Location and Orientation

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Not all structures of a type find similar locations. Location may be governed by several factors, and often by just one of them. Sometimes it is quality and depth of soils that affect placement. In the hill country of northern Appalachia, after the initial pioneer settlement period, the better soils of the broader, limestone-floored valleys permitted construction of substantial I-houses and large timber-frame barns because agricultural incomes were secure. The thin soil cover of the hill slopes reduced income from farming and discouraged most building except for log houses, or simple frame structures and single-crib log barns.

Early houses in Wales were located, not in the best lowland soil areas, but at somewhat higher altitudes where soils were thin and trees largely lacking. The valley locations were tree covered and poorly drained, whereas for early dwellers the slopes "provided sites easily occupied, yet dry and sloping, as was required by their particular agricultural methods" (Gresham 1963, 267). A secondary advantage was the presence in these locations of plentiful supplies of stones and rocks to be used as building materials. Somewhat similarly, farmhouses in Scotland were sited between arable land in valley bottoms and grazing meadows above. A further advantage could be location in the lee of hills as protection against strong prevailing winds (Naismith 1985, 47).

A similar preference for hill slopes by the pioneer settlers in Appalachia is also evident. The rationale for avoiding the best agricultural land there, however, was probably that valleys could be malarial and fever ridden (Dickinson 1990, 10-11). Similarly, on the poorly drained prairies of the American Midwest, pioneer settlers erected their cabins mostly on the western side of rivers and marshes, which were thought healthier than the eastern side, as the prevailing winds are from the west (Oliver 1843, 104).

Avoidance of the best agricultural land for farmsteads can be seen in many parts of America, where the best land - usually valley bottoms - is farmed, while the farmstead occupies the nearby valley slope. Similar situations are reported for the Hebrides (Hance 1951,

80), in Chitral in northern Pakistan (ud-Din 1984, 280) and undoubtedly exist elsewhere. A further advantage of a hill slope site is that both upper and lower levels of barns and houses can be entered directly (Chappell 1980, 60). Throughout the Pennines and other upland areas of the British Isles, houses and housebarns frequently have been located athwart man-made terraces on otherwise sloping land, and prehistoric dwellings have been given the name of platform houses (Fox and Fox 1934); the name has been extended to include later buildings elsewhere using terraced locations (Hemp 1939; Walton 1956).

The impact of altitude can be seen more specifically with the location of weavers' cottages in the Huddersfield area of the UK. A survey conducted in the mid-1970s revealed that roughly two-thirds of all such structures were scattered at altitudes of between 750 feet and 1050 feet. The explanation probably lies in the practice of enclosure by estate owners who permitted tenants to secure small freeholdings.

However, such dispersal had to take place at increasingly higher altitudes onto land which was sub-marginal, even for the predominant pastoral activities. Agriculture alone could not sustain a livelihood for long at higher altitudes and therefore needed to be combined with some other form of economic activity. This, of course, was, or came to be in the majority of cases, the manufacture of cloth. (Barke 1979, 52)


4-1. A weaver's house, Almondbury, Yorkshire, UK. The large number of windows documents the 18th-century conversion of the dwelling to enable weavers to work with enhanced natural lighting (photo by the author, 1967).

Weavers' cottages possess rows of tall windows along the front wall (Figure 4-1). In order to permit sunlight to penetrate the structure, the cottages were oriented whenever possible towards the south and southeast.

Not only does altitude influence location of structures, so also does exposure. Jerri Holan (1990, 35) observes that, in Norway, wealthier farmers were located on sunny slopes of mountains and hills and the poorer farmers on shady slopes. Such distributional sorting, however, is probably the result of the better and poorer agricultural growing conditions in the respective areas, so that location determines wealth and not the other way around. Another example occurs in the Alps, where wooden houses predominate on north-facing slopes and stone houses on south-facing slopes (Cereghini 1956, 41). Much of this difference has to do with the amounts of rainfall received on each side of the mountains and the resulting condition of the forest supplying wood for building. Wind also can be a consideration in rough terrain. In Appalachia, "building under a sheltered north slope rather than on the ridge top protected the house from winter winds and facilitated access to water and roads" (Eller 1979, 97).

