southern vernacular architecture

Thanks to Frederick + Frederick Architects in Beaufort, South Carolina for the following information on southern vernacular architecture.

"In vernacular architecture there is a strong relationship between site, climate, and the elements of building in the generation of the building form.- Richard Hyde

Prior to the advent of air conditioning, an understanding of local environments enabled southerners to build in ways that buffered the harsh climatic realities. As Europeans moved to the southern colonies it typically took them a generation to adapt their native architecture to the climatic conditions of the region. Five lessons they learned are equally important today.

  1. Houses one room thick maximized cross ventilation. The thin plans also provided ample light that prohibited mold growth in dark areas.
  2. The best orientation of this thin plan was east to west to reduce solar gain. The windows were located to catch the prevailing summer breezes.
  3. Large porches or verandas were always located on the southern side and often on the east and west, too. The verandas protected the house from both the sun and the rain, provided circulation, and created a cool place to sit and sleep in the summertime.
  4. High ceilings allowed the heat to rise and provided a more comfortable environment.
  5. By raising the houses off the ground several things were accomplished; it allowed the first floor to be out of the flood plain in coastal areas; breezes are better on the raised first floor; and air circulating under the house helped reduce the heat gain."
The Dog Trot

the Thornehill dog trot, Greene Co. Alabama

the Shackleford dog trot in North Alabama

"The dog trot is a traditional southern vernacular form also known as “two pens and a passage”. One room was typically used for sleeping and the other for cooking. The open center passage was the main sitting room that was cooled naturally by the Bernoulli effect. The center passage was often used as the dog kennel and thus the name dog trot. Dog trots are found in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, and Texas."

"I" House or Plantation Plain Style



" A typical southern house was the “I” house, named because of the tall narrow profile. This house was two stories with a simple gable roof and a shed roofed one story porch in front and a shed roofed addition on the rear. Typically, there were masonry chimneys on each end of the house. This simple house was one room deep which maximized the amount of light and cross ventilation. It had high ceilings which allowed the heat to rise and provided a more comfortable environment. The one story porch allowed the second floor sleeping rooms to have ventilation on three sides. Occasionally there would be a double porch on the front. Kitchens were usually in a separate building behind the house; this kept the heat from the fireplace out of the main house and also protected the main house in the event of a kitchen fire."

Modern Day dog trot

"This is a modern dog trot. The center hall of this dog trot is enclosed with folding walls, so the house can be opened to capture the breezes when
the weather is nice. There are folding walls between the center hall and the “two pens” so the center can be opened independently of the rest of the house. The rear is one large screened porch."

Information for the following section came from Oklahoma's Historical Society

The Shotgun House

New Orleans, Louisiana


"The shotgun house is one of the most prevalent and persistent types of folk architecture in Oklahoma. Like shotguns found elsewhere, it is one room wide, two or more rooms deep, and one story high, and it has a door in each end. The name derives from the belief that shotgun pellets fired through either the front or rear entrance could pass through the entire house without damaging the interior; however, in many shotguns the front and rear doors were offset. Evidence suggests that this name is actually a corruption of the word “shogon.” In West Africa, “shogon” means “God’s House." Although its origins are disputed, the shotgun is believed to have emerged in New Orleans in the early nineteenth century. Research indicates that this architectural style came to New Orleans from West Africa via Haiti. In Oklahoma its presence is attributed to various cultural groups that settled the state from the 1840s onward.

Petroleum and lumber companies found the shotgun economical and practical. It was quickly assembled, it required neither blueprints nor skilled carpenters, it used locally available and inexpensive materials, and it was portable and durable. The houses could be either loaded intact on railroad flatcars or quickly disassembled into six or eight pieces (roof, walls, floor, and room partitions) and relocated to or rebuilt on a new site. It was used primarily for sleeping, because work continued around the clock, with workers sleeping in eight-hour shifts. In Oklahoma the shotgun house thus became a "workingman's cottage.'"

from RDG: I hope this clears up a few misconceptions about vernacular architecture of the south. These are just a few examples - tons more exist.



Bulletholes said...

Very nice Red! My grandmas house had a Dogtrot, but we called it a breezeway. never heard it refered to as dogtrot before. It was also raised up from the ground, and my cousins and I used to dare each other to crawl under there.
None ever did. I still shudder to think of it.

goatman said...

I thought "shotgun" in terms of quick or off the cuff as in "shotgun wedding". But I like the idea of shooting through a house and not hitting anything!
The old houses around here had the kitchen away from the main structure with a covered walk to it. That way heat from the wood cookstove would be restricted to one room and the poor woman who had to cook in there.

soubriquet said...

Now that was an interesting exposition, and I need to come back and travel around more in order to learn more about all these forms of building that are so different to those I'm used to.

soubriquet said...

However, an intensely argumentative donkey, the person quoted who says the dogtrot .."was cooled naturally by the Bernoulli Effect", is, as we say, talking out of his arse.
Bernoulli's Principle describes a reduction in pressure, proportional to the velocity of flow within a fluid.
Any cooling in a dogtrot or breezeway is down to heat energy being used to promote a phase change of moisture from liquid to vapour. Humans and animals will cool in a breeze, but dry materials will not change in temperature.
The reduction in pressure will have a tiny contributory effect, but barely measurable.
Bernoulli's NOT a cooling mechanism.

Bulletholes said...

Souby, I think what they intended was that even if the breeze was blowing in a direction perpendicular to the breezeway, the resulting drop in pressure (Bernoulli's?) at the ends of the openng would still create a draft not otherwise available.
but I'm way over my head here, and relying on an answer I got wrong on a question when I was in the sixth grade, 1968.
It still haunts me.

red dirt girl said...


Thank you for your comments. A different sort of post from RDG, yes??!! Please see my next post addressing the Bernoulli question. I know I learned something from this research!


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