25 Examples of Vernacular Housing From Around the World

Where do people live around the world? It seems self-evident that most residential architecture is not as focused on aesthetics as the pristine, minimalist villas that cover the pages of design magazines (and, admittedly, websites like this one). As entertaining as it is to look at those kinds of houses, they’re not representative of what houses look like more generally. Most people live in structures built in the style of their region’s vernacular—that is, the normal, traditional style that has evolved in accordance with that area’s climate or culture. While strict definitions of residential vernacular architecture often exclude buildings built by professional architects, for many people the term has come to encompass any kind of house that is considered average, typical, or characteristic of a region or city. Check out our list below to broaden your lexicon of residential architecture.

25 Examples of Vernacular Housing From Around the World  - More Images+ 21

1. Triple-Decker 

Image via Wikimedia (public domain)

The triple-decker is a much-beloved wood frame apartment building that is commonly found in New England towns and cities. The structures were originally used to house large numbers of immigrants who worked in factories during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

2. Yurt

© Adagio licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Usually found in Central Asia, a Yurt consists of a wood or bamboo frame covered in skins, canvas, or felt.  

3. Plattenbau

© Creative Commons user Gunnar Klack licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

A Plattenbau is a building made of large concrete slabs; while prefabricated concrete apartment buildings were common in many countries from the 1960s onward, the Plattenbau as a specific building type is associated with East Germany, where designs were so systematized that they can be categorized into a small number of different types.

4. Khrushchevka

© Creative Commons user MaxiMaxiMax licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Also built in the 1960s, the Khrushchevka is the Plattenbau’s counterpart in the Soviet Union. These apartments are named for Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev who mandated that the housing units be built. Many of the apartment blocks were designated as “disposable,” meaning they had a 25 year lifespan; as a result, many have been demolished and replaced with denser high-rises in Moscow in recent years, and a 2017 plan by the city government promises to demolish a further 8,000 of the buildings.

5. Railroad Apartment

Image via Wikimedia (public domain)

Often found in New York City and San Francisco, these thin apartments mimic the shape of a railroad car to save space in high-density areas. Rooms are accessible from one long hallway, like cabins in a passenger train.

6. Shotgun House

Image via Wikimedia (public domain)

A shotgun house or apartment is similar to a railroad house or apartment in that rooms are lined up in a row; however, shotgun houses never have a hallway, so residents must go through each room to get to the next (a setup that can prove difficult when living with roommates).

7. Trinity

Image via Wikimedia (public domain)

These colonial-era houses found mostly in Philadelphia are the vertical answer to the shotgun apartment. Three floors stacked atop one another each hold one room. The floors are connected by a spiral staircase.

8. Terraced House

© Creative Commons user Manchesterphotos licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The terraced house (or terrace house, townhouse, or row house, depending on where you are in the world) is a catchall term for neighboring houses that share a party wall on either side. Stylistic variations based on region (of which there are many) include the outdoor staircase common in Montreal and the Italianate wrought iron balcony common in New Orleans and Australia.

9. Back-to-Back-House

© Creative Commons user Chemical Engineer licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Much like the triple-decker in New England, thousands of back-to-back houses were built in the United Kingdom during the industrial revolution to house large populations of factory workers. Three of the house’s four walls are shared with tightly packed neighboring houses, so only the front of the house has windows and doors.

10. Bay-and-Gable

© Creative Commons user SimonP licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Narrow lots in Toronto gave way to the bay-and-gable style at the end of the nineteenth century, when ornate, red-brick two-story houses began cropping up all over the city. The style was easily reproducible and the Victorian aesthetic popular.

11. Ranch House

Image via Wikimedia (public domain)

Usually built to house the burgeoning American middle class during the middle of the 20th century, these one-story houses with a wide floor plan are still ubiquitous in the American suburbs.

12. Chalet

© Creative Commons user Cristo Vlahos licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

With wide eaves, this wooden two-story house originated in Switzerland to house farmers living in the Alps. The word “chalet” has varied meanings around the world today, but the original Swiss style has been consistently adapted for mountain homes worldwide, many of which are still referred to as chalets.

