House Building in 1946

Elizabeth B. Mock. If You Want to Build a House. Illustrated by Robert C. Osborn. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1946.

Elizabeth Bauer Mock (1911-1998) joined the staff at MoMA in 1937 and  presided over the Department of Architecture and Industrial Design between 1942-1946. According to MoMA, “…through her efforts and those of her sister, Catherine Bauer, the department became an advocate in the fields of urban planning and housing in the 1930s and 1940s.” (MoMA, “Modern Women”). She developed the exhibition, “If You Want to Build a House” and published the associated book of the same title in 1946.

Mock opens with this advice:

If you are going to take the trouble to build, rather than do the easy thing and buy a ready-made home, it is probably because you want something which in every sense will be your own. You won’t get that through imitation. The very word implies a sacrifice of integrity, therefore of individuality. Much more is involved than a choice of external style, for true individuality obviously is more than skin deep. It isn’t applied from without. It grows from within. 

Don’t think of your house as an impersonal shelter of so-and-so many rooms, tucked behind a conventional false-front, but as an outgrowth and expression of the best conceivable pattern of your life. Since the satisfaction of the solution will largely depend upon your awareness of your own needs, you should make your own program. An architect is only secondarily a psychiatrist. Houses are complex organisms and a good one is the joint creation of an alert, enlightened client and an able, sympathetic architect. (pg. 5)

She offers advice on size, the organization and function of spaces, light, open concepts, material, furniture, and site & gardens. She relies heavily on the works of Frank Lloyd Wright as well as Gropius, Breuer, Mies, and Neutra amongst others to illustrate her recommendations. The guide also includes several cartoons by Robert C. Osborn which also help to clarify Mock’s arguments for a well designed home.

MoMA. “Modern Women: A Partial History.” Accessed May 22, 2014: