The Past and Future Role of the Shotgun House

Dallas provides the setting for a deep exploration of shotgun houses. The city keeps knocking them down, but according to this architecture critic, they could play a key role in solving the city's affordable housing crisis.
March 3, 2019, 7am PST | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Bart Everson

"It should come as no surprise that in Dallas, a city known (or perhaps notorious) for its mansions and McMansions, the lowly shotgun house has become an endangered architectural species," writes Dallas Morning News Architecture Critic Mark Lamster.

"A combination of obsolescence, neglect and development has pushed the shotgun house to the brink of extinction in Dallas," adds Lamster, which is "an unacceptable loss of history."

But Lamster isn't only tackling the historic preservation angle in bringing up the subject of shotgun houses. Instead, Lamster suggests that shotgun houses should be utilized as a key solution in Dallas' housing crisis.

First, more thorough research is needed to build a better record of shotgun house construction. Tara Dudley, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, is making some of the first systematic efforts in that direction. Here is where a deep history and explanation of the traditional role of shotgun houses in cities like Dallas and New Orleans begins, but also far beyond.

The shotgun's simplicity made it easy to adapt and embellish. Those looking to elevate the status of a home could add architectural elements — Greek Revival columns, say, or Victorian gingerbread detailing. 

A shotgun house could be expanded to the side or given a second story in the rear, and was often dubbed a camelback because of its humped appearance. Doors could be placed on center, or offset to the left or right, and roof styles became increasingly complex, moving from the simple gable, to the hip, to the jerkinhead — a squared-off hip.

Lamster writes in reported in feature-length detail, so there is a lot more to learn and explore.

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Published on Thursday, February 28, 2019 in The Dallas Morning News
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