Witold Rybczynski, author of a new book that follows the development of a modern subdivision, discusses the historical background and evolution of our cultural preference for houses.
"Many things-government policies, tax structures, financing methods, home-ownership patterns, and availability of land-account for how people choose to live, but the most important factor is culture. To understand why we live in houses, it is necessary to go back several hundred years to Europe. Rural people have always lived in houses, but the typical medieval town dwelling, which combined living space and workplace, was occupied by a mixture of extended families, servants, and employees. This changed in 17th-century Holland. The Netherlands was Europe's first republic, and the world's first middle-class nation. Prosperity allowed extensive home ownership, republicanism discouraged the widespread use of servants, a love of children promoted the nuclear family, and Calvinism encouraged thrift and other domestic virtues. These circumstances, coupled with a particular affection for the private family home, brought about a cultural revolution. People began to live and work in separate places; children grew up with their parents (rather than being apprenticed to strangers, as before); and the home, securely under the control of what we would now call the 'housewife,' was restricted to the immediate family. This intimate domestic haven was always a house."