Greenbelt Housing Architecture
The original 1937 houses and apartment buildings remain. Influenced by Ebenezer Howard's Garden Cities, they were grouped aesthetically with courts to catch prevailing breezes. There were four types of houses in Historic Greenbelt: Cinder block, Brick, Defense and Parkbelt. Cinder block houses (our Historic House is one) are 44% of the existing original 1937 houses. They are considered International Style and influenced by Modernist functionalism philosophy.
Like the cinder block houses, the 1937 brick houses were also two-story homes. They make up 51% of historic Greenbelt houses. The brick houses have gabled roofs instead of the flat ones of the cinder block houses.
Also part of the original 1937 housing in Greenbelt were 12 apartment buildings with similar Art Deco/International styles as the cinder block homes. Previously considered "industrial" materials such as glass blocks and steel sash casement windows were used.
In 1938, General Houses of Chicago built 10 experimental streamlined houses here in Greenbelt, Maryland called Parkbelt Homes. General Houses exhibited an almost identical model to Greenbelt's Parkbelt houses in the Homes of Tomorrow Exhibition at the 1933 Chicago Century of Progress Exposition. Watch a video about the houses and exhibition here. The Parkbelt houses in Greenbelt were composed of concrete slabs, steel frames and prefab panels. These modern homes were considered cutting edge at the time. They pre-date the more well-known prefabricated Lustron houses by a decade. Almost all of Greenbelt's Parkbelt Homes have been significantly altered.
In 1941, frame "Defense" houses were constructed in response to WWII demand. After the war, the Greenbelt Veterans Housing Corp. formed to buy them from the federal gov't in 1952. This group became GHI, Greenbelt's housing cooperative.
In 1963, Community Builders, Inc. constructed Springhill Lake, considered one of the largest garden apartment complexes on the East Coast at the time. According to historian Cathy Knepper, the developers studied Greenbelt's design and tried to replicate its system of internal walkways and green spaces in its plan. Because it was so large, it took seven years to complete the nearly 2,900 low-rise apartment and townhouse units that make up the Springhill Lake development illustrated in the postcard below. It was designed by well-known architects Cohen Haft and Associates. In 2005, an Historic American Building Survey (HABS) was completed, noting that the development “signified the inclusion of mid-century modernist structures into suburban settings.”