13. Bungalow

© Creative Commons user Thshriver licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

While the word “bungalow” has different definitions around the world, in most countries it denotes a low-rise house with a small porch. Brick bungalows are extremely common in Chicago, where nearly a third of the city’s housing stock employs the style. The California Bungalow, which includes a first floor and a small second floor loft, originated in Bengal, India, before gaining popularity on Los Angeles; it grew to be even more so in Australia for much of the twentieth century, where many suburban houses use regional adaptations of the style.

14. Thatched Cottage

© Creative Commons user Lindy Buckley licensed under CC BY 2.0

Any structure with a roof made of vegetation is considered thatched, so variations of this building type can be found in countries as disparate as Japan and England.

15. Hanok

© Creative Commons user Sakaori licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

A hanok is a traditional Korean house. The style varies based on region and class, meaning that even small huts and large palaces can be considered hanoks, provided they have wide wooden floors and a floor-based heating system.

16. Igloo

© Creative Commons user Ansgar Walk licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5

Built by Inuit populations in Greenland and Canada, igloos made of snowbrick follow precise building methods to ensure structural integrity. Igloos can be built in many sizes, some with many rooms that can house up to 20 people.

17. Favela Houses

© Solène Veysseyre

In Brazilian slums (favelas), houses constructed using lightweight, low-cost materials do not follow a specific code or style; instead, many of the small houses grow in an ad-hoc fashion as new generations enter a family. Read more on favela architecture here.

18. Izba

© Creative Commons user Alex Zelenko licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The izba, a traditional Russian countryside home, was usually built with ornately carved wood in a log cabin-like structure. While elements of the izba are still common in rural Russian houses, only the older examples are referred to as “izbas.”

19. Sears Houses

Image via the Libray of Congress Carol M Highsmith Archive (public domain)

70,000 American homes built between 1908 and 1940 were ordered from Sears catalogs. All the materials needed to build a house were delivered to the homeowner, who then employed a contractor or assembled the parts themselves with their neighbors. Customers could customize their house with different elements from the catalog, but most Sears houses were designed in revivalist styles. Read more on catalog housing here.

20. Mews

Image via Wikimedia (public domain)

This collection of residences, which features two-story houses opening onto a small alley or pedestrian street, is traditionally found in Britain, where examples date back to the 14th century. Usually, the ground floor is home to a carriage house, while the upper floors house living quarters. In contemporary mews, most ground floors have been converted to living space as well. Examples of mews can also be found outside of Britain, but the term is less common in other countries.    

21. Toothpick Apartments

© Creative Commons user Shek Mok YU licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Usually found in Hong Kong, these apartment buildings usually house just one apartment per floor. In turn, the buildings are very thin, as their name suggests.

22. Stilt House

© Creative Commons user AngMoKio licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Stilt houses are raised structures that sit on an elevated platform over a body of water. The structures are still common in regions of Central America and Oceania, especially northeast Nicaragua and Papua New Guinea.

23. Radburn Housing

© Creative Commons user AmosWolfe licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

This unique style of housing originated in Radburn, New Jersey and features houses whose backs face the street and whose fronts face each other around a common yard. The style has been used for public housing in the United Kingdom and suburbs in Australia and Canada.

24. Four Plus One

© Flickr user Peyton Chung licensed under CC BY 2.0

Found in Chicago, the four plus one is a modernist housing block named for its four floors of apartments that sit atop a first floor with a lobby or parking.

25. Chattel House

© Flickr user rufusowliebat licensed under CC BY 2.0

A chattel house is a moveable, wooden house. In Barbados, where the term originated, homeowners did not usually own the land their house sat on, so the portable nature of their homes was helpful in times of landlord tenant disputes; the homeowner could simply move their house to a different plot of land.

About this author
Cite: Ella Comberg. "25 Examples of Vernacular Housing From Around the World " 26 Jul 2018. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/898253/25-examples-of-vernacular-housing-from-around-the-world> ISSN 0719-8884

You've started following your first account!

Did you know?

You'll now receive updates based on what you follow! Personalize your stream and start following your favorite authors, offices and users.