Housing in Premodern Cities: Patterns of Social and Spatial Variation

Michael E. Smith


This paper describes a broad comparative perspective on urban housing in cities before the modern era, including the newly-defined category of low-density city. My objective is to promote comparative analysis of premodern urban housing forms. I present a typology of house types that is based on the concepts of dwelling and household. The types are: individual house; house group; contiguous houses; walled compound; and apartment building. Among the many factors that influenced the forms and nature of premodern urban housing, I single out three causal forces: cultural tradition, density, and political dynamics. 


Housing; Premodern cities; comparative analysis; typology

Full Text:



Author (2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013)

al-Said, Fahad A. M. (1992). Territorial Behavbior and the Built Environment: The Case of Arab-Muslim Towns in Saudi Arabia. (Ph.D. Ph.D. dissertation), University of Glasgow.

Bairoch, Paul. (1988). Cities and Economic Development: From the Dawn of History to the Present (C. Braider, Trans.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Becker, Marshall J. (2001). Houselots at Tikal, Guatemala: It's What's Out Back that Counts. In A. Ciudad Ruiz, M. J. Iglesias Ponce de León & M. d. C. Martínez Martínez (Eds.), Reconstruyendo la ciudad maya: el urbanismo en las sociedades antiguas (pp. 427-460). Madrid: Sociedad Española de Estudios Mayas.

Bender, Donald. (1967). A Refinement of the Concept of Household: Families, Coresidence and Domestic Functions. American Anthropologist, 69, 493-504.

Bettencourt, Luís M. A. (2013). The Origins of Scaling in Cities. Science, 340, 1438-1441.

Bintliff, John. (2014). Spatial Analysis of Past Built Environments: Houses and Society in the Aegean from th Early Iron Age till the Impact of Rome. In E. Paliou, U. Lieberwirth & S. Polla (Eds.), Spatial Analysis and Social Spaces: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Interpretation of Prehistoric and Historic Built Environments (pp. 263-276). Berlin: De Gruyter.

Blanton, Richard E. (1976). Anthropological Studies of Cities. Annual Review of Anthropology, 5, 249-264.

Blanton, Richard E., & Fargher, Lane F. (2008). Collective Action in the Formation of Pre-Modern States. New York: Springer.

Blanton, Richard E., & Fargher, Lane F. (2011). The Collective Logic of Pre-Modern Cities. World Archaeology, 43(3), 505-522.

Cahill, Nicholas. (2001). Household and City Organization at Olynthus. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Calnek, Edward E. (1974). Conjunto urbana y modelo residencial en Tenochtitlan. In W. Borah (Ed.), Ensayos sobre el desarrollo urbano de México (pp. 11-65). Mexico City: Secretaría de Educación Pública.

Caminos, Horacio, Turner, John F.C., & Steffian, John A. (1969). Urban Dwelling Environments: An Elementary Survey of Settlements for the Study of Design Determinants (Vol. 16). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Coupland, Gary, & Banning, E. B. (1996). Introduction: The Archaeology of Big Houses. In G. Coupland & E. B. Banning (Eds.), People Who Lived in Big Houses: Archaeological Perspectives on Large Domestic Structures (pp. 1-10). Madison, WI: Prehistory Press.

Cowgill, George L. (1997). State and Society at Teotihuacan, Mexico. Annual Review of Anthropology, 26, 129-161.

Cromley, Elizabeth C. (1999). Alone Together: A History of New York's Early Apartments. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Crouch, Dora P., & Johnson, June G. (2001). Traditions in Architecture: Africa, America, Asia, and Oceania. New York: Oxford University Press.

DeMarrais, Elizabeth. (2001). The Architecture and Organization of Xauxa Settlements. In T. N. D'Altroy & C. A. Hastorf (Eds.), Empire and Domestic Economy (pp. 115-153). New York: Plenum.

Dohm, Karen M. (1990). Effect of Population Nucleation on House Size for Pueblos in the American Southwest. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 9, 201-239.

Dovey, Kim, & Pafka, Elek. (2014). The Urban Density Assemblage: Modelling Multiple Measures. Urban Design International, 19, 66-76.

