Roman Domestic Architecture: Domus

Throughout the Republican and the Imperial eras of ancient Rome, domus, was a specialized term for the house which the higher middle class of Roman society inhabited. The term domus originates from the Ancient Greek word domi which means structure, construction. Latin for house, domus referred to traditional Roman house which was a structure constructed for extended families and could be seen throughout major Roman cities. Domus reflected the lifestyle of the Romans and showed the socio-economic traits of the Roman realm. However, the Roman domus was not entirely consisting of only Roman characteristics but a rather mere combination of the Etruscan atrium and the traditional Greek house. Generally used as a private dwelling space for the Roman families, for certain occasions it was used as a gathering space in order to initiate business with the clients of the Roman families as well.

Even though, for this ancient dwelling type there was not a compulsory standard form, 8 domus per city block, insula, was commonly seen. A domus consisted of block of rooms with each of them having a particular usage accompanied by indoor courtyards and gardens. It was generally designed as free standing structure around colonnaded courts of one story high courtyard house not facing the streets and having looking inward. One could enter the domus through vestibulum, an entrance hall acting as a transitional space, which lead to atrium court which was acting as the focal point of the domus. With an open roof, atrium provided air circulation throughout the domus and let light in while creating a luminous interior. It also allowed rainwater into the domus which would then be collected in the sunken part of the atrium which is called impluvium made of marble for a later usage of drinking water or for the household usage. Atrium was the semipublic space for having guests which is why it was the most decorated area in the domus with walls covered with murals depicting narrative scenes and had portrait busts of the owner of the domus. Surrounding the atrium from both sides, enclosed spaces of the domus were functioning as bedrooms of the domus called cubiculum which were rather small rooms yet they were sometimes used as private meetings or libraries as well. Cubiculum was not decorated richly compared to the atrium of the domus. Cubiculum often had only a sleeping bed and a carbonized wooden chest for storage. After these cubicula, wings acting like open rooms on each side of the atrium called alea permitted a directionality inwards on the left and right sides of the atrium which then would lead to the triclinium at the corner of the atrium which translates into “three couch room” was the dining room of the domus. Dining room was an indication of wealth consisting of all-purpose piece of furniture for example a chair with a back mostly for the elderly, bronze adornments accompanied by wooden open bottom, wide dining couches for feasts. Like the atrium, walls of the triclinium were also covered with paint with the illustrations of mythological story. This feature of the domus clearly depicted the immateriality of the overall design of the domus introducing a new concept and variation. Across the atrium stood the study room called tablinum which was open from two sides enabling a visual accessibility between the atrium and the peristylium, the colonnaded garden in the further composition of the domus. Tablinum usually had a mosaic floor again accompanied by wall paintings in order to impress the clients. At the other side of the alea next to the tablinum stood the culinum the kitchen which was a dark room without a chimney causing the room to be filled with smoke. After one passed the tablinum came across with the peristylium an interior garden with an open roof much like the atrium was surrounded with row of columns supporting the roof. The garden was also connected with cubila and another triclinium on the same axis as the other triclinium connected with the alea. Being the attractive part of the domus, peristylium had sculptures, fountains and maybe even a fish pond for entertainment.  Just like the atrium, peristylium was also a source of light coming into the domus since the production of glass was not common the concept of windows was not applicable. The exedra at the other corner of the peristyle garden had wall paintings accompanied by a mosaic floor depicting mythological features was rather a more enclosed space compared to the garden. The overall design of the domus set on a rectangle containing different sizes of blocks divided into different sizes of grids. Within the exception of the peristylium the composition of the rooms is symmetrical from a longitudinal section. The exterior of the domus was constructed as brick and half-timber and was usually stuccoed and painted.


The architectural concept of domesticity is related to the home, the household and the family. Therefore, analyzing the Roman domestic architecture domus we come across with the suitable content of domesticity. Domesticity refers to dwelling in which the case of the domus is all about. Domesticity is shaped accordingly to the culture and the needs of the society. Public and private spaces are generated for that same reason. Whereas the public spaces are used commonly with other people with no relation to each other, domesticity is the end result of the need of a private space among the family. Therefore, a new concept, domesticity arises. After this proposal, specialized structures for families for a more private and intimate life is constructed just like in the example of the domus. In addition, these domestic dwelling spaces were embodied through the topographical features of the land they are on. The term housing comes to mind for domesticity. House is physical structure however house is more than a place. Domesticity articulates the way the family dwells inside a household. It is not just a combination of enclosed walls. Domesticity consists of home culture and the concept of the usage of the rooms.


Chinese Domestic Architecture: Diaojiaolou

Just like Roman domestic architecture of domus as an example of the concept domesticity, Chinese domestic architecture had similar specialized terms for house as well. Actually, the Chinese had more traditional houses compared to Roman domestic architecture. Siheyuan, similar to the domus, was a typical Chinese abode with rooms surrounding a court; hakka houses or earth houses were round houses with the aspect of defensive purposes and had no windows at ground level where people lived on higher floors. The list goes on and one. However, I want to focus on diaojiaolou which refers to wooden houses one can come across in southwest China while explaining the concept domesticity. Shaped by the ethnic minorities like Shui, Tujia, Miao, Zhuang, Dong and Buyi with great architectural mix, this special type of wooden houses were built above a creek or near a mountain with no foundations with only supporting wood pillars with two or three stories. Diaojiaolou means hanging attic which depicts its formation since it had to shaped according to the terrain. Ground floor served as storage whereas for the higher levels the family dwelled. Chinese lifestyle is greatly shaped by their beliefs and these beliefs reflect onto the houses as well. As mentioned before, domesticity is shaped by the culture of the society therefore it is merely familiar when faced with traces of religious beliefs throughout the diaojiaolou. Since it is constructed on a higher level it had an advantage of keeping away deadly wild animals and the encounter with humidity also decreases respectively which is was of preventing the spread of disease such as rheumatism. Also, for the higher levels the lightning becomes more dominant aiding people with their occupation with handcrafts with better brightness. This alienation from the ground level brought family members even closer and created a great domesticity for this type of housing.


Waterloo Lane House by TAKA

Constructed by TAKA Architects, an old Dublin garage was turned into an additional living space by adding rolling shutter instead of windows in order increase in size for a more comfortable dwelling. Through this operation while having light in, e level of privacy is increased for a more private dwelling which is the starting point domesticity. Also, adding some aesthetic properties to the garage the sense of a home is originated while interacting with the trees outside one could find an interaction with the nature in the case of searching the combination of domesticity with the sense of a livable space.