Chicagoland Prize Homes

Chicago Housing Evolves

Comparing the initial design of the prize winners in Prize Homes to the historical trajectory of built houses reveals a general pattern: modest houses built immediately after the war eventually became insufficient for American families’ needs and wants. Of the 19 houses in this study only five appear from the outside to be unchanged. (All research is based on street observations and online real estate investigation only; no attempt has been made to enter the houses.)


One contributing factor to the evolution of house design was the growing cultural norm that children should have their own bedrooms. The two-bedroom houses for parents and one child met that need, and the three-bedroom houses for two opposite-sex children did, too, as the discouraging of boys and girls room-sharing was well in place by the mid-century. Interestingly, two-thirds of the 92 Prize Homes houses for three children—"Problem 3,” comprising of two daughters and one son—provided the girls each with a separate room, such privacy necessitating a four-bedroom house. Of the four houses built from Problem 3 submissions, each was a four-bedroom home.

The two-bedroom homes, thus, have invited the most alteration. Of the five two-bedroom homes actually built, the one erected in Palatine (Winner #2) was demolished,  and its companion at 2844 W. Pratt Avenue has been renovated to become a three-bedroom house. (Note: all street addresses refer to locations in the city of Chicago, unless otherwise specified).

The 5523 Sunnyside and 111 Washington (Lombard) houses have each undergone renovation to add at least one more bedroom.  The two-bedroom house meets nobody’s needs anymore.  Even some of the three-bedroom houses have been expanded to add more bedrooms; this is true of 12020 Maple in Blue Island, and 2909 W. Farwell in Chicago and 368 Ridge in Highland Park.  The four-bedroom house at 6820 Francisco is now described by a popular real estate website as containing five bedrooms; as the overall footprint of the house appears to be the same, perhaps one has been added in a basement.

Living Space and Kitchens

With limited square footage and the design sensibilities of their age, the winning designs did not provide for what would become, within a few years, staples of American houses: family rooms or roomy kitchens. Many of the renovations and additions appeared to not just increase the number of bedrooms, but also expanded the living space. The Sunnyside Avenue house apparently reconfigured the second floor to make three bedrooms out of two, but it also now includes a bump-out addition at the back which extends the original kitchen.

The four-bedroom Winner #18 was built twice—once in Wheaton and once in Highland Park—but despite the bedroom count was torn down both times, replaced by a different four-bedroom home.  Both of the new houses have two stories, locating bedrooms on the second floor, making room for more living space and bigger kitchens on the first floor.

The most popular house in the contest, Winner # 10, was designed by Eric Wenstrand and was built four times. In two instances, the attached garage at the front of the house has been enclosed and folded into the house, presumably to make more living space. In the Highland Park version, a two-car garage was attached, so that owners could gain living space but not forgo the connected garage.

The house at 2909 Farwell is a good example of architectural changes. The original design—with three bedrooms (one of them a master suite with private bathroom and two large closets), a large living/dining room, an attached garage, and even a first-floor laundry room—seems to anticipate many late twentieth-century preferences.  At some point, however, a homeowner deemed the house not big enough, adding a fourth bedroom over the garage and expanding the kitchen/living space to create a designated dining room.