaluk, Łukasz Reszka, Patrycja Żuczek
Area: 1325.0 sqm
Year: 2014
Photographs: s.zajaczkowski

Apartment T / AE5 partners

© Laura Cantarella

Architects: AE5 partners
Location: ,
Collaborators: Stefano Tozzi, Hidenari Arai
Area: 115.0 sqm
Year: 2009
Photographs: Laura Cantarella