The narrow-gauge shotgun house.

Back in the day, when industry was becoming big in this country, the shotgun house was one type of dwelling erected to provide housing in the city for a great influx of workers no longer tied to the land.  There are several theories about where the name came from, the most popular being that by opening all the doors you could fire clean through the house without hitting any walls.  The homes were narrow and long, with any divided rooms opening off in a single direction from the main portion of the house.  As wealth increased, such houses were modified, either upwards or sideways, to reflect that increase.

Today, especially in rapidly developing areas where business expansion is outpacing home building and ownership, there is a new need for such a house type.  One possible solution is being put forward by PFNC Global Communities, which is using traditional shipping containers as the structural basis for its housing.  Since the containers themselves are built to be stacked, the resulting units are highly modular, but are also customizable enough to allow for non-stacking configurations.  In addition, these modular homes are meant to be a stepping-stone for those who use them from insecure makeshift dwellings, to the new shotgun, to something more spacious and private, which I think sounds great.

So what makes these new units different from older shotgun-style housing?

Width: Traditional shotgun housing is about 12 feet wide.  These newer models are only 8 feet in width, or about 3/4 the size.

Mobility: The newer housing is highly transportable, unlike more traditional shotgun houses which are built to remain on site.

Open Plan: Traditional shotgun houses were divided into separate rooms moving from public to private, usually in the form of a living room, bedroom, and kitchen at the back.  This inevitably leads to people traipsing through the private bedroom space if they come to visit.  The newer models have walls only surrounding the bathroom.  The kitchen/living area has been combined into a single space without dividing walls, unifying all public space towards the front of the house.  The ‘master’ bedroom is on the other side of the bathroom to give some privacy.  In certain configurations the front public area can also accomadate bunk beds for children.

Fenestration: In the new modular units, only the front and back walls can give window or door access for those units in the middle of a ‘block’.  This has the negative impact of not allowing cross breezes to enter and cool those units, but some heat protection should be given by the buffer of surround units.  More traditional shotgun houses were detached or semi-detached, allowing for windows in all four walls.

It’s an interesting idea, and very modern, to convert already existing manufactured items into something new.  Let’s hope it works across a diverse population.

1 Comment

  1. Mary Lee said,

    January 27, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    Where can I look at one of these little houses? I am in Pleasant Hill, LA

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