Fichtl, Stephan. (2005). La ville celtique: Les oppida de 150 avant J.-C. à 15 après J.-C. (Revised ed.). Paris: Errance.

Fish, Suzanne K., & Fish, Paul R. (Eds.). (2008). The Hohokam Millennium. Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research Press.

Fletcher, Roland. (2009). Low-Density, Agrarian-Based Urbanism: A Comparative View. Insights (University of Durham), 2, article 4.

Foster, Michael S., Mitchell, Douglas R., Dale, Breternitz Cory, & Robinson, Christine K. (1996). Late Classic Period Hohokam Households: A Preliminary View from Pueblo Grande. In G. Coupland & E. B. Banning (Eds.), People Who Lived in Big Houses: Archaeological Perspectives on Large Domestic Structures (pp. 27-45). Madison, WI: Prehistory Press.

Fox, Richard G. (1977). Urban Anthropology: Cities in their Cultural Settings. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

Freedman, Maurice. (1958). Lineage Organization in Southeast China (Vol. 18). London: London School of Economics.

Freter, AnneCorinne. (2004). A Multiscalar Model of Rural Households and Communities in Late Classic Copan Maya Society. Ancient Mesoamerica, 15, 93-106.

Gabrilopoulos, Nick, Mather, Charles, & Apentiik, Caesar Roland. (2002). Lineage Organization of the Tallensi Compound: The Social Logic of Domestic Space in Northern ghana. Africa, 72, 221-224.

Gasparini, Graziano, & Margolies, Luise. (1980). Inca Architecture (P. J. Lyon, Trans.). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Geertz, Clifford. (1980). Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth Century Bali. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Geertz, Hildred, & Geertz, Clifford. (1975). Kinship in Bali. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Giorghis, Fasil, & Gérard, Denis. (2007). Addis Ababa, 1886-1941: The City and its Architectural Heritage / La Ville et son Patrimoine architectural. Addis Ababa: Shama Books.

Hakim, Besim S., & Ahmed, Zubair. (2006). Rules for the Built Environment in 19th Century Northern Nigeria. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, 23(1), 1-26.

Hardoy, Jorge E. (1982). Two Thousand Years of Latin American Urbanization. In J. E. Hardoy (Ed.), Urbanization in Latin America: Approaches and Issues (pp. 3-56). Garden Citiy: Anchor Book.

Hipp, John R., & Perrin, Andrew J. (2009). The Simultaneous Effect of Social Distance and Physical Distance on the Formation of Neighborhood Ties. City and Community, 8(1), 5-25.

Jongsma, Tina, & Greenfield, Haskel J. (2003). The Household Cluster Concept in Archaeology: A Brief Review. In L. Nikolova (Ed.), Early Symbolic Systems for Communication in Southeast Europe, Volume 1 (Vol. S1139, pp. 21-24). Oxford: Archaeopress.

Knapp, Ronald G. (2005). Chinese Houses: The Architectural Heritage of a Nation. Singapore: Tuttle.

Kubler, George. (1964). Polygenesis and Diffusion: Courtyards in Mesoamerican Architecture 35th International Congress of Americanists (Mexico City, 1962) (Vol. 1, pp. 345-357). Mexico City: International Congress of Americanists.

Lohse, Jon C. (2007). Commoner Ritual, Commoner Ideology: (Sub)-Alternative Views of Social Complexity in Prehispanic Mesoamerica. In N. Gonlin & J. C. Lohse (Eds.), Commoner Ritual, Commoner Ideology: Evidence from Households Across Mesoamerica (pp. 1-54). Boulder: University Press of Colorado.

Mabogunje, Akin. (1962). The Growth of Residential Districts in Ibadan. Geographical Review, 52, 56-77.

McKay, Alexander G. (1975). Houses, Villas and Palaces in the Roman World. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Millon, René. (1973). Urbanization at Teotihuacan, Mexico, Volume 1: The Teotihuacan Map, Part 1: Text. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Millon, René. (1981). Teotihuacan: City, State, and Civilization. In J. Sabloff (Ed.), Archaeology (Vol. 1, pp. 198-243). Austin: University of Texas Press.

Moseley, Michael E., & Mackey, Carol J. (1974). Twenty-four Architectural Plans of Chan Chan, Peru: Structure and Form at the Capital of Chimor. Cambridge: Peabody Museum Press.

