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The New Orleans Dog-Trot House

Roland A. Arriaga, A.I.A., Architect

Rural dog-trot in Calcasieu Parish, La.

Dogtrots are found throughout the rural South and Appalachia; however, New Orleans dogtrots are unique in use and construction from all other dogtrots in the country. It is theorized that the dog-trot house has its origins in the middle colonies (Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland). It originated as a log cabin prototype in the late 1600’s to the early 1700’s introduced by German settlers. The tradition of log building began to spread south and west with migrating Germans and Scots-Irish in the 1730’s. A dogtrot house historically consisted of two log cabins connected by a breezeway under a common roof.

Air flow through the central breezeway

Developed in response to the climate, the dogtrot-style house utilized a passive ventilation strategy that took advantage of prevailing wind patterns. All spaces opened to the north-south aligned breezeway to allow a constant breeze to flow through it. This was a primitive form of air conditioning to keep the house cool during the hot humid summers of the middle and lower South. The dog trot house was very successful in creating passive ventilation where the air accelerating through the central breezeway, much like the way the flow of water runs through a narrow stream bed, would pull air through the adjoining spaces keeping the interior spaces cool. This makes a good prototype for those considering building energy efficient homes.

Lower Garden District Dog-Trot house

In the South, dogtrot houses have a covered breezeway open to the air at each end, between two rooms under one roof, one story high. One of the living areas consisted of sleeping rooms and the other was where the family gathered to eat and entertain guests. In vernacular terms, the open space forms part of the natural setting and climate; it is particularly comfortable in providing shade and ventilation. The open area serves as a gathering area during the long hot, humid summers and it was the favorite sleeping spot of the family dogs who also found shade from the sun during the day, hence, the word “dogtrot”. According to folklore, dogtrots earned their name because you could hear the family dog walking through the breezeway.

The style gained popularity among plantation owners in rural Louisiana who favored dog-trots as their homes. The central passageway served for additional work space and an area to saddle and bridle horses. Urban dog-trot houses were adapted to fit city living. With smaller lots, New Orleans dog-trots are urban variations resembling of a dog-trot Creole cottage with breezeways that are 2 to 3 feet wide which served as a pass-through to the back of the property at the same taking advantage of its natural cooling effect. All spaces opened to the breezeway for air circulation. This was a primitive form of air conditioning to keep the house cool during the hot humid summers of the middle and lower South. The dog trot house was very successful in creating passive ventilation where the air accelerating through the central breezeway, much like the way the flow of water runs through a narrow stream bed, would pull air through the adjoining spaces keeping the interior spaces cool. This makes a good prototype for those considering building energy efficient homes.

Dog-Trot on St. Anne Street in Treme

Despite this distinction, dog-trots are among the rarest type of house forms in New Orleans. Dog-trots are generally found in rural areas of Louisiana and New Orleans is considered the only city to adapt the dog-trot to its urban fabric incorporating the central passageway into Creole cottages. Most are concentrated around the Mid-City/Treme boundary and in the  Lower Garden District, although a few are found in the Faubourg Marigny and New Marigny neighborhoods. Freed African-American and blue-collar owners adapted their houses to their increasing wealth by applying Classical, Greek Revival, and Italianate-style decoration, and enclosing the passageway.

Modern dog-trots maintain the traditional central passageway concept as a passive cooling feature while incorporating modern and sustainable materials. Nevertheless, the dogtrot house is an intrinsic example of vernacular architecture in New Orleans. Further research will continue to yield more answers about its true origins and connections to folk architecture of the rural South.

Architect-Led Design-Build

By Roland A. Arriaga, A.I.A. Architect

The Residential Design-Build Project Delivery Process Led By Your Architect

What is Design-Build?

Design-build is an integrated approach that delivers design and construction services under one contract with a single point of responsibility led by either an architect-builder or general contractor. Design-build is more streamlined than the traditional method known as design-bid-build, where design and construction were clearly separated.

The Architect and the Role of the Master Builder

Filippo Brunelleschi. Italian architect/master builder during the Italian Renaissance (15th century AD)

Historically, construction projects were delivered by design-build method with the Architect in charge. The architect was called the master builder and had overall responsibility for the project, both the design and construction. The master builder model was used in the construction of cathedrals and important buildings before the Renaissance in Europe and the central figure from design through construction was usually the architect who held total project control and accountability. However, as the legal climate has become more adversarial, design professionals have retreated from responsibility for construction, carving out the ever-narrowing niche that they now occupy. Today, the design-build system is a return to some of the fundamentals of the master builder concept and is fast becoming the preferred method of delivery.

