Shotgun House: Model for Green Design

Print Friendly

 

Shotgun House, Greensboro, Alabama (Source: Richard Apple)


Shotgun House, Greensboro, Alabama (Source: Richard Apple)

The shotgun house is so named because it was said that if you opened all the doors and fired a shotgun in the front door the pellets would fly out the back door without leaving a trace. Today, it provides a model for green building design in hot-humid climate zones.

Vernacular architecture scholars include the shotgun house as one of the primary house types found in America. It is one of the significant contributions of African-Americans to our country’s material culture. Like jazz, it developed as a synthesis of black and white cultures.

. . . black folk architecture in the United States remains, for the most part, a hidden heritage. . . . the denial of this architectural contribution has much to do with the fact that African and European folk housing is similar in several basic ways. . . Only rigorous histories of particular times and places can reveal the specific traditions or the degree of cultural synthesis that occurred. (Vlach 43)

 

Although the efforts of Afro-American carpenters have blended anonymously into the regional landscape of the South, one building type stands out – the shotgun house. This house is one room wide, one story tall and several rooms deep and has its primary entrance in the gable end. (Vlach 43).

 

American shotgun houses drive from the fusion of distinct ethnic architectural components: a Caribbean Indian building shape, European colonial framing techniques, and African-inspired proxemics codes, in the United States they should be understood as a contribution of the free people of color from Haiti. Thus, the roots of Afro-American architecture are to be found not only in mother Africa but also in the Caribbean. (Vlach 43-45).

Shotgun houses are found throughout the South, typically in historically black neighborhoods. This building type responds well to the regional hot-humid climate, allowing effective cross ventilation through its one room width. The thin width also allows construction on narrow, low cost lots, enhancing affordability. These traits make it a model for green design.

A number of cities have restored shotgun houses as part of neighborhood revitalization plans. This can create affordable, green housing while preserving the city’s cultural heritage.  

 Shotgun houses in neighborhood undergoing revitalization: Columbus, Georgia.


Shotgun houses in neighborhood undergoing revitalization: Columbus, Georgia.

 Shotgun house in-progress restoration: Columbus, Georgia


Shotgun house in-progress restoration: Columbus, Georgia

Many shotgun houses are endangered by demolition. If viewed as an asset, these can be restored and increase availability of green affordable housing in the community, while saving a cultural resource.

 Shotgun houses: Opelika, Alabama


Shotgun houses: Opelika, Alabama

 

Sources Cited:

Vlach, John Michael. “Afro-Americans,” America’s Architectural Roots: Ethnic Groups that Built America, Dell Upton Ed. Washington, DC: The Preservation Press, 1986.

 

© Donald E. Armstrong and Material Practices, 2013

30 thoughts on “Shotgun House: Model for Green Design

  1. Thanks, Monteal, glad you enjoyed it. Architecture is about more than just “bricks and mortar,” it also has cultural meanings that are important.

  2. That was indeed very informational and cultural. I would have to say I totally agree with the blog in trying to sustain and maintain the Shotgun Houses instead of trying to tear them down. I mean they are green building designs.

  3. Craig, thanks – having been involved in preservation work in my practice I understand the challenges involved, but have seen miraculous makeovers when people care enough.

  4. Informative blog, didn’t know exactly why a shotgun house was call a shotgun house but I know now, really enjoyed the reading.

  5. I also agree that saving and revitalizing the shotgun houses are a good idea. It makes sense to renovate what is already there instead of starting over completely.

    • Me too – in my practice I’ve seen all kinds of things used in low-cost wood-frame buildings from this era, including rags, newspaper and tin foil (as a reflective heat barrier)!

  6. This is a very informative blog. I’m interested in discovering how to make these shotgun houses look more futuristic! I believe that if this can be accomplished, others would become more interested in it as well. It is also a bonus that these houses are sustainable green buildings. That is the goal for all future buildings and we need to continue to push for this.

  7. Very informative article about the culture and background information on the shotgun houses. My question is since this was such an effective building style as far as green building why is not this style of house or its building principles used more in today’s houses?

  8. Ah! the familiar ‘Shotgun House.’ I’ve actually seen this Nickname tried and proven. this particular article touched since my late Grandmother used to live an a house of the sort. cultural indeed. I think it a shame that people are trying to “Go Green” but still try to tear down some truly useful Buildings for such a feat.

  9. Interesting information about shotgun houses, and how sustainable they are also great to find out where it was established cultural wise. I agree that we should be saving shotgun house and not tearing them down. Shotgun houses are great green design, and the cheap on cost i don’t understand why they would want to demolish so much culture.

    • Thanks Sterling – In my practice I helped save several old houses slated for demo. In one case the house was vacant and allegedly a haven for smoking crack. Neighbors complained and the town building dept. condemned it. A local developer bought it and hired me. We moved it to a new location and restored it – maybe I’ll do a post on this someday!

  10. What do you feel can be implemented to increase its sustainable features ,besides the cross ventilation, and still maintain its affordability while making it a better green design?

    • Rajette, a question, great! I assume you’re referring to restoring one of these. The Alabama energy code would probably require that the restored building:
      1. Have upgraded insulation in roof, walls and floor
      2. Have all cracks in envelope sealed
      3. Have new electrical, mechanical and plumbing devices installed which meet current requirements for conserving energy and water
      Other things could also be done, like adding shading devices (awnings, front porch).

  11. Very informative and enriching information. It shows another aspect where a fusion of sustainability and culture is formed. Question: If the Shotgun house was made for this specific Hot-Humid climate, would it be more prone to be sustained it if its location were in a temperate climate?

  12. I am very glad that I had an opportunity to read this article. I have seen many Shotgun houses living in the South but I never knew that one day it would provide a model for Green Building Design. Many of these houses are being remodeled in Downtown Montgomery.

    • Thanks Barry – If you have any photos of the Montgomery houses, please send me some. I plan to write a post on how architects and builders are using vernacular house types like this as models for new designs.

  13. This was very informative and interesting. I’ve been familiar with these styles houses because they are popular in Atlanta. Great article!

  14. I see the shotgun house as very unique and one of a kind in how it touches so many aspects of architecture. Its green aspects, affordability, and ease of construction are truly unremarkable.

    • Thanks Jabriel – I love the idea of taking a humble building type like this and re-introducing it to the public. Vernacular architecture is a goldmine of great ideas!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *