Four Major Shapes for Home Architecture

Updated on February 28, 2019
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The Laughing Crow is a moniker whose voice I borrow: a rascal who is abrasive but honest, curious and outgoing.

Introduction

Many people dream to design their own homes, especially when times are tough and a cottage retreat in the countryside, away from stress and pressure, seems like a great idea. There are many ways in which such a dream is achievable, but you can already start thinking on the decisions that will get you there.

In this series on home design, I will explain the major decisions you have to make when it comes to designing your own home, ranging from size and shape to considerations on adapting plans for your specific family and wishes.

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The Line

Cheapest to build and structurally the strongest, a house arranged in a line is the most basic form of housing known. The floor plan consists of a long rectangle, with the main entry point usually along the middle or at one of the ends. because it is a very simple shape, there are no complicated roof structures where weak spots or leaks could form.

Just because the shape is simple, doesn't mean you can't make the facade more attractive. You could easily add a porch at the main entry, or place a deck around the home for additional seating space in summer. If you want more light, you could add dormer windows, which would also serve to add additional space to any loft you might add.

The strong points of this design are its simplicity and price. It is simple and quick to build, easy to insulate, and can be extended later if desired.

Down sides of the line shape are that it's a lot less visually appealing than other basic shapes, and that it can be difficult to arrange spaces inside of it. If you have a large floor plan, many spaces will flow into one another, unless you add corridors. And corridors are a potential for wasted space.

The basic line shape is for people who have a small budget and want their home to be quick to build and structurally strong.

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The Square

Exemplified by the "barndominium", or converted barn, the Square or Box shape is another simple and strong form that trades visuals for a cheaper price. In almost all cases, the box consists of a square floor plan, either arranged around a central room like a plaza, or arranged lengthwise along a central corridor.

Most often, the box shape is on a single plan, allowing for easy movement across the entire home without the difficulties of stairs. Barndominiums often come with open loft areas flanking the central area on either side.

With a larger floor plan (and thus a larger foundation) the box or square shape is more expensive than the line, but placing spaces along its shape is a lot easier. With a main entry on one side, all other rooms are arranged alongside the central hall, allowing for easy access and unimpeded foot traffic.

The downside is that the wider plan needs strong support for the roof, and the load of any potential snowfall is much higher. So if you live in an area with heavy snow, consider reinforcing the roof further to prevent the relatively fragile central area from collapsing.

The square shape is for people who want the feeling of space, but who want to maintain a strong shape with a classic facade.

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The "L" Shape

Placing two lines at an angle allows for a more playful facade, and potentially splitting up the house into a more "private" and "public" area. This also allows you to make full use of the sun by placing the leading edge of the L shape south, and offering morning sun to the shorter edge. This is a great way of placing bedrooms and allowing for the sun to wake you up in the morning!

Another benefit of this shape is that you can vary the size of each leg, meaning that you could have a narrower edge where the rooms are lined up, and have one leg be broader with potentially a central hall or corridor. This way you could have a stunning view from your main room and kitchen, but allow your bedrooms to be out of the way and private.

Finally, you could play with the height plan in the L-shape, allowing one leg to have a loft or be a two-plan section, while the other section remains at ground level. This will allow you to have a master bedroom elevated above the rest of the house.

One downside of this shape is that the connecting of two lines means that there will be a joint in the roof. This offers some potential issues needing reinforcement and protection from leaks and snowfall. It is also more expensive to build, both in sheer size of the foundation and the increased difficulties of working with a joint shape.

The L shape is for people who want to have versatility and more options to create stunning views on the property.

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The "H" Shape

One of the most expensive and structurally challenging house forms, but visually very appealing and with infinite potential for arranging rooms and extending the home at a later date.

In the broad context of an H shape, you have two separate home sections connecting by a central corridor. This corridor can have many functions, and what you choose here decides the division of the legs of the house.

For example, if you were to make the central part a greenhouse, you might divide the house in a public section (with living room, kitchen and library for example) while the other section might be private (with your bedrooms and bathroom).

If you choose to place the kitchen centrally instead, you might have the benefit of a sliding door into a secluded herb garden. In each section, the side looking out over the garden might have large south-facing windows, featuring a living room and master bedroom, while the other sections are out of the way and utilitarian. This is a great way to place a laundry room, pantry and studio.

Because each of the two legs can be of varying size, and might be single or two plan, you have a lot of room in deciding the facade of the house. And if you later decide to change up the plan, you have a lot of space where you could rearrange the layout. Because there is a lot of wall space, you also have plenty of options to expand or extend later, or perhaps add an attached covered patio or a greenhouse.

Price is the main disadvantage of this shape. What you gain in visuals and space you pay for. The foundations are more complicated, the roofing has multiple joints, and you have to be more mindful of how the sun impacts the structure.

If you have an H shape, you will find that at dusk and dawn one leg will cast a shadow on the other leg. If you want to minimize this shadow, you have to be very careful of how you place the house on the plot, and that is a skill most people don't have.

Of all the shapes, this one benefits the most from having an actual architect on hand to pay attention to all the technical details because of its complicated shape, which adds additional costs to the whole.

The H shape is expensive and complicated, but has the greatest amount of versatility of placing rooms and views on the plot. Due to its complexity, this shape will require a competent architect to verify the structure's integrity.

Conclusion

From a simple and cheap shape to a complex form that allows the greatest versatility, these are some of the most common forms people choose to build their homes. Refined structurally through centuries of recorded architecture, these shapes are safe basic shapes to work with and add your personal touch.

Other Considerations

Other considerations for designing your home can be found in my articles on:

  • Space usage and home clustering
  • Foundation forms
  • Building materials
  • Roof style and material
  • Architectural styles
  • Properties of your building lot

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