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Houses on top of houses

I have noticed that I really am interested in houses on top of houses. Not apartment complexes, but separate houses built one on top of each other, almost randomly, stair-stepping up a hillside. I looked on Pinterest and discovered there are several such house-collections (Villages? Towns?) all across the world.

I’m not sure why I like this, since I value privacy and certainly didn’t like sharing walls with other people when I lived in a townhouse. You hear (and sometimes smell) everything your neighbors do. Sometimes the noises are very disturbing to the point that perhaps the police need to be called.

So why do I like this? I decided to dig deeper using these images.

The last picture I found was a big part of it. This is in Santorini, Greece.
Amalfi stairs

Steps on the outside of a building, attached to the wall. Something very intriguing to me here. You can come and go without anyone in the house knowing. Private access. You share a house, but not a life. Not all is revealed.

Yet also part of what I like with these large collections of houses is how does anyone get home? What is the “road” and what is your neighbor’s roof? Sometimes the two are the same.

This is in Masuleh, Iran
Masuleh Iran2

Closer –
Masuleh Iran

Here is Kandovan village, near Tabriz, Iran. It was constructed from a cave system.
Kandovan Iran
Kandovan Tabriz Iran
Kandovan Tabriz Iran2

This is in Turkey – Ortahisar.
Ortahisar Turkey

Here is El Aleuf, M’Zab, Iran. While not stacked on top of each other, it is still intriguing to me because the walls are all shared, like one house grew onto another. It looks like a nest or a hive, rather than a planned thing. More organic.
El Aleuf

Then there are shanty towns, barrios, favelas in Brazil.
favela Brazil

One got painted – it is Santa Marta. The people are still very poor, but at least their houses are beautiful.
favela Santa Marta Brazil

This is Cinque Terre, Nanarola, Northern Italy
Cinque Terre1
Cinque Terre2
Cinque Terre3
Cinque Terre4

This is on the Amalfi coast, Positano, Southern Italy
Almalfi Italy1

These are all Santorini, Greece

This is a Buddhist monastery, Phuktal, in Ladakh, India
Phuktal India1
Phuktal India2
Phuktal monastery Ladakh

Here are some similar ideas, of housing complexes that no longer exist. They are further from the main idea, but still close enough that they say something to it.

This is Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong
Kowloon China2

and this is Derinkuyu

How do you get home? What is it like to share walls and roofs with people? How well do you know them? Does living close create community? Or are people so close that they crave distance?

I like the ideas I’m reading about communal living, intentional communities, and cohousing.

I don’t think these are that at all. I think for most of these villages/towns they were unintentional – a lot of people wanted to live in the same place. Some had no choice – they were very poor and built wherever they could. Sharing a wall or a roof meant you didn’t have to build one. Some of these are very wealthy places – highly desired tourist destinations as well. Some are slums.

Yet they all share the same idea – shared houses, stacked on top of each other. No distinct roads or easy ways to get to your home.

How would you draw a map? How would you tell others how to get to your home?

Maybe that is part of the point – it is so hard to get there that you can get lost inside it, never worrying about people visiting you. You are hidden in plain sight. The very nature of it means that you have privacy, in a seemingly counter-intuitive way.

(All pictures are from Pinterest.)

2 thoughts on “Houses on top of houses

  1. Dear Betsy,

    You bring up a very good conversation starter – but none of them are cohousing. Cohousing is different than cooperative living, the communities include private homes AND one common house, and the creation of the community is consensus-based. Please read “Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities” by McCamant and Durrett for more information on what cohousing is. And please edit your blog to reflect the difference.


    The Cohousing Company


    • Dear Lindy –

      Thank you for your observation and for sharing more information. I believe with my statement of –

      “I like the ideas I’m reading about communal living, intentional communities, and cohousing. I don’t think these are that at all.”

      that I’ve said that these images are not what cohousing looks like.


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