The Architects’ Small House Service Bureau1919 - 1942
The Architects’ Small House Service Bureau (ASHSB) was an organization of professional architects producing mail-order plans in the Interwar period. Its members were unified by the perceived low standard of single-family housing of the period. Established by a group of Minneapolis architects in 1919, the ASHSB received endorsements from both the U.S. Department of Commerce and the American Institute of Architects in 1921. The Bureau remains the only house plan service to receive AIA endorsement.
At the time of its founding, ninety-five percent of small houses constructed were designed by untrained individuals. The Bureau’s goal—to promote well-designed and constructed small homes through both education and high-quality plans—was a reaction to the rising popularity of mail-order house companies, which eliminated the need for an architect.
Architects who were members of the Bureau worked there on a part-time basis in addition to their regular practices. Member architects provided the operational funds for the Bureau and emphasized their lack of connection with commercial building industries. Architects contributed their own plans for small houses and could be hired at an hourly wage to prepare plans or work on customizations, but they did not receive royalties on the sale of plans.
To fulfill its education mission, the Bureau offered advice and decorating tips for both exterior and interior design, mainly through its monthly service bulletin, The Small Home. The advice on interior design drew on the principles of the domestic reform movement—principles that promoted scientific research on so-called “home economics” to simplify the homemaker’s work. A regular home economics promoter was General Electric, which advertised the design of its appliances and other inventions with efficiency of the home in mind.
Following the Great Depression, the AIA revoked its endorsement of the ASHSB on the grounds that it was in direct competition with individual architects. The Bureau never recovered from this action and disbanded in 1942. Although the Bureau had ten regional offices across the country during its heyday (1924-25) and plans from members were published in 76 different magazines and journals, plan sales never reached the point of profitability. The largest concentration of ASHSB homes is in the Midwest, including the Twin Cities and Chicago.