If you’re a foodie-meets-architect-meets-tourist, your “sites and eats” list of New Orleans probably looks a bit like this, in no particular order:
- Creole cooking
- The French Quarter
- And shotgun houses.
It’s hard to escape the quintessential housing type of the area. Regardless of where it appears on your list, you’ll likely learn to love it (if you don’t already).
Its Origin Story
The shotgun house is the perfect juxtaposition of the city’s social, geographic, and architectural past. “Once scorned, now cherished, shotguns shed light on patterns of cultural diffusion, class and residential settlement, social preferences and construction methods,” says Richard Campanella of the Tulane School of Architecture. But where did it come from, and why did it stay?
One explanation is that it was created in response to lot sizes that were narrow and long and meant to fit more residents into a smaller area. Another theory suggests that a tax code based on frontage rather than square footage of a home motivated narrow designs, although this alleged code has not yet been discovered.
The most plausible explanation for the shotgun’s appearance in the area is that it actually originated somewhere else: Haiti. In 1809, after the St. Domingue slave insurrection, many Haitians moved to New Orleans, bringing their shotgun housing type with them.
Shotguns lost popularity in the early 1900s, and many historians lost interest and appreciation for the style. However, the style saw a resurgence in appreciation in the 1960s, and some New Orleans residents are either building new or renovating shotgun houses.
Owned and Occupied
Shotgun houses, although simpler in nature, were seen in a variety of neighborhoods and across income levels, from working-class neighborhoods to the city’s wealthier Garden District. Building off the simple plan and shape, shotguns could be styled to fit within the smallest budget to the deepest pockets.
To be a true shotgun house, one must be able to open all the doors down the length of the house and shoot a shotgun straight through from the front to the back doors without hitting any obstacles. In response to client requests and budgets, some builders and architects modified the shotgun with a hallway down the length of the home to add privacy to the individual rooms or built side entrances instead of the traditional front entrance. Roofs vary in shape and pitch, and ornamentation can range from none at all to Victorian detailing.
So grab a beignet and head out to discover your favorite home in this New Orleans style!
Alexandra Isham is the Design Program Manager at NAHB.