In India, where most rural settlement is nucleated, villages may be segregated according to caste or the religious community to which individuals belong. In northwestern India, the houses of the highest castes normally are situated in the western part of a village, with doors facing eastwards, the most prestigious direction. Because prevailing winds are from the west, little "pollution" is experienced in such a location. Lower ranking castes occupy the eastern area. The untouchables are segregated to the south, the most negative direction according to Hindu cosmology. Also, because "the least frequent winds are those from the south," chances of their polluting air affecting the rest of the settlement are minimized (Singh and Khan 2002, 100-1).

At times, and especially for prehistoric structures, it is only logical conjecture that offers possible explanations for locational choice. Near Durango in southwestern Colorado, a number of possibilities have been advanced to explain location of pit dwellings at some distance from the critical water source of the Animas valley. These include: avoidance of high water tables in the ground of the valley plain; the need to use level land near the water for farming; escape from cold air drainage in the valley during late fall, winter, and early spring; the better security of higher sites because a greater field of vision allowed dangers to be seen at distance; better soil drainage; numerous small streams and rivulets offered controlled amounts of water, reducing the need to carry water; and finally, safety from periodic flooding (Duke and Matlock 1999, 44).

Most peoples put considerable thought into locational decisions and make prudent and logical choices. Apparently haphazard distributions of houses will be found upon more careful inspection to be well planned and reasoned (Hoskins 1960, 336). The placement of the houses of the Mae Enga in the western highlands of New Guinea on isolated ridge tops or backed against hill slopes serves two important purposes: better defense against attackers and privacy (Meggitt 1957, 168). In the Hebrides "the modern tendency is to align the houses along and near the roads. In the older settlements and where the topography is more rugged, many of the houses are scattered up and down the slope, not necessarily facing the roads which serve them" (Hance 1951, 79). Throughout South Asia, dwellings in low-lying and plains areas are customarily placed on mud plinths in order to raise floors above the flooding that accompanies the sustained rains of the monsoon season. In Bangladesh, Bimal Paul (2003, 101) reports plinth heights to vary between six inches or so in the moribund delta to four feet in the active delta. Similar variations exist across India for the same reason.

Despite the care and thought that most peoples put into their location decisions, inevitably some mistakes are made. One of the most dramatic examples is the Bird House on the Seward Highway near Girdwood, Alaska. "Built on boggy ground, it has sunk so far into the ground that the sill of the window is now below ground" (Hoagland 1993, 108). Elsewhere in Alaska early buildings were frequently constructed above permafrost, which subsequently thawed unevenly, producing buckled floors, collapsed walls, fallen roofs, and ultimately often complete destruction of the structures.

Seasonally occupied traditional structures in polar areas suffered less from these problems because they usually avoided permafrost at or near the surface, and were often not heated to a high degree. Nevertheless, to be successful habitation they needed to meet a number of locational constraints. They needed fish and/or game in abundance, an easy waterfront access, good drainage to avoid snow meltwater, some building materials nearby, a source of good drinking water and sufficient space to allow dwellings to have backs to the winds and fronts toward the sun.

Location also has another dimension, that of geographical spatial extent. A map of traditional houses in South Africa illustrates the point nicely (Figure 4-2). The pattern is a result of the simultaneous working of a number of locational factors operating through culture, level of technology, environmental resources, and local economy (Biermann 1971, 96).

4-2. Several locational factors in South Africa help to explain regional variations in traditional dwellings as seen on this map (modified from Biermann 1971, 96).

4-3. On this topographic map of the Mennonite village of Chortitz, Manitoba, the housebarns appear as squares (houses) in front of rectangles (barns). Absence of houses or barns or combined structures is noticeable in the gaps breaking the regular pattern of settlement (section of the Altona, Manitoba topographic quadrangle 62 H/4).

Humans are basically gregarious animals who seek out the company and potential security of others, especially of the same ethnic group. In Canada, settlement laws permitted the reservation of blocks of land to be claimed by homogeneous groups of settlers. Thus, German-Russian Mennonites established strassendorfer (one-street villages) for their people. All others were effectively excluded in those areas. About 20 of these villages still persist in southeastern Manitoba (Figure 4-3). On the US Great Plains no such unified settlement was possible because of different land laws. The pull of heritage and ethnic community was still strong, however. Some German farmers built their farmsteads at the very corner of their property as did their German neighbors, so that an informal cluster of several homes came about, "just far enough apart to keep the chickens separated" (Sherman 1974, 193).

