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A street of British Victorian/Edwardian terraced homes.

In architecture and city planning, a terrace(d) or row house or townhouse (though the latter term can also refer to patio houses) is a style of medium-density housing that originated in Europe in the late 17th century, where a row of identical or mirror-image houses share side walls. The first and last of these houses is called an end terrace, and is often larger than those houses in the middle.

The terrace house has housed different parts of the social spectrum in western society. Originally associated with the working class, in modern times, historical and reproduction terraces have been widely associated with the process of gentrification.[1]



East side of the Place des Vosges, Paris. One of the earliest examples of terraced housing
Grosvenor Square, one of the earliest terraces in England

The terrace as a building style originated in Europe. In many cities terraced housing was favoured over the apartment building.

The practice of homes built uniformly to the property line began in the 16th Century and became known as "row" houses. "Yarmouth Rows" in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk is an example where applied to a narrow street where the building fronts uniformly ran right to the property line.

Row housing became the popular style in Paris, France. The Place des Vosges (1605 – 1612) was one of the earliest examples of the style. In Parisian squares, central blocks were given discreet prominence, to relieve the façade.


The term terrace was borrowed from garden terraces by English architects of the late Georgian period to describe streets of houses whose uniform fronts and uniform height created an ensemble that was more stylish than a "row".

In the United Kingdom

In England, the first streets of houses with uniform fronts were built by the Huguenot entrepreneur Nicholas Barbon in the rebuilding after the Great Fire of London. The Georgian idea of treating a row of houses as if it were a palace front, giving the central houses columned fronts under a shared pediment, appeared first in London's Grosvenor Square (1727 onwards; rebuilt) and in Bath's Queen Square (1729 onwards) (Summerson 1947).

Early terraces were also built by the two John Woods in Bath and under the direction of John Nash in Regent's Park, London, and the name was picked up by speculative builders like Thomas Cubitt and soon became commonplace. It is far from being the case that terraced houses were only built for people of limited means, and this is especially true in London, where some of the wealthiest people in the country owned terraced houses in locations such as Belgrave Square and Carlton House Terrace.

By the early Victorian period, a terrace had come to designate any style of housing where individual houses repeating one design are joined together into rows. The style was used for workers' housing in industrial districts during the great industrial boom following the industrial revolution, particularly in the houses built for workers of the expanding textile industry. The terrace style spread widely in the UK, and was the usual form of high density residential housing up to World War II, though the 19th century need for expressive individuality inspired variation of facade details and floor-plans reversed with those of each neighboring pair, to offer variety within the standardized format. Post-World War II, housing redevelopment has led to many outdated or dilapidated terraces being cleared to make room for tower blocks, which occupy a much lower area of land. Because of this land use in the inner city areas could in theory have been used to create greater accessibility, employment or recreational or leisure centres. However botched implementation meant that in many areas (like Manchester or the London estates) the towerblocks offering no real improvement for rehoused residents over their prior terraced houses.[2]

In 2005 the English Heritage report Low Demand Housing and the Historic Environment found that repairing a standard Victorian terraced house over thirty years is around sixty-percent cheaper than building and maintaining a newly-built house. In a 2003 survey for Heritage Counts a team of experts contrasted a Victorian terrace with a house built after 1980, and found that:

"The research demonstrated that, contrary to earlier thinking, older housing actually costs less to maintain and occupy over the long-term life of the dwelling than more modern housing. Largely due to the quality and life-span of the materials used, the Victorian terrace house proved almost £1,000 per 100 m2 cheaper to maintain and inhabit on average each year."

In Australia and New Zealand

Terraces in Fitzroy, Victoria that although partially repainted, exemplify the typical "Melbourne Style" of late Victorian terrace with polychrome brick and prominent parapet.
Terraces in Paddington, New South Wales exemplify the local variation found in Sydney. Large rows with taller with the dormer windows often appear to march up and down hills.

In Australia and New Zealand, the term "terrace house" refers almost exclusively to Victorian and Edwardian era terraces or replicas almost always found in the older, inner city areas of the major cities. Modern suburban versions of this style of housing are referred to as "town houses".

