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The One Wall House

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By “one wall”, I don’t mean this, clever though it is.

Or this, much as I like it despite it going against everything misfits stands for.


I was thinking more of something I found recently, in the book “Learning From Vernacular – Towards a New Vernacular Architecture” by Pierre Frey.


It’s a house with a single structural wall acting as a party wall, with end walls being less expensive and adaptable/customisable infill walls. Here’s a patent drawing for a house with one wall, submitted by one Adolf Loos in 1921.

"Ornament is still crime!!!"

Loos is wrongly remembered as the crazy syphillis guy who, like most European intellectuals of the time, had an intellectual crush on Josephine Baker. History books imply that Josephine Baker commissioned Loos to design this house for her.


As crushes go, probably not, I’d wager. But Loos was not some lone stalker. Here’s a photo circa 1936 of a dapper Corby ‘throwing some ‘shapes” in white shoes and bow tie next to a very static Mlle Baker. As yet, no alternative Josephine Baker house designs have come to light. Far left is the shapemaster’s cousin Pierre with the distinctive Jeanneret nose, balding pattern and spectacles. Dunno who the other dudes are. Her “people”, probably. The modern world’s not that modern. 


By the way, we don’t know if Loos met Joséphine Baker, but we do have the certainty that Le Corbusier did (and probably knew her quite well). They met at a cruise returning from South America, and that trip resulted in a bunch of sketches of her, dressed and nude.  The architect later included them in his book “Precisions on the Present 

State of Architecture and City Planning” (1930), and used them to talk about concave and convex curves. But that is another story…

Excellent work, metalocus! This is what the internet is for. Baker was a colourful character in colourful times and so gets remembered for her banana skirt and not her compassionate humanitarian interests. Same with Loos. His important contribution to Vienna’s huge social housing program is ignored. History is just one big blog that likes an anecdote. In the years between 1923 and 1934, 61,175 apartments in 348 housing blocks and 5,227 apartments in 42 terraced house developments were built in Vienna.

adolf loos one wall house
Loos social housing Vienna

Loos’ proposal wasn’t so crazy. More so than any other time since WWII, it’s probably easier for us to understand where Loos was coming from with the integrated garden and composting system. These days, we’d call it off-grid.

I don’t know if the patent was ever awarded, but the same principle has been used many times since. One problem with the one-wall house is lateral stiffening. In many of the examples below, lateral stability is provided by a staircase between stiffening (as opposed to load-bearing) walls running across the width of the house, with additional lateral stability provided by the end walls.

Here’s a different take on the one wall house and the problem of lateral stiffening – the circular hakka houses of the Han people in southern China. Here, the houses themselves are flimsy self-supporting structures that, being arranged in a circle, would require little lateral stiffening anyway.

hakka section

Wind resistance and structural stability is provided by the circular peripheral wall that originally served a defensive purpose.

If you visit Fuyulou in Fujiyan, China, you can stay in one. Live the dream.


The Han houses are interesting because the circular wall is a very efficient stiffening element. I’ve no idea what they were up against but they might have been able to make them much thinner had it not for their defensive function. Nice solution.

square han house

However, a square plan coexisted so, although the structural efficiency is part of the story, there’s probably more to it than that. At the very least, the circular, load-bearing, wind-resistant and structurally-stable wall is a nice idea that might still be applicable somewhere. It’s just another device in the architect’s bag of tricks.

A one wall house can also be made from a spiral wall which has much the same advantages along most of its length. Here’s how to use a spiral wall to make a pit latrine.


Of course, Bruce Goff’s Bavinger House is still the daddy of all spiral walls although, sadly, the benefits of its structural stability and wind-load resistance are never discussed.


I’m not mentioning the minaret of the Great Mosque of Samarra (circa 848AD) because I suspect it’s solid inside and it’s not a wall we’re seeing. Nice though.

great mosque of samarra

Instead, and lowering the tone considerably, I offer this. Maybe it’s a twisted box beam but how many people really care? And how frequently? We obviously need a website user engagement algorithm to find out.

User Engagements On Modern Spiral Wall Exterior And Garden Of Remarkable Spiral House Design In Finland

Since its upload date, this Appealing modern spiral wall exterior and garden of remarkable spiral house design in Finland photograph, obtained flattering response based on Bruvon’s User Engagement Algorithm, which computed from the accumulations of Social engagement and Local engagements.

From the social spheres, this Architecture inspiring decor gains 50 tweets in twitter and 382 pins into pinterest. From facebook it achieves 296 shares and 018 likes while it’s also being shared 250 times on Google+. Locally, the modern spiral wall exterior and garden of remarkable spiral house design in Finland got 2,346 views, and 2,070 of them downloaded it and the other 395 users rated this 46 out of 100.

There you Have it – what we’ve been Suspecting for a while. Architectural criticism is now officially redundant. I think I’ll go have a little lie-down and think about what to do next.


    • Josh, I’d say probably not. There’s lots of picturesque examples of vernacular architecture from around the world and a few examples of contemporary low-cost buildings in Africa etc. but not much insight into the what the principles of vernacular architecture are or how we might be able to be able to apply them to our buildings where we are.

      The attraction of vernacular architecture for me is that it generally extracts maximum climatic and/or spatial enclosure performance using whatever materials and techniques are at hand. There’s little experimentation with shape or structure. What works, works because it’s always worked and is difficult to make better.

      Just to make sure I’m not being harsh, I’ll read the end of the book once more Josh and once I’m done you can have it and judge for yourself so let me know where to send it. Cheers.

      • says:

        Ah I thought it might have been a little like that.

        Thanks Graham, though I dont want to trouble you with posting it internationally!

        Are there any books you’d recommend that do tackle the topic well? Or just generally any books you think would be worth looking at. Im running out of Asimov to read over the semester break!

        Thanks again,


      • I’ll continue looking for books on the subject but for now, the architects who are probably closest to what we have in mind are Lacaton & Vassal. If I find a book of collected writings I’ll let you know. In the meantime, their website has a list of magazines their buildings have been published in, with downloadable pdfs. I remember reading this one but this one is also good. They know what they are doing. i.e. creating a lot of space with very little. They’ve actually been criticised by other architects for this approach, for somehow ‘degrading’ architecture. It’s an odd business, architecture.