People with an intimate connection to the local environment must change the location of their dwellings when environmental conditions change. Chapter 13 provides examples of groups who move seasonally to accommodate the grazing animals upon which they depend for survival. Such movement is often placed under the rubric of transhumance, and most often involves movements upward and downward in mountain terrain. Other groups move, but only over a period of several years. The shifting cultivators are normally motivated to change location because of declining fertility of tropical soils. Their dwellings are of bamboo and thatch, or other similar light materials, which are readily available in new locations and which can be erected quickly (Ricketson 1927).

Even Plains Indians who sheltered under a simple and moveable tipi made some elementary decisions. The Blackfoot selected tipi sites for their good drainage, level land, and absence of rodent and snake holes (McClintock n.d., 4). Abundance of firewood and ease of its collection has been suggested as the controlling factor for the location of some Navajo hogans (Spencer and Jett 1971, 163). Finnish settlers in Montana faced their log cabins toward the south or east in order to avoid the winter winds blowing south out of Canada during the long winter (Sanford 1991, 46). Early farmers in Iceland placed their dwellings at the base of a hill slope so as to be sheltered from the bitterly cold winter winds, and also close to a dependable water supply (Krissdotter 1982, 8).

The importance of water as a locational magnet is hard to overestimate. To cite one example, Cosmos Mindeleff (1898a, 479) noticed that in the northeast corner of the Navajo territory, 90% of the hogans were located close to the mostly subterranean water supply of the Chaco River, where a little digging would find water. At the same time, hogans were rarely sited next to a spring. In Mindeleff's view this was a survival from earlier hunting times in order not to frighten away game from these water sources (Mindeleff 1898a, 483). Concealment and location away from water holes became a hallmark of hogan location. In the same general area of southwestern US, the principal requirement among Hopi for locating a permanent pueblo was a dependable water supply (Sanford 1950, 113).

An important consideration influencing farmhouse location in the Central Lowland of the US from western Ohio to Iowa is surface water drainage. In the glaciated areas of these states, moraines, kames and glacial beach ridges provide sites that are just a very few feet above the general surface (Figure 4-4). Such elevation is not only drier but also gives a slight settlement advantage by producing drainage of cold air away from the site in the cool half of the year.

Wayne Kiefer (1972, 491), in a study in northern Indiana, recorded 75% of farmsteads on such slightly elevated sites. A similar adjustment to drainage is reported from Australia, where aborigines located huts on small hillocks and mounds "to insure the more rapid dispersal of the water" (Roth 1909, 49). The corollary, avoidance of low-lying sites, is a worldwide and long-recognized phenomenon controlling site location of dwellings. As early as the first centuries BC, rising water levels forced inhabitants of the low regions in the Frisian part of modern Netherlands to build their houses upon artificial mounds out of reach of the waters (Hekker 1975, 7).

4-4. A small portion of the Normal East quadrangle, USGS topographic map. Farmhouses along the north-south highway are mostly located on kames, which are identified by the roughly circular 800foot topographic contour. The 10-foot contour interval is sufficient to provide drier conditions for building on the otherwise poorly drained prairie.

Characteristics of drainage also have a great deal to do with the design of the dwelling. In the Cajun prairies of southwest Louisiana, a higher water table and consequently poorer drainage in the southern part of the prairies necessitated the storage in above-ground cisterns of cypress wood, of the rainwater collected on the metal roofs of houses. In the northern, better-drained and somewhat higher prairies, the cisterns are tanks placed unobtrusively underground (Post 1962, 24).

In some communities, location of a dwelling is governed by quite specific social regulation. An extreme example is provided by the Sakalava people of western Madagascar. There, a strict order of settlement requires that a village founder or ruling male occupy the northeastern-most location, closest to burial grounds of the group's ancestors. Descendants and subsequent settlers locate houses progressively to the south and west (Feeley-Harnik 1980, 573).

The rules that govern site conditions have been incorporated in many cultures into sacred documents, or into sets of regulations and procedures, which if not actually sacred came to be regarded by the folk as almost divine. Hence, where traditional society still flourishes, one disobeys or ignores them often at great peril. Among Tamils in southern India, these texts admonished that a proper house site must slope downward to the east and the north. They also provided rules for the taste and smell of suitable soils that differed for each group of castes (Chelvadurai-Proctor 1927, 343; Arya 2000, 36-9).

In China, feng shui has had an even stronger and more long lasting impact. As late as the 1990s, television stations that I watched in Hong Kong were advertising expensive modern apartments as having "correct feng shui." As far as general location is concerned, feng shui requires that higher elevations be to the north and east of the selected location. "The ideal site nestles into the areas of hills which are shaped like the Azure Dragon in the East and the White Tiger in the West. The dragon is a beneficial force whose formation should be higher than the tiger, a force of danger, which protects only as long as it is balanced by the dragon" (Sullivan 1972, 133).

