Shotgun Houses:

A shotgun house typically has one room leading into the next without hallways. This style of house is particularly well suited for hot climates because one can open the front and back doors, and the breeze will flow through the entire house, and the porch provides shade for outdoor visiting. Shotgun architecture is now recognized as an African American contribution to American architectural styles.

Where does it get the name “shotgun”?

Although often people say these are called shotgun houses because a bullet fired through the front door would go right out the backdoor without hitting a wall, evidence suggests that this name is actually a corruption of the word “shogon.” In West Africa, “shogon” means “God’s House.”

The Evolution of the shotgun house

Research indicates that this architectural style came to New Orleans from West Africa via Haiti. In Haiti, enslaved Africans took the architectural form common to their homeland and using local materials built narrow buildings with gabled entrances, stucco walls, thatched roofs, and shuttered windows so they could enjoy the only privacy allowed to them. They also wrote African motifs into the exterior framing of their homes.

When Africans in Haiti revolted in 1791, many European plantation owners fled to New Orleans, taking with them enslaved Africans still under their control. Many other free people of color migrated to New Orleans as well. This had a profound effect on the demographics of New Orleans. In 1810, the population of New Orleans was approximately 1/3 white, 1/3 enslaved Africans, and 1/3 free people of color, most of who had come from Haiti.

In New Orleans, free people of color continued to build shotgun houses, replacing their African motifs with gingerbread trimmings. And the porch on the front of these houses was quite distinct from French homes whose outdoor areas were actually interior courtyards. The front porch on shotgun houses supported interconnectedness between people and gave neighbors a strong sense of community.


For more information:

John Biggers, a renowned African American artist, discusses the symbolism of the shotgun house in Exploring Cultures: A Conversation with John Biggers

Engines of our ingenuity: shotgun homes and porches by John H. Lienhard, M.D. Anderson Professor of Mechanical Engineering and History at the University of Houston

Lars Lerup, dean of Rice University's architecture school, says shotgun houses “may be the only African American building type there is”,1158,BDRE_project_20330,FF.html

John Biggers’ research on shotgun houses

Preservation Resource Center’s description of architectural styles in New Orleans.