Over twenty years ago I set out on a personal theoretical study to design small houses. I’ll explain that study at sometime in the future. However one psychological aspect that I began to consider was what does a house look like? This was intrinsic to my study, but I never set out to design a house that met the stereotypical profile. In fact, the more I heard people comment on what they pictured as a house, the more I set out to challenge it. Once we built our house, I began to see that play out. A few people along the way were honest enough to admit that despite it being “cool”, our house didn’t look like a house in their imagination. In fact during one of my son’s birthday parties, a mother passed by our house because although she saw the correct house number, she didn’t believe this could be our house because it didn’t “look” like a house.
I know, you’re saying there is no single visual that answers this question, but there are some basics that most people would agree make a house look like a house, especially when they are in combination. Now you don’t believe I subscribe to this limited perspective. I’d like to think that anything can look like a house and nothing looks like a house. I’m not trying to persuade you to change your opinion. I just want to know why.
So what is it that makes us believe upon first glance that one building is a house and another isn’t? In fact, we don’t just have these stereotypes about houses but also about schools, churches, office buildings and most other building types. Is this ok? Or shouldn’t we prejudge a book by its cover? Why do we judge what it is rather than what it does?
Let’s look at the basic elements that I’ve heard many tell me that are integral to their notion of a house.
Is it a sloping roof? (or maybe the swimming pool)
What about a gable roof?
Or this one?
Is it the number or scale of the windows?
How about the materials? Is it brick that makes a house?
Should the front door be visible from the street?
What if it has glass doors leading onto the backyard?
Or a garage, is that it?
Porches, all houses have porches right? Is this a house?
Perhaps it is outdoor patios or other domestic exterior space?
Have any of these looked like houses?
I said before, anything can look like a house and nothing does too. So tell me, what is the answer to my question?