In Southeast Asia, the proper site location according to geomancy should be on slightly raised ground, with trees in the northeast corner, and a facade facing east without large trees blocking the view. Crossroad sites should be avoided as well as dead-end streets and roads. A rear door must not be aligned with the front entrance (Dumarcay 1987, 14). The practice of feng shui extends beyond principles of harmonious location and orientation to include intricate rules governing design and interior arrangements (Too 1996). An additional brief discussion of feng shui appears in Chapter 12.

Another critical aspect of location among some peoples is that the earth itself is considered to be alive, to possess feeling (Bourdier and Minh-ha 1983, 43). Therefore, it is necessary to propitiate the earth spirit, since construction requires the earth to be broken, dug into, displaced and otherwise roughly handled. In India ceremonies are held on the building site in order to appease the earth spirit before any construction takes place (Crooke 1918, 132-3). In Bali a ceremony called malaspasin is conducted after the structure is erected and includes rituals to bring to life all the materials taken from the earth which were broken, cut or disturbed by the builders (Howe 1983, 154). It would seem that the Indians seek permission, while the Balinese ask forgiveness; shades of Thomas Acquinas!

W. Crooke (1918, 136) offers a scientific explanation for expatiation rites, which are also practiced in various parts of India and perhaps elsewhere, as he explains that "emanations or microbes disturbed in the course of excavation are a source of evil, which primitive men translate into a visitation of demons or evil spirits." A quite different ceremony, but one which also emphasizes the living nature of a house, is reported from northern Thailand (Charernsupkul and Temi-yabandha 1979, 57). There a future husband who anticipates building his own dwelling offers "apologies to his wife-to-be's parent's house for loving the daughter of the house" and for taking her away.

The arrangement of buildings involves concepts of both location and orientation. Such arrangement is usually culturally controlled, a product of the relationship with the environment, requirements for security, and ethnic group customs and mores. Arnold Alanen and William Tishler (1980) noted a basic difference in arrangements of buildings in farmsteads between western and eastern Finland. "In the western regions of the country, where the influence of Swedish culture was strongest, early farmsteads were organized generally to form a tightly enclosed courtyard. The interior and eastern regions of Finland, however, were characterized by a more scattered or dispersed pattern of farm buildings on the landscape."

Half a world away, the arrangement of farmlands of the Metis and Ukrainians in the Canadian west shows a similar form distinction. The Metis farmstead is characterized by an openness and almost chaotic orientation of buildings, an "informality, lack of rigidly defined structure, and continuity with the landscape," while the "Ukrainian farmsteads are built on a courtyard plan where the house and other farm buildings face inward, and fences are used to separate different functional spaces" (Burley and Horsfall 1989, 27-30).

In Norway, where the courtyard arrangement of farm buildings dominates, "it was rarely formed according to regular plan, as nearly always it had to be adjusted to the terrain and it was practically speaking never symmetrical. But all the farm-buildings always faced the courtyard either broadside or with the narrower [decorative] gable" (Alnaes et al. 1950, 92). In most parts of Norway, farm courtyards were merely open, irregular spaces around which as many as 30 structures on each individual property might cluster (Holan 1990, 46).

Variations in terrain in many parts of the world cause changes, greater or lesser, in the specific location and orientation of buildings. As Alanen and Tishler (1980) noted as they examined Finnish settlement in the American Midwest, landscape features such as "the presence of hills, streams and water, marshes, and vegetation types quite often appeared to be the most important factors in determining the spatial configuration of the overall farmstead patterns."

Orientation always means location with reference to something else. This may be a compass direction, a highly visible landmark, such as a volcano or other mountain, an environmentally significant feature, such as the ocean or a prevailing wind, or a particularly auspicious direction, such as that of the rising or setting sun, or an undesirable or repugnant one. To a significant extent, orientation, especially of building clusters, reflects cultural traditions although economic and environmental considerations are important as well.