Nabokov, Peter. (1986). The Architecture of Acoma Pueblo: The 1934 Historic American Buildings Survey Project. Santa Fe: Ancient City Press.

Netting, Robert McC., Wilk, Richard R., & Arnould, Eric J. (Eds.). (1984). Households: Comparative and Historical Studies of the Domestic Group. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Nevett, Lisa C. (1999). House and Society in the Ancient Greek World. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Packer, James E. (1971). The Insulae of Imperial Ostia (Vol. 31). Rome: American Academy in Rome.

Pasztory, Esther. (1997). Teotihuacan: An Experiment in Living. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Petruccioli, Atillio. (2006). The Courtyard House: Typological Variations Over Space and Tikme. In B. Edwards, M. Sibley, M. Hakmi & P. Land (Eds.), Courtyard Housing: Past, Present and Future (pp. 2-26). New York: Taylor and Francis.

Powell-Cotton, P. H. G. (1902). A Sporting Trip Through Abbyssinia. London: Rowland Ward.

Rapoport, Amos. (1969). House Form and Culture. New York: Prentice-Hall.

Rapoport, Amos. (1980). Towards a Cross-Culturally Valid Definition of Housing. In R. R. Stough & A. Wandersman (Eds.), Optimizing Environments: Research, Practice and Policy: Proceedings of the Eleventh Annual Conference of the Environmental Design Research Association (pp. 310-316). Washington, DC: Environmental Design Research Association.

Rapoport, Amos. (1990). Systems of Activities and Systems of Settings. In S. Kent (Ed.), Domestic Architecture and the Use of Space: An Interdisciplinary Cross-Cultural Study (pp. 9-20). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Raymond, André. (1980). The Rab': A Type of Collective Housing in Cairo During the Ottoman Period. In J. G. Katz (Ed.), Architecture as Symbol and Self-Identity (pp. 55-62). Philadelphia: Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

Rutter, Andrew F. (1971). Ashanti Vernacular Architecture. In P. Oliver (Ed.), Shelter in Africa (pp. 153-171). London: Barrie and Jenkins.

Schwerdtfeger, Friedrich W. (1982). Traditional Housing in African Cities: A Comparative Study of Houses in Zaria, Ibadan, and Marrakech. New York: John Wiley.

Séjourné, Laurette. (2002). Arquitectura y pintura en Teotihuacán (2nd ed.). Mexico City: Siglo Veintiuno.

Stöger, Hanna. (2014). The Spatial Signature of an Insula Neighborhood of Roman Ostia. In E. Paliou, U. Lieberwirth & S. Polla (Eds.), Spatial Analysis and Social Spaces: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Interpretation of Prehistoric and Historic Built Environments (pp. 297-316). Berlin: De Gruyter.

Storey, Glenn R. (2004). The Meaning of 'Insula' in Roman Residential Terminology. Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, 49, 47-84.

Storper, Michael, & Venables, Anthony J. (2004). Buzz: Face-to-Face Contact and the Urban Economy. Journal of Economic Geography, 4(4), 351-370.

Tipple, Graham, Amole, Bayo, Korboe, David, & Onyeacholem, Helen. (1994). House and Dwelling, Family and Household: Towards Defining Housing Units in West African Cities. Third World Planning Review, 16(4), 429-450.

Winter, Marcus. (1976). The Archaeological Household Cluster in the Valley of Oaxaca. In K. V. Flannery (Ed.), The Early Mesoamerican Village (pp. 25-31). New York: Academic Press.

Wirth, Louis. (1938). Urbanism as a Way of Life. American Journal of Sociology, 44, 1-24.

Wycherly, R. E. (1962). How the Greeks Built Cities (2nd ed.). New York: Norton.


  • There are currently no refbacks.


- ISSN (Online) #1938 7806 - ArchNet-IJAR is covered by ArchNet@ MIT Libraries, Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals, EBSCO, DOAJ, Pro-Quest, Scopus-Elsevier.

- Published work in ArchNet-IJAR is licensed under Creative Commons.

Copyrights © Archnet-IJAR 2007-2016


Hit Counter
Visitor Hits Since 15 Jan 2014