Man, needs shelter! It is one of his earliest demands from the environment that he constantly struggles with. No wonder each and every traditional house type reflects this bond. Then over time this relationship grew like an organism into an intricate meshwork of cultures, religions and customs that determined how a man built his living space.
An enchanting story indeed. Research on this aspect is so captivating that it opens newer vistas of knowledge unendingly. However before embarking on this concept-journey let us inform you that we are just presenting the tip of the iceberg. There is a whole lot more waiting to be discovered.
Where Should I Build My Home?
That depends on who is asking the question. If you are the early man who has just begun to feel the need for habitation, then you will be looking for a dry and warm place within natural formations, such as a cave. Here you are relatively safe from the chilling cold, incessant wet rain and scorching sunny days. Moreover, wild animals can’t get you so easily! Here your settlement is for your own protection.
But as you get bolder and more clannish you might dare to make a leafy home, or even one from the skin of dead animals but locating that home will depend on many factors.
First is your need for water. Take a cut to the past. You and your friends and relatives liked the cave but found it very difficult to carry water up the slope. So, when the weather was good, you all decided to locate yourself next to the river, spring or lake that beckoned below. Huddled together in little hatchments life was easier. There were more plants and berries here, fish too could be caught easily and land all around could be easily inundated once you learnt how to grow crops.
You have now built a wet point settlement.
As the cycle of life went on, the population of your tiny hamlet grew.
Now you had more crops, surpluses, traders, soldiers and kings. Water was no more the sole requirement of a happy life. It was more complicated than that. You wanted land and more land. Rolling fields and plains were on your most wanted list. Thus, settlements now changed location and you now built your home in the middle DI large agricultural tracts.
Land became the determining factor. But land sometimes posed a problem. It became inundated when the river flooded causing unending distress to you and your home. so some vantage point needed to be located. Thus, you built little villages and towns on elevated areas (river terraces, levees) of the flood plain where no home would be affected inspire of the flood.
Now you had built a dry-point settlement.
That too wasn’t enough. Possessing precious commodities attracted foes that looted and plundered, No longer was land the most important criteria of settlement location. You now needed to build your home on a site that stood above all that you possessed. It had to be walled and protected so that no one could enter without permission and sentries guarding the four corners could spot danger from miles away. The list of complications that were added to these defense settlements was endless. Home for you now lay within the high walls of these great structures.
Thus, defense sites came to be the talk of the day.
However, before we end the story and bring you to the present let us remind you that each of these site factors is interlinked. Man, made his choices when the matrix of associated factors fitted perfectly. No site factor functions independently. For example, when looking at land as the determining factor, water cannot be ignored. Only after water was taken into account could man think of prioritizing land. Moreover, culture, society and environment interfere with the choice of site, which precipitate the chain of events mid-way and leave a settlement location balanced on a single factor.
Some sites were chosen because of the health reasons, some being beneficial others being detrimental. For example, hot springs are supposed to possess life-giving properties. Locating your home here, perhaps temporarily, will help you reap benefits from the hot springs. On the other hand, swamps, bogs and marshes are treacherous areas, which are not only difficult to navigate but also disease ridden. Man, tends to avoid such locations.
Then of course weather and climate are important aspects. In a mountainous regime, man chooses a sunny, non-windy slope. Orientation of structures to sun and wind is indeed vital. Then again man practices transhumance, and builds two homes one for summer and the other for the winter. Along the coast, man seeks sheltered harbors that won’t be ravaged by storms and cyclones.
Building a home is not only about site. Material to build a home has to be available nearby. A suitable location should have plenty of building material, whether wood, clay or stone, around it.
Living in a Friendly Neighborhood!
Form and Pattern Man is a gregarious animal. He likes to live with others surrounding him. Most settlements are thus packed close together. These are nucleated settlement.
But as man developed huge rolling fields controlled totally by machinery, he ruled out the need for labor. Distant homesteads and extensive grain farms became synonymous with development.
On the other hand, as population grew and grew people were forced to occupy barren tracts that yielded little. In highland areas where livestock rearing is the main occupation, population is rather sparse and scattered. This resulted in settlements far apart and dispersed. Thus, the two basic forms of settlement are nucleated and dispersed.
However, this is not the end of the story. A nucleated settlement comes in many shapes. These are called the pattern of the settlement.
The Rectangular Pattern: This is the most common type of rural settlement pattern in which the lanes are almost straight, meeting each other at right angles.
The Linear Pattern: In this pattern, houses are arranged along either side of a road, railway track, along a river bank or levee, along the edge of a valley above flood-level or along the sea-coast. Many settlements show this linear / ribbon shaped pattern, since roads offer improved access to the central business district and other areas.
The Triangular Pattern: They mostly develop at the confluence of two rivers. At such locations, lateral expansion of the village is restricted by the rivers and therefore, from the confluence point the village develops on the land lying in between the two rivers.
The Star like Pattern: In this pattern, houses cut in several directions. This is common to both villages and towns and is the result of new developments spreading out along the major roads.
The Circular Pattern: This pattern develops around ponds, lakes and crater.
The Traditional South Chinese Lilong Housing
Lilongs (Li -neighborhood, Long-small lanes) are small court-yard housing which grew up on a strong neighborhood principle. This linear, nucleated settlement pattern is characteristic of cities such as Shanghai. Did you know that lilong housing has been in existence for over 140 years?
A lilong settlement may vary in size from 0.35 to 5.0 hectares. Its houses are two or three storied high and attached on either side. It has one side lane at the front and another service lane at the back. The whole settlement may have a few main lanes, which are used as the major circulation passages and are accessible from the other by-streets.
The clear, rational structure of a lilong settlement provides a high degree of security and quietness to its environment. The front housing units along the perimeter of a lilong settlement are converted to shops, which maintain the continuity of commercial activities along the streets.
However, this housing pattern is increasingly under intense commercial pressure. In Shanghai, the land speculation has become so high that residential settlements are facing strong demands of urban renewal. Lack of maintenance of these age-old structures are also causing problems. It would indeed be a pity if these structures were wiped out in the race of vertical expansion.