Regionally driven house design is always an inspiration and source of wonder for me. In the northeastern towns and cities I became aware of a strange and remarkable style of apartment building. Always three or four stories high, wood construction and clapboard siding the signature element was the crude and often cluttered porches that doubled as exterior stairs. My mom’s cousin Mary Higgins lived in one such building and indeed these dwellings served the Irish, Italian, Portuguese and French Canadian families that worked in the mills and factories from Connecticut to Maine. http://hubbusiness.com/bostons-iconic-triple-decker-homes-solved-early-housing-crisis/
Last year I was especially fascinated with the “shotgun” style that is common all along the gulf coast. Their single story floor plans appear simple but usually include a front porch. The decorative elements range from non-existent to extravagant. Interestingly this house type, which is mostly associated with the poor (like New Orleans Lower Ninth Ward) and more affluent sections of the city like Audubon. http://dornob.com/shotgun-style-historic-small-plan-homes-have-no-hallways/#axzz2omtWS6Pd
Yesterday we made a day trip to Charleston S.C. about 90 miles north of our campsite. It’s a city that originated on a peninsula defined by the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper rivers as they flow into the harbor then the Atlantic. Schematically the old town resembles Annapolis MD with its narrow streets, houses built to the front property line and exceptionally narrow building lots. Apparently the local builders from as far back as the 1700’s developed a house archetype that now is called the Charleston Single.
Single does not denote single family. Rather it refers to the floor plan which, across the width of the structure is only one (single) room wide. By orienting the length of the house on the long axis of the narrow lot this style can support two or even in some cases three units per floor. These houses each have wide, beautiful parches (they call them Piazzas here) that extend the full length of the building. Because the house is built on or near the front and one side of the property lines they still maintain room for gardens of abbreviated driveways. It’s really a charming solution that keeps the streets-cape visually rich and socially exciting. It really works well for pedestrian traffic of bicycle riders. Stores, offices and institutions can be easily reached by many. http://explorecharleston.net/WalkingTours/South_of_Broad.php
What draws me to these vernacular architectural types is how they could be part of a solution for new, planned communities that integrate with a smarter, livelier, richer cityscape with fewer gaps and barriers between neighbors. Concepts like intentional communities, pocket neighborhoods and other affinity groups or for aging cities looking for infill housing to restart neighborhoods and the tax base these are solid options that once served the needs of still vibrant communities and could do so once again.