It should not be surprising that among those communities depending upon fishing for their livelihood houses are oriented toward the sea (Dawson 1880, 146). Wilson Duff and Michael Kew (1958, C45) provide a map of a Haida Indian village on Anthony Island, British Columbia, which offers an excellent example (Figure 4-5). Elsewhere, Harnett Kane (1944, 178) makes the point that Cajun houses in Louisiana normally are oriented toward the bayou, a source for fur trapping as well as an easy access route. Orientation to the sea also governs houses in most resort or recreational areas (Bisher 1983) and in ports (Davis 1982, 188).

Just as orientation to the sea is strongly expressed in fishing communities, orientation to roadway occurs in those farming communities that increasingly depend for livelihood upon marketing of their products, even if the markets are local. The strength of this orientation, as well as proximity to the road, grows as producers prosper and become more and more commercially dependent. For example, in Maine, which did not really have a commercial agriculture in the 19th century, a general southerly orientation of dwellings at the beginning of the century was replaced as commercial farming grew by the end of that century with an orientation to the road regardless of compass direction (Hubka 1985, 8). In California, where

4-5. The seaward orientation of the Haida Indian village of Ninstints, Anthony Island, British Columbia is clearly shown in this map. Dwellings line the highest tide line and offer easy access to the sea (from Duff and Kew 1957, c45).

the ranchers have "grown up with the automobile," fully 69% of the ranchsteads in the mid-20th century fronted directly on the road, also regardless of compass direction (Gregor 1951, 303).

The shift in orientation to the road also may occur in fishing communities. On the island of Scalpay in the Hebrides, "before the roads were built, four out of five houses were oriented to the sea, whereas after the road improvements, five out of six were oriented to the roads" (Beecher 1991, 78). The same attraction elsewhere in the Hebrides is reported by Alexander Fenton (1978, 38), who characterized it as magnetic. Similarly, in Tahiti, "prior to the modern age the preferred house site was the lagoon side; today it is the roadside" (Bell 1973, 109).

In northern Indiana, virtually all rural houses face the road, but "the front door is seldom used, even for guests" (Kiefer 1972, 493). Proximity to the road (location) is more important than orientation. Perhaps this accessibility to the muddy boots of non-family neighbors and others is one reason for the oft-repeated observation of the social significance of the Midwest farm kitchen, or perhaps it is the result of that importance.

The precise orientation may not, however, be to the roadway, even though the dwelling's location may be governed by accessibility. Writing about the UK, M.W. Barley (1967, 740) notes that in the 16th century house orientation - which had been to place the long side toward the road in order to provide a convenient cross-passage-access to the rear farmyard - was changed to present the narrow, gable-end wall to the road. He further suggests that this reordering may have been the result of an attempt to conserve village land frontages required by the growing population.

It seems reasonable that access should in large part determine orientation. Not only do roadways provide access, other transport facilities do so as well. In the Nubian areas of northern Sudan now flooded by the Aswan Dam, house orientation was strongly toward the river, giving passengers on Nile river boats an excellent view of the elaborately decorated facades (Wenzel 1972, 3).

Perhaps the ultimate example of roadway orientation influence has been offered by Jean Sizemore (1994, 135). Writing of the Ozarks, she says,

A vivid example of the tenacity of the desire for one's house to face the road is the Will Ford house of 1905. In 1951, when the road in front of their double pen house was rerouted to the rear, the Fords rearranged the house to make what were formerly the two back doors into the front doors. Mrs. Ford said, "Our living room used to be a bedroom; what used to be the living room is now our kitchen".

Orientation toward the roadway, path or street that offers access probably accounts for a majority of traditional houses. In contrast, some structures seek orientation away from the points of access. The Japanese house is, as often as not, oriented to its garden, which has a strong symbolic character (Walker 1940, 338; Taut 1958, 277-87; Villeminot 1958). In Charleston, South Carolina, so-called single houses have the main door opening on to a long, shady verandah, which in its turn fronts a garden removed from the street (Noble 1984, 1:60). Elsewhere, houses that adjoin or surround courtyards usually have an inward orientation (Gebhard 1963, 38) even though entrance doors may face the street or road.

In many societies an orientation away from the road is preferred (Noble 1992b, 274-6). In eastern and south-central Europe, houses rarely face the street or roadway (Williams 1916, 156), although they may be built almost on the thoroughfare. Dwellings among such diverse peoples and locations as rural Poles in the Warsaw area (Noble 1991, 3-5), the Tarascans in the mountains of Michoacan province in Mexico (Beals et al. 1944) and the German-Russian Mennonites of Saskatchewan (Noble 1992b) open onto side yards rather than the road.

