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What Do You Call This House?

Is there a "missing middle" in our vocabulary and imagination as well as our architecture?

Copyright 2020 Google Maps.

A few weeks ago, I came across an interesting Twitter thread on housing typology and vocabulary, started by planner and Market Urbanism contributor (and occasional New Urbs contributor) Nolan Gray:

It happens that while barely detached houses like this are sometimes built today, perhaps because of a preference to not share a wall or to technically be marketed as a detached house, this basic form also exists in some older cities, usually originally built as working-class housing. Notice that they’re characterized not only by narrow setbacks between units, but also by relatively narrow and deep dimensions, just like rowhouses (particularly of the D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia variety.)

“Detached rowhouses” in Brunswick, Maryland. Copyright 2020 Google Maps.

While these images are from small cities in Maryland, this housing form can be spotted throughout the Mid-Atlantic, at least.

More widely spaced, but narrow/deep homes in Cambridge, Maryland.

There are many jargony names for different housing and building types, from College Park, Maryland’s mostly vanished “Knox Box” to New Jersey’s “Bayonne Box” to the Los Angeles Dingbat. Outside of urbanist discourse, there isn’t much awareness of these names, or forms. Corresponding to the “missing middle” in housing between large apartment complexes and detached single-family homes, is there a missing middle of the vocabulary and imagination? Should modern development take inspiration from these various loved and hated local housing forms? Some will say yes and some will say, but a wider familiarity with what physical forms missing middle housing can actually take couldn’t hurt.

And what do you call a “detached rowhouse,” anyway?

This New Urbanism series is supported by the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. Follow New Urbs on Twitter for a feed dedicated to TAC’s coverage of cities, urbanism, and place.

about the author

Addison Del Mastro is assistant editor and social media manager of The American Conservative.  He is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Public Policy and writes on urbanism, place, and popular and cultural history. Follow him on Twitter at @ad_mastro.

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