“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.
PHILOSOPHER (106 BC – 43 BC)
MARCUS TULLIUS CICERO
Introduction: Understanding the architecture of the Roman house requires more than simply appreciating the names of the various parts of the structure, as the house itself was an important part of the dynamics of daily life and the socio-economy of the Roman world. The house type referred to as the domus (Latin for “house”) is taken to mean a structure designed for either a nuclear or extended family and located in a city or town. The domus as a general architectural type is long-lived in the Roman world, although some development of the architectural form does occur. While the sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum provide the best surviving evidence for domus architecture, this typology was widespread in the Roman world.
While there is not a “standard” domus, it is possible to discuss the primary features of a generic example, keeping in mind that variation is present in every manifest example of this type of building. The ancient architectural writer Vitruvius provides a wealth of information on the potential configurations of domus architecture, in particular the main room of the domus that was known as the atrium or Courtyard.
In the classic layout of the Roman domus, the atrium/Courtyard served as the focus of the entire house plan. As the main room in the public part of the house, the atrium/Courtyard was the centre of the house’s social and political life. The head-of-household would receive their clients on business days in the atrium/Courtyard, in which case it functioned as a sort of waiting room for business appointments. Those clients would enter the atrium/Courtyard from a narrow entry passageway that communicated with the street. That doorway would be watched, in wealthier houses, by a doorman. Given that the atrium was a room where invited guests and clients would wait and spend time, it was also the room on which the house owner would lavish attention and funds in order to make sure the room was well appointed with decorations. The corner of the room might sport the household shrine and the funeral masks of the family’s dead ancestors might be kept in small cabinets in the atrium. Communicating with the atrium might be bed chambers, side rooms or wings,
Drawing inspiration from this ancient typology, Our Roman Haus is located in a quiet cul-de-sac in Highgate Village, within an award winning development in the Highgate Conservation Area back in the 1960’s. Our clients wished to extend and update the layout of the house, which is arranged three split level floors. As part of our proposal, we respected the existing 1960’s massing, retaining the front facade and continuing the existing mass of the rear facade to create an enclosed courtyard. We wanted to respect the forward thinking architecture of the 1960’s development so we kept as closely to that as possible, This was also welcomed by the planners,
The courtyard was re-modelled with slim line glazing allowing the interior and exterior spaces to be merged so there is a seamless transition between living spaces and garden, flush flooring further reinforces the link between inside and out. A secret doorway hidden behind a custom bookshelf leads to a cinema room which also enjoys views over the courtyard.
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Photography by Richard Chivers @richchivers
Ford Model: Daniel Woolfson