Terraced housing was introduced to Australia from the United Kingdom in the nineteenth century. Large numbers of terraced houses were built in the inner suburbs of large Australian cities, particularly Sydney and Melbourne, mainly between the 1850s and the 1890s (terraced housing is rare outside of these cities). The beginning of this period coincided with a population boom caused by the Victorian and New South Wales Gold Rushes of the 1850s and finished with an economic depression in the early 1890s. Detached housing became the popular style of housing in Australia following Federation in 1901.

Terraced housing in Australia ranged from expensive middle-class houses of three, four and five-storeys down to single-storey cottages in working-class suburbs. The most common building material used was brick, often covered with stucco. Many terraces were built in the "Filigree" style, a style distinguished through heavy use of cast iron ornament, particularly on the balconies and sometimes depicting native Australian flora. As some terraces were built speculatively, there are examples of "freestanding" and "semi-detached" terraces which were either intended to have adjoin terraces or the neighboring buildings were later demolished.

In the first half of the twentieth-century, terraced housing in Australia fell into disfavour and the inner-city areas where they were found were often considered slums. In the 1950s, many urban renewal programs were aimed at eradicating them entirely in favour of high-rise development. In recent decades these inner-city areas and their terraced houses have been gentrified. Terrace houses are now highly sought after in Australia, and due to their proximity to the CBD of the major cities, are often expensive.

With artificial urban boundaries, new townhouse type developments—often nostalgically evoking old style terraces in a post-modern style—returned to the favour of local planning offices in many suburban areas.

In the United States

The first terraced houses in the United States, were Carstairs Row in Philadelphia, designed by builder and architect Thomas Carstairs [3] circa 1799 through 1820, for developer William Sansom, as part of the first speculative housing developments in the United States.[4] Carstairs Row was built on the southern part of the site occupied by "Morris' Folly" – Robert Morris’ unfinished mansion designed by L'Enfant.[5] Prior to this time houses had been built not in rows, but individually. It can be contrasted with Elfreth's Alley, the oldest continuously occupied road in the U.S., where all the house are of varying heights and widths, with different street lines, doorways and brickwork.

Terrace housing in American usage generally continued to be called townhouses in the United States, with a distinctive type found in New York City, among other cities, called a brownstone. Some newer row houses, which are especially prominent in neighborhoods like Middle Village, Woodhaven and Jackson Heights in Queens and Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge, Canarsie and Marine Park in Brooklyn and Williamsbridge, wakefield, and soundview in The Bronx are commonly referred to locally as "attached houses"

In Philadelphia, Baltimore, San Francisco, and Washington DC, they are simply called row houses or row homes, and are very common. Despite the narrow lots, many row houses are relatively large, some being over 2,000 square feet.

In much of the Southern United States, they are referred to as row homes. In the United States the term commonly describes a two story, owner-occupied housing unit that shares a wall with one or more neighboring units.

In the Midwest and Great Plains (and often in Georgia), they are referred to as "townhomes." The term is not terribly specific, a townhome sometimes implies one side of a duplex that is owned.



In historic Philadelphia, almost the entire city is populated with various types of row houses. Many of Philadelphia's row houses date back to colonial times. The style and type of material used in constructing Philadelphia's row houses vary throughout the city. Most homes are primarily red brick in construction, with stone and marble accent. There are some communities in the city where the homes are built of solid granite, such as Mayfair in Northeast Philadelphia and Mt. Airy in Northwest Philadelphia.

New Orleans

Creole Townhouses, New Orleans French Quarter

New Orleans has a distinctive style of terrace house in the French Quarter known as the Creole Townhouse and are part of what makes the city famous. The facade of the building sits on the property line, with an asymmetrical arrangement of arched openings. Creole Townhouses have a steeply pitched roof, side-gabled, with several roof dormers. The exterior is made of brick or stucco.

San Francisco

Haight Ashbury. San Francisco
"Terraced" homes in San Francisco

San Francisco is also famous for its townhouses. The "Painted Ladies" on Steiner Street, Alamo Park, although not strictly "terraced" are a symbol of the city. Other homes labelled as painted ladies around the city are terraced and many others are semi-detached.

