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Theory of House Form

Posted: July 5, 2010 | Author: Antropology and Architecture | Filed under: Syllabus- AD065 |Comments Offon 2.
Theory of House Form

Amos Rapoport is the first author who comprehensively list cultural aspects about “house form”,
that he examined using anthropological discipline. He termed “modifying factors” to specify non-
architecture aspects that determine the architectural form and functions. Two parts that he

1. Modifying Factors of House Form (factors that directly affect form)

2. Socio-cultural factors and house form (factors that indirectly affect form. It affect socio-
cultural aspects first and later architecture)
1. Modifying Factors of House Form[1]

1.1. Climate and the Need for Shelter

However Climate is not con not appear as determining factors of house form.


1. Not all human need house (A numbers of tribes live without house)
2. people can give more importance to other build than house, such as: granary, family
shrine, kitchen, ancestor’s shrine before shelter.
3. Below are some contradictory value/ anti-climatic manner:
o Cham people regard shade as evil space.
o cycle of hunting tradition molds the American IndianTeepe.
o Sumatran people prefer to alter the thatched to metal roofing regardless the green house
effect that it causes, because It is easy and cheap.
o Javanese prefer to alter the bamboo mat walling with brick for getting more prestige in
society, regardless danger of earthquake.
o Galvanized iron is symbol of success.
o In China popular Feng-Shui and in India popular Vastu is more determining than technical
professional consideration.

1.2. Materials, Construction and Technology

1. As Solution
2. Materials, Construction and Technology are defining to one another
Diagram 1. Interrelation between technology, material and construction

1.3. Site

o Site is often considered after economic importance of crops cultivation or the availability
of living sources (i.e. water, food, cattle food);
o In typical of Moslem cities the location of “nobler” craft are immediately around the mosque
and baser; community clustering.
o Abstract image of world on earth. In Vastushastra, tripartite vertical division.

1.4. Defense

Concept of defense in traditional society, is formulated in consideration of society as a survival

unit, with their survival features.

a. to protect food storage:

o The Sundanese gather granaries in higher places in groups each belonging to each house,
so that in case of fire in the village, it won’t disturb the food storage.
o Balinese put Granaries along the village’s boulevard, raised with gathering spaces below
where youths usually would gather for chatting and playing game, while guarding the
granary above.

b. against enemy or animals:

o the pile dwelling in most of Southeast Asian house has an obvious defensive component
against people, insects, animals and snakes.
o Lock and door designs are often equipped with hot water or oil shower to hold enemies to
enter the building.

c. spiritual defense,

o hierarchical spatial zoning in Mandala, where putting center as the sacred points, flanked
by layers of concentric zones which is gradually profane as it recede away the center.
o In, Java and Angkor the spiritual defense is actualized by mounting the building to
resemble meru, as power preservation, while in India is actualized by void.
Mayamata and Arthasastra prescribe defense needs in more a systematic plot of urban
configuration, that aim of controlling the development so as to keep the sustainability of the
whole system.

1.5. Economics

o In sedentary agriculture villages, granary still play central role in conserving

economical assets, but well-supported by designed features such as water reservoir,
water management systems, and property managements that is conducted by
chieftains of the villages.
o Southeast Asian vernacular villages acknowledge concept of weekly markets concept.
Therefore in one day every week, people of five villages could gather in one village for
o Kautilya in Arthashastra plan forts, treasuries, official’s governments and populations in
arranging the spatial distribution of city. Hierarchical and systematic zoning for
heterogeneous classes of society based on wealth which coincided with castes is well-
prescribed in Mayamata as geometric, concentric, and hierarchical scheme in: Sri
Ranggam, Kanchipuram, City of Angkor, and City of Majapahit.
o Another way to value economy is according to Rapaport is lifestyle. In Annam, Vietnam,
peasant build house as soon as having money.

1.6. Religion

1. C Kluckhohn infere religion as set of believes, from which socially rules and order,
the profane and the sacred was produced.
2. Religion affects the form, plan, spatial arrangements, and orientation of the house.
Religion also defines if one should need their own shelters.
o In Southeast Asia, house is not only a place for habitation, but place of origin of the kin
groups – ancestral house. Sometime it is left inhibited, while the real resident leaves
somewhere nearby or adjacent to it. Therefore the house it self appear more like a
temple and is considered sacred (1990, p.43).
o Mostly the ancestor’s house is still occasionally visited for conducting pooja (praying).
o The arrangement of house plan in Minangkabau, West Sumatra follows rites of the
passages of family, from baby to old times.

