A shotgun house was very common in the days before air conditioning. If you weren't lucky enough to have some big trees to shade your house, one of the best things you could do was build it in this shotgun style.

This basically means that half the house is on one side of an open breezeway, and half is on the other. This helps air circulate around the rooms and keeps it a bit cooler than it otherwise would be. The name comes from the fact that you could sit on the front porch, shoot a shotgun through the house and hit something in the back yard.

The amazing thing is that people used to get along just fine without air conditioning. My grandmother wouldn't have one for years, even after they were available and fashionable. She said it made the air seem funny.

Homes designated as 'shotgun houses' in New Orleans are usually residences constructed in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, when the New Orleans city government taxed property by width alone, rather than by the total enclosed area. A result of the bizarre Napoleonic code, this legislative idiosyncracy had two main effects:

(1) The homes of the lower and middle classes were often stunningly narrow, and frequently featured a second story which rose off of the first near the rear of the house. This is called a 'shotgun camel-back house,' and is usually quite long.

(2) The homes of the upper class were often designed to be quite wide as an ostentatious display of wealth.

The architectural inventiveness required to design houses as narrow and long as the former were was considerable, and accounts for much of New Orleans' distinct visual character, particularly in neighborhoods such as the Garden District. The homes there are tall and slender, and penetrate deep into the block, creating labrynthine courtyards.

The so-called 'shotgun house' was actually built throughout the United States during the 19th Century, for the purpose of keeping property taxes low. The style of building is thought to have been imported from the West Indies, and arrived in the U.S. in the early 19th Century. It is thought to have been based on an African design style. Though it entered the United States through New Orleans around the time of the Jackson purchase, it eventually spread through the country

The classical shotgun house was only one room wide, and three rooms deep. The gable of the house is oriented towards the street, and there is usually a front porch. There were no side-facing windows, as the houses were often built quite close together, and this would negate any privacy for the home owner. Doors connected the three rooms, and the doors were aligned through the house. This is where the folk etymology shotgun house is derived from; the story went that if you opened all the doors in the house, you could fire a shotgun straight through the front door and hit a target out the back door.

Several variations on the shotgun house existed. The camelback had a second story, set back from the street-facing entrance. Another variation, intended to provide more privacy, introduced a hallway running along the long side of the house, so that the interior rooms opened onto the hallway instead of being walkthroughs. The double shotgun consisted of two shotgun houses built back-to-back, and was a convenient way of maximizing space usage (and thus income!) on narrow, densely developed lots.

As one of the earliest usages of the shotgun style was in the construction of slave cabins in the South, shotgun houses were initially associated with the homes of African-Americans, particularly with urban-dwelling free blacks during the pre-Civil War era. After the Civil War, the style of architecture was more generally used in the homes of the lower and middle class, and continued to be employed until the 20th Century.

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
Talking Heads, "Once In A Lifetime"

A shotgun house (or shotgun shack) is a building (usually residential) where every room is aligned in a single linear pattern, as opposed to the more common setup where rooms are scattered in some sort of rectangular pattern.

SHOTGUN                       NORMAL
 ------               ----------------------
|      |             |       |              |
|--  --|             |       |      |       |
|      |             |---  --|------|       |
|      |             |       |      |       |
|--  --|             |              |-----  |
|      |             |       |      |       |
|      |             |       |              |
|--  --|             |       |              |
|      |             |       |      |----   |
|      |             |              |       |
|      |             |       |      |       |
 ------               ----------------------

Shotgun houses first gained popularity on the frontier, where lots were often longer in one direction than the other and required more intelligently built and spaced housing. There's no real etymology to the term, though it likely derives from the "straight shot" appearance of the building. (Perhaps this arrangement was also ideal for barricading yourself inside against a wayward Apache attack!) Soon they littered the new West, although urbanization led them into decay in the 20th century. Elvis Presley was famously born in a shotgun house built by his father's own hands.

Shotgun houses are typically more economical than other accommodations, and many starter homes are designed in this manner. In recent years, the shotgun house has evolved into the trailer home motif, bringing with it the common "trailer trash" stereotype that accompanies such places of living. Still, a shotgun house is an excellent place of living for those on a budget who still enjoy the comforts of a home over an apartment. (avalyn reports shotgun houses are still prominent throughout The Big Easy, but have been redecorated into a more festive - read: garish - and tightly cramped cavalcade of skinny long buildings.)

Now you know what David Byrne was talking about. Sort of.

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