Why Design-Build?

Architect-led design-build, as described above, benefits owners for the following reasons:

  1. Faster delivery because overall project duration is shortened since the project can be efficiently fast-tracked due to the designer and constructor being a single entity,
  2. Costs can be determined at an earlier stage and usually with greater accuracy,
  3. Design quality is likely to be superior in a design-build project that led by the Architect rather than the builder,
  4. Design-build minimizes the project risk for an owner and reduces delivery schedule by overlapping the design phase and construction phase of a project,
  5. One entity is accountable for cost, schedule, and performance,
  6. Reduction of unwelcome changes orders,
  7. Better control of project budgets, schedules and overall project quality, including the quality of design.
  8. Communication is direct between the architect and client without the intervention of a third party.

Using the traditional method of Design-Bid-Build, a complete set of drawings and specifications must be fully drafted, then issued for pricing from all of the various trades. Only at this time can the true cost of the project be determined. Quite often, the drawings result in cost overruns and need to be rethought, redrawn, and once again submitted for pricing. This method often leads to frustration, lost time, and additional design fees.

Using the Design-Build approach, the preliminary design is prepared by the architect first. Then the project cost is determined. This method involves the various trades to establish costs in the design phase. At this stage value engineering is performed and the architect compensates for potential material shortages and scheduling requirements.The budgetary cost controls the balance of the design process and ensures that the drawings accurately reflect the requirements, budget and schedule of the client.

Architect-Led Design-Build offers the client a higher-quality service and product than is found with a separate architect and builder. Whenever possible, we encourage our clients to strongly consider the design-build process for project delivery. Because bidding, value engineering, and design happen simultaneously under design-build, a fixed cost for the construction of the project can be determined at the same time the design of the project is completed and value engineering decisions are immediately made based on current market conditions. This allows the owner to immediately enter into an agreement for the construction of the project with the architect as general contractor.  There is no need to endure the lengthy bid process under traditional design, bid, and build scenarios because all of the bidding for the project is completed during the design phase.

When the architect is the contractor communication with the client is direct during construction. Communication with consultants, subcontractors, suppliers, and local authorities is also direct  between the architect-builder and the parties. In addition, as the contractor, the architect has the benefit of having the information needed to act on many issues, without having to confer with the client. This is turn reduced turnaround times for decisions and minimizes the chance of miscommunication or misunderstanding thereby reducing exposure to change orders and legal action.

Design-Build Method vs. the traditional Design-Bid- Build Method (click to enlarge)

Architect-Led Design-Build is quickly becoming the delivery method of choice for a wide variety of project types.  From the simplest single family residential projects, to the most complex commercial projects, Design-Build has proven to be a reliable way to fast track projects and achieve maximum value for project owners.  Because the process allows multiple tasks to run simultaneously, instead of sequentially, it gets projects out of design and under construction quicker.  Because the project team has been working together since the beginning of design, communication during construction is more efficient.  Because the Architect has been involved in the design process, he is less likely to encounter unanticipated problems with the project during construction.  Finally, because the project was bid during the design process, design decisions are made based on actual, current, market conditions, thus allowing maximum opportunity to meet project budget with the best possible design for the project.

Ultimately, an architect-led design/build team will render the best results for everybody involved. Whether it’s a team of independent design-build professionals or one integrated design/build company, this approach to team building and project leadership becomes a win-win situation for everyone involved, particularly the client.

The New Orleans Shotgun House

Bracket Style Shotgun Detail

Bracket Style Shotgun Detail

New Orleans Shotgun Houses

New Orleans is considered home of the shotgun house. Shotgun houses were built from 1830-1910 and are the most common housing style throughout New Orleans. Tradition has it that if you fire a “shotgun” through the front doorway of this long, narrow home, the bullet will exit directly through the back door. The name “shotgun” may have originated from the Africa’s Southern Dahomey Fon area term, to-gun, which means, “place of assembly” or “shogun”. In West Africa “shogun” means “God’s House”.  The description, probably used in New Orleans by Afro Haitian slaves, may have been misunderstood and reinterpreted as “Shotgun”. Research indicates that the style can be traced from Africa to Haitian influences on house design in New Orleans. Closely associated with New Orleans and Creole culture, shotgun architecture is now recognized as an African-American contribution to American architectural styles especially in the City of New Orleans. The porch on the front of these houses was quite distinct from French homes whose outdoor areas were actually interior courtyards. The front porch on shotgun houses supported interconnection between people and gave neighbors a strong sense of community.