In Malaysia and Singapore

Shophouses in George Town, Penang.

Introduced around the beginning of the twentieth century, terraced houses (also known as linear linkhouses) have been adopted in both Malaysia and Singapore since the countries' early British colonial rule. Based on British terraced home designs, the Southeast Asian variations are similar to their British counterparts (in which the living quarters are located on the front and top floor and the kitchen at the back) and were adapted to accommodate the area's tropical weather, which is primarily warm throughout the year and receives heavy rainfall. Earlier versions were more open, designed to better circulate air and features inner courtyards, with a frontal yard, rear yard, or both. A typical Malaysian and Singaporean terraced house is usually one or two floors high, but a handful of three or four storey terraced homes exist, especially newer terraced houses. Earlier variations followed traditional Western, Malay, India and Chinese architecture, as well as Art Deco and International stylings between the 1930s and 1950s.

The manner in which the buildings were designed varies by their location in an urban area. Derivatives located within city centres may also utilize their space for both commercial on the ground floor and residential use on the first floor and above (accurately known as shophouses, also similar to Lingnan buildings). Inner city terrace house design tended to lack any frontal yard at all, with narrow street frontages, hence the building's structure directly erected in front of the road. One of the reasons behind this was the taxing according to street frontage rather than total area, thereby creating an economic motivation to build narrow and deeply. A five foot way porch was usually laid out at the ground floor for use by both the residents and pedestrians. Alternatively, the porch may be sealed from the rest of the walkway to serve as personal space. Such designs became less common after the 1960s.

Terrace houses located on the outskirts of city centres were less restrictive, although the design of the building itself was not unlike those in the city. Certain homes tend to feature longer front yards, enough to accommodate cars. Others strictly serve as a small garden. This design remained in demand throughout the twentieth century, and a construction boom of the house design occurred in Malaysia since the 1940s, with numerous housing estates consisting of terrace homes sprouting in and around cities and towns. In the process, the design of the building began to diversify, with various refinements and style changes. Generally, the building's floor space and yards become larger and more elaborate through time, as is the modernisation of exterior construction and facade.

Certain older terrace houses tend to be converted for various new roles; some are converted into shophouses or business premises (including clubs, hotels and boarding homes–especially pre-independence houses–and kindergartens). Others have remained in use as residential units, are abandoned, neglected, or razed. Significant expansions are also common on all terrace homes; roofs and additional rooms may be added within the floorspace of the house's lot. Concerns are also raised with the limited maintenance and monitoring of deserted terrace homes, which potentially become hiding places for rodents and snakes (in yards with overgrown grass), and drug addicts.

Earlier variations of the terrace house were constructed with wood, later replaced with a masonry shell holding wooden beams to form foundations for the upper floors and tiled roof. Contemporary variations are primarily held together with reinforced concrete beams, which are later completed with concrete slabs, brick walls and tiled roofs.

See also

Sources and further reading

  • Summerson, John, 1947. "John Wood and the English town-planning tradition" collected in Heavenly Mansions (1963).
  • Summerson, Georgian London.
  • Chen, The Encyclopedia of Malaysia, Volume 5 (1998).
  • Hayward, Mary Ellen; Belfoure, Charles (2001). The Baltimore Rowhouse. Princeton Architectural Press. ISBN 9781568982830.  
  • Howells, T. Morris, C. Terrace houses in Australia. The Rocks, N.S.W. : Lansdowne, 1999. ISBN 1863026495


  1. ^ William, Logan (1985). The Gentrification of inner Melbourne - a political geography of inner city housing. Brisbane, Queensland: University of Queensland Press. pp. 36. ISBN 0-7022-1729-8.  
  2. ^ DUNLEAVY, Patrick: The Politics of Mass Housing in Britain in 1945-75. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1981
  3. ^ Carstairs, Thomas (1759?-1830) - Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  4. ^ Untitled Document
  5. ^ National Park Service - Signers of the Declaration (Robert Morris)

External links


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