In some societies, it is religious tradition more than access that determines orientation. Today, in the leisure-conscious society of the affluent, the setting sun often functions to determine orientation. Houses with picture windows framing the view of a sunset often command higher prices than comparable houses without such an amenity. This operates only in the modern real estate market, although a somewhat similar amenity associated with hill-top sites often determined the direction of traditional buildings. Orientation to the setting sun is rejected in many traditional societies because of its association with death. Interestingly, however, houses in villages in eastern Sumba may face in this direction if on the other side of the street are houses which block the sun's rays (Forth 1981, 55). In a more extreme variation, houses of the Batammaliba in Togo are oriented to face the winter solstice sunset (Blier 1994, 27). I know of no other group oriented in the direction of sunset.

The direction of the rising sun, on the other hand, acted strongly to orient traditional buildings in many societies, including those of the Navajo, so that the entry would receive the first blessing of the rising sun (Wilmsen 1960, 16). David Brugge (1983, 186) has observed that for the Navajo,

The entry orientation is not to the cardinal direction; rather, it is directed toward sunrise. Thus, it varies somewhat according to the time of year of construction. The direction of sunrise varies from northeast in the summer to southeast in the winter. Similar orientations are used on houses, sweathouses, windbreaks, tents, outhouses and bread ovens, but they are ignored in structures built to shelter livestock, such as corrals and chicken coops.

Stephen Jett and Virginia Spencer (1981, 18), too, have observed that for the Navajo northeasterly, and secondarily southeasterly, orientations are more common than true easterly compass direction (Figure 4-6). Both hogans and sweat houses utilized a generally eastward orientation, but summer huts or shelters did not. This confirmed for Cosmos Mindeleff (1898a, 475, 495) that winter hogans were "the real homes of the people." Hogans also have religious functions and an orientation toward the east and the rising sun has some religious significance. Nevertheless, Brugge suggested very practical reasons for the hogan entry to face east. Some of his field informants mentioned "the ground does not remain muddy as long in the front of the hogan so orientated, especially if it is on ground sloping slightly to the south or east."

"The additional advantage of a solar orientation avoiding the prevailing southwesterly winds of Navajo country is denied by all informants as being a consideration, although it is an effective by-



Compass direction of hogan entrance depending upon date of erection.

Compass direction of hogan entrance depending upon date of erection.

4-6. Navajo hogan entrances have somewhat different orientations depending upon the position of the rising sun at the time of the structure's building. Only in rare exceptions is some kind of an eastern directional component lacking (diagram by Iraida Galdon Soler).

product of the tradition" (Brugge 1983, 186). While an eastward orientation applies to the overwhelming number of hogans, a few have a northerly or westerly orientation, which Brugge calls a "reversed orientation." The explanation seems to be "indicative of special religious injunctions associated with dangerous activities such as warfare, some kinds of hunting and certain kinds of curing in which especially powerful and malevolent supernatural forces are to be dealt with." No more specific rationale is needed. The tradition of eastward orientation is so deeply embedded in the Navajo that even modern bungalows and other Western houses built by the Navajo today face to the east (Spencer and Jett 1971, 171).

The Savunese in Indonesia employ more than one orientation for dwellings, but only roughly east or west (Kana 1980, 225). "A house that is positioned incorrectly cuts the land, that is, it crosscuts the lengthwise direction of the island of Savu" and brings bad luck, not only to the house inhabitants but also to the entire community.

An easterly orientation is the one most frequently encountered across the world. It is, or was, predominant among the dwellings of Great Plains Indians (Campbell 1915, 688; Campbell 1927, 94), Moroccan Berbers (Bourdieu 1973), Navajo Indians (Corbett 1940, 107), the

Gond and Bhumia tribal peoples in India (Fuchs 1960, 26), among the Rindi of Sumba, Indonesia (Forth 1981, 55), and many, many, other societies as well. An east-facing orientation has little to do with the compass but a great deal to do with the rising sun, which variously represents rebirth, fertility, light, renewal, energy, even life itself. In India among the Gonds, the east-facing door is constructed to be so low that the peasant exiting in the early morning must bow to the rising sun god (Fuchs 1960, 26).