Historical Perspectives of the Shotgun House

It is theorized that the shotgun style was developed as housing built by and for slaves in the early 1700’s in the West Indies with roots in West Africa. In Haiti, enslaved Africans took the architectural form common to their homeland and used local materials to build narrow buildings with gabled entrances, stucco walls, thatched roofs, and shuttered windows for privacy. When Africans in Haiti revolted in 1791, many European plantation owners fled to New Orleans, taking with them enslaved Africans. Free people of color migrated to New Orleans as well. This migration from the Haiti had a profound effect on the demographics of New Orleans where the black population increased.  In 1810, the population of New Orleans was approximately 1/3 white, 1/3 enslaved Africans, and 1/3 free people of color, most of who had come from Haiti. Consequently, this caused a housing boom and as many of both the builders and inhabitants were Africans by way of Haiti and historians believe it is only natural they modeled the new homes after ones they left behind in their homeland. Many surviving Haitian dwellings of the period resemble the single shotgun houses of New Orleans. The city became the center for the style, and it spread throughout the South in both rural and urban areas until the early 1900’s.

Elements and Features of Shotgun Houses

Usually one-story, three to five rooms in a row with no hallways, but many with second story set at rear of house called camel-back shotgun. Shotguns are narrow rectangular structures raised on brick piers usually covered with a hipped roof on all four sides. Most have narrow front porch covered by a roof apron and supported by columns and brackets, often with lacy Victorian Era ornamentation. Shotgun houses have a variety of decorative elaborations complete with ornate combinations of cornices, eave brackets, spindles, and intricate moldings that are only found in New Orleans.

Shotgun Floor Plan

The New Orleans housing taxation structure contributed to the design of the shotgun in its region. The shotgun utilized a minimized lot frontage, when taxes were based on lot frontage, then when that was subverted by non-taxable second floor additions of space AKA the “Camel-back”, the tax was shifted to number of rooms, which equalized the taxation per square footage within a property. Consequently, neither design contains closets or hallways, which were counted as rooms.

The rooms are well-sized, and have relatively high ceilings for cooling purposes, as when warm air can rise higher, the lower part of a room tends to be cooler. The lack of hallways allows for efficient cross-ventilation in every room making it well-suited for hot climates because one can open the front and back doors, and the breeze will flow through the entire house, and the porch provides shade for outdoor visiting.

Early shotgun houses were not built with bathrooms, but in later years a bathroom with a small hall was built before the last room of the house, or a side addition was built off the kitchen. Some shotguns may have as few as two rooms.  Chimneys tended to be built-in the interior, allowing the front and middle rooms to share a chimney with a fireplace opening in each room. The kitchen usually has its own chimney.

Shapes

Shotgun houses come in three principal shapes: the Single Shotgun, the Double Shotgun, and the Camel-back . Each shape has several variations which allow for additional features and space, and many have been updated to the needs of later generations of owners. The oldest shotgun houses were built without indoor plumbing, and this was often added later in a sometimes crude fashion. Shotgun houses were built-in various sizes and styles and were embellished with elements representing nearly all the architectural styles that appeared in the 1800’s. Highly stylized models were common in the Greek Revival and Italianate Styles.

Three-Bay Single Shotgun

  • The Single Shotgun is the most typical of this style with all rooms arranged directly behind one another in a straight line without hallways and two rooms sharing a chimney on their common wall. A door and a window or two open to the street or to a small porch. Variations of the single shotgun are a two bay shotgun characterized by two facade openings and a three bay shotgun with three full length openings shown at right.

Four-Bay Double Shotgun

  • The Double Shotgun, also called double-barrel or four-bay shotgun, essentially two shotgun houses connected to each other and sharing a central wall.  The double shotgun requires less land per household than the traditional shotgun and was used extensively in poorer areas known as the “faubourgs” because it could be built with fewer materials and use less land per occupant. Chimneys are most often located at the dividing wall of the house between two rooms. It was first seen in New Orleans in 1854.
  • Camelback Shotgun

    The Camel-back house, a variation of the Shotgun that has a partial second floor over the rear of the house. Camel-back houses were built in the later period of shotgun houses. The floor plan and construction is very similar to the traditional shotgun house, except there are stairs in the back room leading up the second floor. The second floor contains one to four rooms. Because it was only a partial second story, most cities only taxed it as a single-story house – in fact this was a key reason for their construction.

Common New Orleans Shotgun Styles

The Greek Revival Style shotgun appeared in the 1830’s in New Orleans in response to  the classical movement in the United States at the time. It strongly influenced the design of shotgun houses drawing inspiration from the architecture of ancient Greece. Greek revival houses were characterized  by simplicity, i.e, a low-pitched roof concealed by a well-detailed entablature supported by rectangular Greek columns, and adorned with dentils, egg and dart molding, and modillions.

