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House (architecture)

Century Housing, Glass boxes, American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, contemporary houses, modern house

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>  Houses of the Ancient World

>  Houses of Medieval Europe

>  19th-Century Housing

>  Houses of the Far East

House (architecture), dwelling place, constructed as a home for one or more persons. Whether a crude hut or an elaborate mansion, and whatever its degree of intrinsic architectural interest, a house provides protection from weather and adversaries.

The physical characteristics of a house depend on the surrounding environment (climate and terrain), available building materials, technological know-how, and such cultural determinants as the social status and economic resources of the owner or owners. In rural areas until modern times, people and animals were often housed together; today's houses frequently include storage, work, and guest areas, with several separate spaces for different activities. Houses can be wholly below ground level, dug out of the earth, or can be partly below and partly above the ground; most contemporary houses are built aboveground (over cellars in cold climates). The primary structural materials employed are wood, sod, brick, and stone, with concrete and steel increasingly used, especially for city dwellings; many of these materials are used in combination also. Choice of material depends on prevalent style, individual taste, and availability. Depending on climate and available fuels, provisions may be made for heating. In modern industrialized areas, running water and interior toilets are common. Whatever its size and conveniences, a house both contains and stands for the basic human social unit.

Houses of Tribal Societies

In tribal societies the house tends to be a single volume, a room for all activities. It is usually built directly against neighboring structures and is often close to the tribal meetinghouse or religious structure as well. The shape of such a house may be repeated through an entire village, creating fascinating patterns, as in the Dogon district of the Sudan or the settlements of Zambian herders. Such houses are often of simple geometric shapes—circular, with conical roofs, for example. Building materials are those at hand. If mud and clay are available, they are used to fill the spaces between pieces of wood or are made into bricks (usually sun-dried). Even huge reeds are used in the construction of dwellings, as by the marsh Arabs of southern Iraq. In rainy areas most tribal houses have interior hearths.

From the Renaissance to the 19th Century

The palace was perfected during the Renaissance and remains one of architecture's most enduring images, a dignified, large-scale city element that has been adapted and repeated ever since. Palaces were first built in Florence, Italy, and then throughout the Western world. In France the palace concept was combined with that of the late medieval castle to produce the French country chateau—the setting, with its gardens and fountains, of aristocratic life from the 16th century onward. In England the lord's manor became the squire's hall, the center of an estate that often included villages composed of the not uncomfortable, thatched-roof homes of local farmers. Meanwhile, in the cities and towns, some attempts were made to improve the housing of ordinary folk by building more or less uniform dwellings; on the whole, however, standards remained below those of antiquity for a long time.

20th-Century Housing

Houses that broke with historical architectural styles were slow to be accepted. As early as 1889 the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright built a house embodying new concepts of spatial flow from one room to another. He and others, both in Europe and in the United States, soon moved toward a domestic architectural style of metric forms and simplified surfaces largely free of decoration. Contemporary changes in painting and sculpture were allied to this movement, and by the 1920s modern architecture, though by no means universally accepted, had arrived. Glass, steel, and concrete reinforced with steel gave architects many new design options, and by the mid-20th century the modern house was commonplace. Glass boxes, freely curving styles, and stark, austere geometric forms were all possible; but at the same time traditional styles persisted, and in the U.S. many homeowners found a more or less standard, one-floor, two- or three-bedroom ranch house satisfactory.


MacDonald, William L., M.A., Ph.D.

Former A. P. Brown Professor of the History Art, Smith College. Author of "Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture", "The Architecture of the Roman Empire", and "The Pantheon - Design, Meaning, and Progeny".

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