My great grandmother Essie Curl Shackleford and her sister Ezzie Pearl (glad I wasn't named after them!) in front of their home with my great great grandparents circa 1895 in North Alabama.
As more and more people move to the coastal South there is a growing need to understand how to design your house for our hot humid climate. The intense solar radiation and high moisture create unique challenges to building a comfortable house that is easy to maintain and minimizes the impact to the environment.
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. They quickly learned that houses one room thick maximized cross ventilation. The thin plans also provided ample light that prohibited mold growth in dark areas. 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. 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. High ceilings allowed the heat to rise and provided a more comfortable environment. 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 circulation under the house helped reduce the heat gain.
An early prototype embracing these principles is the dog trot, also known as "two pens and a passage". One room was typically used for sleeping and the other for cooking. The covered open center passage was the main sitting room in warm weather 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, the Carolinas, and Texas.
The vernacular forms still are relevant in our climate and we have designed several dog trots, recently, which I have posted to this blog. There are other architects doing dog trots...here are a few of my favorites with links to their sites.