The Italianate Style shotgun house appeared during the late 1850’s in New Orleans after being introduced in the  United States by way of England. The Italianate style dominated New Orleans architecture during the 1860’s and 1870’s. It was derived from the Greek Revival Style taking on a more ornate appearance which evolved into the Italianate Style reminiscent of Italian Renaissance architecture and the rural villas of Northern Italy. Italianate shotguns were very ornate and appealed to architects as well as homeowners of New Orleans. It was the style of choice for remodeling houses in the Garden District. Shotguns and camel-backs incorporate elements of the Italianate Style during the late Antebellum Period (1830-1862) and was characterized by low-pitched roofs, a decorative entablature and parapet over the front porch supported by Doric columns and decorative quoins. Decorative quoins were ornamental square on the outer edges of the facade. Windows, double hung type, were fitted with molded cornices on top. Doors were surrounded by deep cornices and paneled pilasters. By the 1880 Italianate shotgun houses began to adopt Eastlake and Queen Anne characteristics.  Bracketed styles also came into fashion during that same period, overlapping with Eastlake Style.

Eastlake Style Shotgun houses  came into vogue during the Late Victorian Period in the 1880’s. Named after English architect Charles Locke Eastlake, who popularized the style through his furniture design books, the style was characterized by spindles on the fronts, superfluous roof gables elaborately decorated with a variety of motifs such as sunbursts, fantails, and stained glass gable windows,  and turned wood balusters in the shape of table legs  on the porches. Many neighborhoods in New Orleans are lined with rows of wood framed Eastlake shotguns on brick piers. Both doors and windows have ornate cornices and porches have turned wood balusters. By this time, Eastlake style shotguns gain popularity and with all this craftsmanship involved in their dressing up, shotguns belonged to the more affluent.

The Bracket Style Shotgun house became one of the most common house types in New Orleans from about 1880 to 1905. This shotgun style was characterized by large brackets supporting a hip roof overhang and was constructed of wood-frame with weatherboard siding and full length windows on the front. The overhangs varied from two to six feet. The brackets, most often found in the mill work catalogs of the period, were generally constructed of cypress. Bracket style shotguns were built three or four houses in a row and each was painted a different color and the style was a blending of late Victorian and Italianate features . Other elements popular during this period were turned balusters, decorative shingles in roof gables, sunburst patterns, and stained glass in doors and attic windows.

The Demise and Revival of the Shotgun House

Construction and popularity of the shotgun house slow down in the early 1900’s due to the advent of the mass-produced automobile and development of the air conditioning unit coming to a halt after World War II when demand for new suburban ranch style houses with garages and carports increased. The shotgun later became a symbol of poverty during the 1950’s and 1960’s and viewed as substandard housing after affluent homeowners left for the suburbs. This flight out of the city led to the demise and deterioration of shotgun houses which became  associated with blue-collar neighborhoods know as the Creole fabourgs in New Orleans.The shotgun’s role in the New Orleans history has now become recognized by historic districts and preservationists as historically important playing a role in the architecture, folklore, and culture of the city.

Today, shotgun houses are being preserved because of their historical significance. Properties values have increased as wealthier people began to buy the deteriorated shotguns investing thousands of dollars in improvements and renovations. It can be seen throughout the city especially in low-income areas that were once considered impoverished. The shotgun revival movement begun as these properties began to gain historical significance advocated by the New Orleans Historic Districts and Landmarks Commission paired with the Preservation Resource Center’s incentives extended to homeowners wishing to  renovate and make the homes livable and affordable abiding by current housing and building code standards.

Bibliography:

Caemmerer, Alex. “Houses of New Orleans“. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2008

Foster, Gerald. “American Houses“. New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004

Heard, Malcolm. “French Quarter Manual“. New Orleans, La.: Tulane School of Architecture

Toledano, Roulhac B. “A Pattern Book of New Orleans Architecture” . Gretna, La: Pelican Publishing Co., 2010.

Vogt, Lloyd. Historic Buildings of the French Quarter.  Gretna, La: Pelican Publishing Company, 2002.

Vogt, Lloyd. New Orleans Houses: A House-Watchers Guide.  Gretna, La: Pelican Publishing Company, 1985.

Wilson, Jr., Samuel. “New Orleans Architecture, Volume IV: The Creole Faubourgs” Gretna, La.: Pelican Publishing Company, 1996