1940-60s typical form

Most houses of this era were fairly small, with a roof pitch of about 30˚, and small casement windows. But greater variety appeared from the late 1960s.

State housing is more varied than is generally realised. Nonetheless, state houses and most private houses built during the first Labour government’s years in office (1936–1949) were generally:

  • small - typically 1,000–1,100 square feet (93–102 m2) and
  • square or rectangular, single storey detached units.

Privately built houses tended to be larger than state houses.

Rooms were generally small and stud heights were gradually lowered. In 1943, the typical stud height was 9’ (2.7 m). By 1949, the typical stud height was 8’2” (2.45 m), and during the 1960s 8’ (2.4 m) became more common.


Typical features of 1940s-1950s houses included:

  • a hipped or gabled roof (a variation was the use of the Dutch gable on some state houses) with a pitch of 30–40˚
  • tile, asbestos-cement shingle or corrugated sheet roofing
  • shallow, boxed eaves
  • a suspended timber floor usually with a concrete perimeter foundation wall
  • a single fireplace and chimney
  • bevel-back weatherboard, brick veneer, stucco or Fibrolite (asbestos-cement sheet) cladding – sometimes more than one cladding material was used
  • small, multi-paned, timber-framed casement windows
  • recessed front and rear porches.

Despite the need for standardisation to keep construction costs down, state houses were built so that each house looked different to its immediate neighbours. By varying the basic floor plan, changing the position of porches and windows, using different wall and roof claddings and altering the roof pitch, rows of identical houses were avoided.

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The 1960s saw a number of developments in typical house form. Floor areas increased, and floor plans became more varied.

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Windows and doors

Larger timber windows became more common, as did timber French doors opening out from living spaces.

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Roofs and eaves

Eaves became wider and, as metal roofing became more popular, roof pitches became lower.

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Although brick veneer cladding (Figure 3) or weatherboards were the dominant cladding during the early 1960s, horizontal and vertical weatherboards, asbestos-cement sheets and shingles, stucco, concrete block and manufactured timber cladding were available.

Combinations of claddings were common, for example:

  • stucco above brick veneer
  • asbestos-cement sheet between a pair of windows to provide contrast to a different primary wall cladding such as horizontal weatherboards.


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Garages were not common for houses built before the early 1960s but became more common, usually as a separate building, as most households had a car by the 1960s.

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Outdoor living

Concrete patios outside living spaces became more common.

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Late 1960s – greater variety

Plan books published in the late 1960s led to further changes in building form and style. These were influenced by architect-designed homes and, in turn, influenced the design of 1970s houses.

These changes included greater variety of house size; introduction of styles such as ranch, colonial, Cape Cod and split level designs, L-shaped floor plans, and the introduction of new materials such as PVC for spouting and aluminium and steel for windows, and a greater variety of window styles including clerestory windows and gable-end glazing.

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In addition to the typical building forms and construction styles described above, the Housing Department tried a number of other options during the 1940s and 1950s.

This various forms of low cost houses including ‘H-type’ houses and various forms of prefabricated or pre-cut housing. New Zealand-made prefabricated housing did not prove significantly cheaper to build, so only a small number of these houses were built. Pre-cut housing was imported from Britain, Sweden and (most often) Austria during the 1940s and 1950s, but their exotic timbers tended to decay quickly.

The Housing Department also experimented with concrete and earth houses but these generally cost more and were built only in small numbers.