Architectural Styles

Architectural styles used on military installations reflect the styles used in the civilian sector during the same time period. The following summaries are listed in order of construction period

Craftsman Bungalow

Typically constructed from wood, this was the dominant style for the construction of small homes in the United States from the early 1900s to the 1920s. This common house form typically features a rectangular plan, one or one-and-one-half story building with front gable or side-gabled roof with gently low-pitched slope with wide overhangs; less frequently hipped roof, full-width porch with roof supported by tapered square columns.

At Fort Belvoir, the majority of the temporary construction built for family housing used a modified Craftsman bungalow style. These buildings were easy to erect using a "kit of parts." (Park Village, Snow Loop and Jadwin Loop Village)

Colonial Revival

Considered the most prominent residential style in the United States during the first half of the 20th Century, the Colonial Revival was popular in military installations located east of the Mississippi River.

The façade is normally symmetrical with a central entrance door accentuated by either a pediment supported by pilasters or a portico supported by slender columns. The rectangular plan typically features two-stories with a side-gabled roof. Hipped or gambrel roof forms are also used. (Belvoir and Rossell Loop Villages represent the Colonial Revival style.)

Cape Cod

Typically a one-and-one-half story house type with steeply pitched side-gabled roof.

The style is loosely patterned after early wooden folk houses of eastern Massachusetts with Georgian or Adam-inspired doorways. This building type was most common during the 1920s and 1940s. (Gerber Village's single-family homes are considered to be Colonial Revival, Cape Cod style.)

International Style

Categorized by asymmetrical elevations, windows flush with exterior walls, flat roofs and smooth wall surfaces, normally stucco and white. All superfluous ornamentation is stripped away and there is an emphasis on the horizontal. This style was introduced to the United States in the 1930s.

The International Style was rarely used for residential construction on military installations. Fort Belvoir's best extant example of the International Style is Thermo-Con House.

House Types

Single-Family Home

An individual home sited on a single parcel of land. When polled in the 1920s, military wives unanimously preferred single-family homes. The majority of the early family housing constructed on military installations was in the form of single-family homes. (Park, Snow Loop, and Jadwin Loop, Gerber, Belvoir Villages, and Thermo-Con House)


Apartment buildings were normally two-story, semi-detached buildings, with a separate apartment located on each floor. Garden-style apartments were popular forms of construction for units constructed in association with the Wherry bill. (Lewis Heights Village)

Duplex, Townhouse, and Row house

A duplex is usually indistinguishable from a normal house on the exterior except for its two front entrances. Townhouses and row-houses typically consist of three or more homes together connected by shared walls.

The military constructed these housing forms in an attempt to introduce more privacy than the apartment-style units. Additionally, these units provided tenants with a front and rear yard. However, in the military, the line between an apartment building and a duplex, townhouse, or row house is somewhat blurred. Apartment buildings tend to be larger, while duplexes are typically related to the size of a normal single-family house. In the military the terms duplex, townhouse, and row-house are often used interchangeably.

By the time the Capehart Act was in effect, the Army was rejecting garden-style apartments and moving back to duplexes/town houses. (Rossell Loop, Dogue Creek, Colyer, Fairfax, George Washington, River, and Woodlawn Villages)

Architectural Context

Standardized plans

In an effort to make the construction process as efficient as possible, the Army had developed standardized plans for housing and other building types by the 1860s. These uniform designs tended to produce buildings which resembled those in the civilian sector.   The military would go as far as employing the same design professionals to create simplified versions of the popular styles of the time, resulting in similarities with the buildings design and construction. 1 

Although most of the Army's standardized plans came out of the Washington, DC, Office of the Quartermaster General, for practical purposes, buildings were designed for the specific climate conditions of the area, and local materials were used in their construction. The Colonial Revival style was popular for installations located along the East Coast and east of the Mississippi River. Spanish Colonial Revival designs were typically used in the West and Southwest. Family housing did not appear as a standardized plan before the 1860s. During the first period of standardized plans, family housing was only provided for officers.

By the early 20th Century, the Army started to standardize the assignment of quarters. Regulations were developed directing the post's quartermaster to provide housing for each officer according to his rank. The number of bedrooms, bathrooms, and the size of the rooms varied in relation to the grade of the officer. In cases where the same basic house design was used, the higher ranking officers received either additional or larger rooms.

The commanding officer for the installation received the largest single-family house on post. Field-grade officers and above were also entitled to single-family houses, lesser-ranking officers were generally housed in duplex units. 2 Rank had its privileges, and the number and kind of amenities followed that dictum. "The Field and General officers were given an additional bedroom and always received a second bath."3 Nevertheless, ". . .sleeping porches were often provided for additional space" regardless of rank. 4

Three different single-family, standardized plans were developed for the non-commissioned officers (NCO). Although the plans were used on multiple installations, the three types were named in association with their original locations. Plans are identified as: Fort Bliss, typically constructed in the southern United States; Fort Monmouth, built in the northern regions of the country; and Fort Humphreys [Fort Belvoir], constructed in the middle latitudes. 5 A standard two-story NCO duplex was also developed, becoming a popular alternative to the single-family option.

Construction Responsibility

The responsibility of most military construction was divided between two branches of the Army: the Corps of Engineers and the Quartermaster Department. Delineation between the two branches can be difficult, since many issues overlapped.

Initially the Corps of Engineers was in charge of all fortifications, roads, river and harbor work, and the Quartermaster Department oversaw the construction of barracks, stores, and everything needed to house the Army. 6  The Quartermaster and the Corps were composed of highly professional architects, engineers, and designers, in addition to civilian architects employed through the civil service.

