I’m drawn to building types that are flexible, developed incrementally and unitary in design. The American Dogtrot house as a historical style carries these attributes and I think it is worth exploring for the straightforward design and performance features it offers. The style has transcended frontier utilitarianism, recently becoming a framing device for embracing the landscape.

Community Center with center dogtrot, Michael Hsu Architecture
Dogtrot in Cherokee Alabama, Library of Congress

Dogtrot Houses were mainly built mainly in the American Southeast in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The standout feature of the houses is the open breezeway running through the house, often directly in the center. This open hall passage provided excellent passive cooling, making them popular in the south. Most interesting to me however is that the center passage suggests an incremental building system, and often the original northern examples came about in exactly that way – a result of phased building process, growing over time as the building learned through ongoing use and expansion. In those cases the dogtrot house would be built as follows: a small cabin with a gable roof would need expansion to meet the needs of the settler inhabitants. Since the logs cabins could not be easily added to, a cabin of the same proportions would be built in line with the walls of the original, but set apart, leaving a space for the breezeway. The second cabin was often used as a kitchen to separate the cooking away from the living quarters. With the second cabin in place, the roof of the first cabin would be extended over the second structure spanning the breezeway. The resulting three part structure would often leave open the middle section as an in-between porch, an interstitial area with many practical uses, or even a place to pull in wagons for repairs. Later on, porches might be added along the length of the house. In many dogtrots, this center porch passage would eventual get enclosed, a further incremental modification that would cut off air channel that provided passive cooling to the structure and turn it into a fully enclosed living space that made winter time heating of the whole structure much easier.

Child of Ed Baggett, sharecropper, walking through open space in dog trot cabin near Laurel, Mississippi | Library of Congress

The type is being resurrected and reframed in current practice. Rural Studio for instance has developed and revitalized the dogtrot in several house projects, placing the breezeway off-center within a gabled longhouse design to allow for second living spaces to provide rental income. The dogtrot has also become high end, suited to indoor-outdoor living, and now often inclusive of a breezeway fireplace that shares a common chimney with one of the indoor rooms.

Rural Studio, Case Study Dogtrot

Dogtrot in Orange County Virginia, 2001. Jim Rounsevell Architecture

Dogtrot in Jackson, Wyoming, 2018. CLB Architects