2. Socio-cultural factors and house form

2.1. Meaning in house form

The socio-cultural forces refer to a fact that societies share certain generally accepted goals
and life values. In accordance, Rapoport mentioned three types of meaning :

o high level meanings, which are themes like cosmologies, cultural schemata, world views,
reflections of philosophical systems, the kind of stuff we find in traditional architecture -both
vernacular and the sacred high style – these are the “symbols” usually discussed;
o Middle level meanings concerned with things like identity, power, status, wealth, etc., that
we communicate; and
o Low level everyday and instrumental meanings; these tell you where to walk in, where to
sit down, etc.

2.2. Factors of Criticality and Choices

o the greater the number of possibilities, the greater the choice, depending on the value
o As the criticality increases along the different scales-climatic, economic,
technologicalconsideration, the fewer choice to be taken.
2.3. Factors of Basic Needs

1. Personal or CollectiveSome basic needs

2. Family
3. Privacy
4. Position of Women
5. Social intercourse.
6. Relationship between House and Settlement

House, settlements and landscapes are products of the same culture system and world view,
and are therefore parts of a single system. The house can not be seen in isolation from the
settlement, but must be viewed as part of a total social and spatial system.

2.4. Factors of the Sites and Choice

There are some classifications of attitudes that has been historically performing various
interrelation between site and people, individually and collectively:

1. Religious and cosmological- the environment is regarded as dominant and man is less
than nature
2. Symbiotic – here man and nature are in a state of balance, and man regards himself as a
steward and custodian of nature
3. Exploitative – here man is regarded the completer and modifier of nature, then creator and
finally destroyer of the environment.

2.5. Factors of Constancy and Changes

It refer to the fact that along time architecture in any scale would undergo changes,
transformation and alteration. It also refer to habit that in general architect always assume the
architecture would not change. How much do architects could respond on the consideration of
constancy and changes?

2 Advancement Attempts on Rapoport’s Theory

In 1995, on Victor Papanek made an attempt to advance the Rapoport’s ideas by putting all
prescriptive factors and explanations into a web of interconnections, called – he uses Rapaport
terms – Dynamic Web of Vernacular Matrix, ‘

Papanek emphasize two more explanatory properties:

1. Existence of changing of patterns and types along history that can be finally reflected in
modern style architecture.
2. Geographically shared Expression.
3. Play of ornaments and aesthetic.
Diagram2. Dynamic Web of Vernacular Matrix (Victor Papanek:1995)

In 1992, Nold Egenter established a concept, Anthopo-Architecture which is combination of
anthropological and architectural studies.
Anthrop-Arch is an architectural design method which uses the results of Architectural
Anthropology and Habitat Research for the design of contemporary buildings and

The “Architectural Anthropology”is a field of research that put architecture as its concepts
and approaches. With this term Nold Egenter suggest.

Habitat Research is a field of research that interprets human conditions past and present not in
the isolated sectors of conventional disciplines, but basically in their environmental totality.

By The term Architectural Anthropology he distinguishes four phases and types of

construction and architecture. This phases could be gone through by any architectural
tradition i.e (Anthropology of Habitat and Architecture) :
1. □ subhuman architecture It refer more to complex system of constructing behavior that
brings up proto-typical shelter into form- Nest- from where the more and most advanced
development of form derived.
2. □ semantic architecture It refers to a dia- and synchronically widespread type of building
which has conventionally been classified and described differently. Tols are rarely used but
the hand is the primary tool. It was produced by a socially and culturaly well mobilized
society- fibroconstructive industries.
3. □ domestic architecture. It presupposes a wide experimental field where man with their
complex of cultural and pragmatic activities structure his vital environment spatially, and
thus develops techniques and forms which later are used also for ‘shelter’.
4. □ settlement architecture (higher, horizontally structured unity assembling several
elements of semantic and/or domestic architecture) .