06 May 2010

Learning for New Olreans - Shotgun Style Homes

This post continues my urban tour of housing trends and influences in America. I bring you the New Orleans Shotgun home.

a typical Shotgun facade

The indigenous New Orleans housing model, the shotgun house, reigned during the period following the Civil War through the 1920’s. A true ‘shotgun’ home consists of a single story structure featuring three to five rooms in a row with no hallways. These homes are usually no more than twelve feet wide. It is these features that inspired the ‘shotgun’ title, due to one’s ability to fire a shotgun from the front door of the home, strait through and out the back door without interferences.

The shotgun home has a rich and complex history, including many variations upon this theme as well as modern advancements to this simplistic design idea. However, it is this basic design and layout from which modern societies can continue to draw inspiration. There are many practical necessities that drove the creation of the shotgun form. These solutions to circumstantial problems actually prove to be excellent sustainability initiatives.

For instance, shotgun models are long and narrow to meet the needs of a population largely without personal transportation vehicles or modern air conditioning. By utilizing narrow lots of no more than thirty feet wide, more people are able to live closer together, thereby reducing reliance on individual transportation and increasing one’s ability to utilize already established public routes. In turn, but reducing the width of each structure, one is able to create increased natural cross-ventilation. A structure consisting of narrow, continuous spaces can be easily ventilated in a hot and humid climate. In addition, kitchens were commonly found at the rear of the house in order to contain heat generated by cooking to a singular area. These seemingly simple concepts are often lost to modern society’s technological means.

a typical Shotgun floor plan

The shotgun housing model fell out of favor during the 20th century, often seen as a symbol of a lower or working class populations. As society modernized, so did its housing forms. However, the shotgun home remains a symbol of a simple time, a New Orleans tradition, and many modern variations on this theme have been developed in recent years. Regardless of what the future of housing may bring, we must hold on to these early forms of successful habitation as proof and inspiration that our obstacles can be overcome and sustainable living can be achieved through relatively modest means.

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