Obeisance to the sun forms a basic, although often unwritten and even unrecognized, theme of many societies. "The eastern aspect of the house is recognized best to be conducive to prosperity for the family" (Mishra 1969, 13). Throughout India, the east has profound religious significance in addition to being the direction of the sun god. East is the most sacred direction (Chandhoke 1990, 177). The preeminence of eastern and southern directions also can be seen in the Rindi area of Sumba Island, Indonesia. Gregory Forth (1981, 56) took directional readings there and found that "the houses faced between about 105 degrees east and 150 degrees south-east, with the greatest number between 130 and 140 degrees." Forth further found that the variation in orientation was governed by the necessity to prevent the rising sun from directly touching certain structural parts of the dwelling. He notes that "the rules seem to imply that the sun in its daily course should not pass through significant points of the articulation and transition within the houses, but should, so to speak, enter by the right front door and leave by the left back door."

Traditional Spanish-Mexican structures in the southwestern United States tend to be oriented north-south, with the front of the building facing eastward, but it is not the rising sun that is important. Rather, it is the afternoon sun that matters (Figure 4-7). Most houses have a

4-7. In the American southwest, afternoons are usually extremely hot. Traditional adobe dwellings are oriented north-south to provide an eastern shade area for relief from the sun's heat (diagram by Iraida Galdon Soler).

masonry or adobe bench placed against the east-facing wall. Here people may sit in the shade out of the heat of the summer afternoon sun (Robinson 1981, 21). The sun was not always welcomed into the house elsewhere either. The well-built structures of the 16th-century English Midlands were oriented to the north (Barley 1987, 84). Presumably the sun provided little additional warmth in the winter, and its exclusion in the summer secured beneficial cooling. A similar situation exists in Greece, where traditional houses face south whenever possible, for maximum sun in winter and shade and airiness in summer (Rider 1965, 232).

Early settlers on the US Great Plains also were guided by celestial observation. The walls of their structures were usually aligned "straight north and south, east and west, with the help of the North Star on a clear night" (Welsch 1967, 337). Of course, the General Land Office rectangular land survey was also useful throughout much of the gently rolling land of the Midwest, where houses are oriented to cardinal compass points as determined by the survey. In this land of prevailing westerly winds, livestock buildings are normally sited east of the house. Robert Riley recognized this in his article "Square to the road, hogs to the east." He liked the idea so much he published two different articles in the same year in two different journals, but with the exact same title, a situation bound to confuse bibliographers! (Riley 1985a; Riley 1985b).

Although a west orientation has a negative connotation in many societies (Mukerji 1962, 32), in many others no such disability pertains. In northern Ghana entrances always faces west. "'Because it is forbidden to build otherwise' was the usual response to the writer's queries on this point" (Hunter 1967, 343). In fact, a westward orientation provides some protection against the frequent rainstorms that move from east to west there. A west orientation is also common in Madagascar (West 1951, 24).

A west or a north orientation in India also has some religious significance, and hence is also generally acceptable, although particular restrictions apply from place to place and in different communities. For example, Nagas avoid the west because this is the direction in which spirits go in death (setting sun?); Nayar caste houses must never face north or south; but in Bengal doors face south to avoid the sharp, cold northerly wind in winter and to get the benefit of soft southerly winds in summer (Crooke 1918, 134). Elsewhere in India, a south orientation is avoided since this is the direction of evil (Chand-hoke 1990, 176).

In other parts of the northern hemisphere, especially as latitudes increase, a southerly orientation is quite common, as it provides maximum sun exposure and warmth in winter (Hutslar 1971, 218). However, an early observer of rough dwellings in Texas cautioned prospective settlers to face their dwellings to the south to enable south breezes to pass through the house in the summer months (Robinson 1981, 43; quoting Viktor Bracht, Texas in 1848).

A corresponding northerly orientation is not found as often in the southern hemisphere, probably because of the more limited amount of land in its higher latitudes where the need for winter insolation would be most felt. One area where houses "are oriented with surprising rigidity and exactness to the north" is along the East African coast just south of the equator (Garlake 1966, 89). Although by this placement the houses benefit very slightly from winter sunlight, a more important reason for such orientation is the reception of cooling and prevailing winds throughout the year. A world away, in Guyana, an orientation to cooling winds also is common. Here it is to the northeast to catch, as much as possible, the northeast trade winds (Westmaas 1970, 135). In addition to the basic and immediate orientation of Japanese traditional houses to their garden, whenever possible the structures are "open to or face the south, so that they get the full benefit of the south winds of the summer monsoon and of the sun in the cooler season" (Trewartha 1945, 187).