During World War I, the Construction Division was formed as a separate division from the Quartermaster. This division focused on all war-time construction. However, after the war, there was a disagreement regarding which group would oversee the construction activities. On July 15, 1920, it was decided that construction should continue under the Quartermaster Department, and the Construction Division became known as the Construction Service of the Quartermaster Corps.   

The first Chief of the Engineering Division of the Construction Service was Lt. Col. Francis B. Wheaton, formerly associated with the prestigious architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White. The Construction Service was further separated into three divisions: engineering, administrative, and real estate. 7  All military construction was consolidated and transferred to the Corps of Engineers in December 1941. 8 

Construction Techniques and Designs

Inter-War Period

The Construction Division of the Quartermaster gathered an impressive group of military and civilian architects, engineers, planners, designers, and landscape architects to oversee all aspects of military construction during the 1920s and 1930s. Luther M. Leisnring, formerly an architect with Cass Gilbert, was appointed Supervising Architect in 1937, and George B. Ford, a noted urban planner, was retained as a consultant to review installation plans.

Ideas traditionally associated with the Garden City movement, which were sweeping through cities within the United States at this time, were applied to the design of military installations. Ford wanted to break the Army of its regimented system of laying everything out in straight lines, advocating instead for the incorporation of vistas and irregular lines. In 1931, the Office of the Quartermaster created a Planning Branch within the Construction Division, to ensure "scientific planning and landscaping in the development of Army Post." 9  Post planning, similar to city planning of the era, had distinct hierarchical areas. Military installations were laid out to include industrial areas, administration and community areas, and housing areas for enlisted men, NCOs, and officers.

World War II

A shortage of resources, time, money, and building materials during World War II, led most military installations to build temporary construction. The buildings and structures constructed during this time period were designed to last for only five years. Although some family housing was constructed during this period, it was not seen as a priority, only as a necessity. As the war progressed, building materials became even harder to obtain, yet the need for new construction continued to increase. Material shortages were most critical in the middle of 1942, the same time that construction was reaching its peak. The War Production Board, established in January 1942 to direct war production and the procurement of materials in World War II, had to tighten its priorities for construction.   

Prefabricated buildings became an important way to construct emergency temporary buildings on military installations during World War II. Prefabricated housing took the idea of standardized plans one step further. In addition to providing a large inventory of housing within a short period of time, this type of construction allowed the military to provide a product which was even more consistent from installation to installation.

Cold War

In contrast to the military's use of standardized plans, Wherry-Capehart projects did not require the use of specific designs, construction techniques, or materials. Wherry-Capehart projects were established through congressional acts in an attempt to reduce the housing shortage after World War II. The lack of standardized plans meant that the finished buildings generally represented the same local designs constructed for the civilian market during the same time period. Additionally, as a result, a wide variety of styles and materials were incorporated. Wherry-Capehart developments were typically self-contained residential neighborhoods, often removed from the rest of the main cantonment. 10

During the 1950s and 1960s, the building industry saw numerous changes. Major changes involved standardization within the construction industry, which led to lower material and construction costs. The availability of new building products also altered the building industry. For example, lath and plaster were replaced with drywall, and diverse flooring materials such as asphalt, vinyl, cork, and rubber were used. Another major change during this period was the incorporation of air conditioning, which was becoming standard. All of these changes within the building industry were reflected in the military housing of this time.

Post Cold War

Continuing to follow trends within civilian housing design and construction, the military moved once again to private developers after the Cold War. Military family housing in the 21st Century has taken ideas from New Urbanism, an urban design movement that has increased in popularity since the 1980s and early 1990s. The goal of New Urbanism is the reformation of all aspects of real estate development and urban planning, including everything from urban retrofits to suburban infill.

New urbanist neighborhoods are walkable, and are designed to contain a diverse range of housing and jobs. New urbanists support regional planning for open space, appropriate architecture and planning, and the balanced development of jobs and housing. They believe these strategies are the best way to reduce the time people spend in traffic, to increase the supply of affordable housing, and to rein in urban sprawl. Many other issues, such as historic preservation, safe streets, green building, and the renovation of brownfield land are also covered in the Charter of the New Urbanism, the movement's seminal document.11 

Architecture can provide a valuable record, contributing to our understanding of the history of a place. The appearance of the homes, streets, plantings, and other features of Fort Belvoir’s historic family housing villages provide information about the time periods when they were produced.

1 Kathryn M. Kuranda et al. Housing an Army: The Wherry and Capehart Era Solutions to the Postwar Family Housing Shortage (1949-1962) by R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates, Inc. (Frederick, Md.: US Army Environmental Center, 2003), 3-15.
2 Ibid. 3-11.
3 Bethanie C. Grashof. A Study of United States Army Family Housing Standardized Plans. 6 vols. (Atlanta: Center for Architectural Conservation, College of Architecture Georgia Institute of Technology, May 1986), 48-49.
4Ibid, 48-49.
5 Ibid. 53-54 .
6 Muriel Zimm Ray. The Well Planned Post. (Masters Thesis, Washington, DC: George Washington University, 1994), 18.
7 Grashof, United States Army Family Housing Standardized Plans, 54-55.
8 Zimm Ray, The Well Planned Post, 50.
9 Kuranda et al., Housing an Army, 3-17.
10 R. Christopher Goodwin and Associates, Inc. Neighborhood Design Guidelines for Army Wherry and Capehart Era Family Housing (Frederick, Md.: U.S. Army Environmental Center, 1995), 13.

Development of standardized plans:
Derek Manning
The Army's use of standardized plans:
William C. Baldwin
Military mass production and post-war civilian housing:
Brian Lione
Wherry-Capehart following national housing trends:
William C. Baldwin
Wherry-Capehart compared to RCI: Derek Manning
Standardized architectural styles: Derek Manning
Housing reflects hierarchy of rank: Derek Manning

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