Even such elementary structures as dugouts reflected a conscious orientation. Ann Carpenter (1979, 56) notes that in Texas the dugouts faced generally south, "both to benefit from summer breezes and to avoid north winter winds." A similar southerly orientation is found with early Pennsylvania stone houses, although the orientation is only generally southward to benefit from maximum sunshine and warmth in winter. The German-type barns, with a downslope overhang or forebay, also are oriented toward the south whenever possible. This arrangement permits maximum penetration of sunlight below the overhang and into the basement animal level (Barakat 1972, 11). A further benefit is the more rapid melting in winter of accumulated snow, lodged in front of animal doors, and additional light in dairy areas for milking operations.

In India, whenever possible dwellings faced eastward. The east is considered to be the direction of the gods and "all the religious acts, or acts of religiosity, have taken place in this direction" (Chandhoke 1990, 177). An orientation toward the west is next most popular, although it is difficult to identify the rationale. When necessary, dwellings may face north, but in most parts of India they must never clearly face south, which is the direction of death and evil spirits. A subtle but important point of Hindu geomancy modifies this prohibition. Any obstacle (house, tree, hill, or other) to the south of a house performs the function of negating the prohibition and in such a case the house may indeed face south.

Southerly orientation is encountered in a few areas of India for very different reasons (Noble 2003). In Tamil Nadu cooling southern breezes in summer and cold northern winds in winter override the ancient religious dogma, as does the south-facing warmer winter slopes in the Himalaya, around Dehra Dun (Subramanyam 1938, 174; Dikshit 1965, 43). India is only one of many countries where an elaborate geomancy has been practiced. Throughout Southeast Asia various forms of geomancy are observed; the principles of such divination probably have been refined to its greatest degree in China under the rubric of feng shui, which is briefly discussed above and in Chapter 12.

In the south of the Indonesian island of Bali the question of orientation is more complicated because it involves the entire residential compound rather than a single structure. The "house" in this part of Bali consists of several separate components (structures and spaces) enclosed on three sides by the compound wall. The various parts can be thought of as "rooms" rather than independent buildings or open spaces. Doors may face east, west or south, but just two directions are important. North is toward the central mountains, the abode of the gods, while south is towards the sea, the abode of the evil spirits (Howe 1983, 156). The entire compound is oriented toward the north and is loosely structured to a nine-point system, which some researchers have identified as a model of the Hindu cosmos. What is agreed by all is that the northeast corner is the most sacred space in the compound and the location of the family temple (Howe 1983, 140). Other components, e.g. sleeping rooms, kitchen, and reception area, are more flexible in location.

Muslims, too, are sometimes influenced by religious considerations in the orientation of their dwellings. For example, the elaborate reed huts of the Marsh Arabs in the Tigris-Euphrates delta are constructed to face towards Mecca (Petherbridge 1978, 201). A similar orientation to Mecca is found in Bedouin tents in Sudan, but elsewhere in the Sahara tent openings face west to provide early shade for morning activities (Prussin 1995, 24). Social hierarchy is also expressed by their location:

The tents of the shaykh's wives, for instance, are placed in a straight line, so that no one wife takes precedence over another; and the important social position of the shaykh's mother is indicated by positioning her tent at the end of the main line and some way forward of it. In Muslim dwellings in Bosnia, in central Yugoslavia, doors are ideally placed so that the back of the person entering should not be turned to the south-east, that is, towards Mecca. (Petherbridge 1978, 202)

Wind is, of course, an important factor in habitat orientation. Winds of extreme temperature, cold or hot, must be avoided, but cooling winds in summer and warming winds in winter are sought after. When the dwelling is moveable, such as with the tent of the Rabaris of western India (Shah 1980), orientation varies according to season. From December to the beginning of March, winds are from the northeast, but from March to June the winds blow from the southwest. See Chapter 13 for the seasonal movement of the Rabaris.

In the Ganges valley, houses generally face east or north, a fact often attributed to religious influence. However, as R.L. Singh (1957, 56) observes, "the easterly and northerly aspect appears to be related to the cool and rain bearing easterly and northerly winds, while hot and dusty westerly winds of summer are probably the restricting factor to such an aspect of the house".

Location and orientation are both aspects that deal with space and position. Although basically non-structural components of house design, they often influence, and sometimes determine, the other characteristics of a structure. Location is a consideration that usually has economic ramifications, while orientation often speaks to basic symbolic and religious aspects. Both are sensitive to physical and environmental constraints.

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  • dillon brown
    Why should livestock buildings be given eastward orientation?
    3 years ago

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