Most architects strive for the perfect floor plan. The H-shaped plan, in the vernacular hall house or often called the double-ended hall house, is particularly interesting. The roots of this lay out can be traced back to the medieval era of Northern Europe.
In these homes the hall was a large gathering space with a central hearth used for both heat and food preparation; sleeping quarters and functional storage were on the opposite ends. Wings perpendicular to either end of the hall formed the “H” and greatly increased its utility. The wings were private retreats from the public hall and its smoke and soot. These wings sometimes even functioned as entirely separate living quarters. What’s interesting is that the needs that gave rise to these design decisions still persist today. Let’s look at the benefits of an H-shaped layout.
Clear Separation of Public and Private Spaces
One of the most basic design priorities of any architect, designer or homeowner is the need for separation of public and private functions in a plan. In fact it was the genesis for the medieval variant over 500 years ago. An H-shaped plan naturally accomplishes this quite well.
Private wings sit at either end of a central hall, which is seen here rendered in glass. The central hall typically is used for gathering or circulation – the heart of the home. Here it’s used for both.
Meanwhile, the top hallway is used for circulation. The ability to have circuitous paths — across a sky bridge for example — in a floor plan not only provides spatial interest, but also enhances the feeling of privacy and separation.
Both levels of the hall physically link and unite the private wings, which themselves can be layered from public to private as well, depending on their location on the site and within the home. Meanwhile, the most private spaces, the bedrooms, are on the upper levels. Even the staircase follows this layering principle; it’s positioned close to the more public outdoor courtyard, leaving the private wood views for the bedrooms.
Unlike the more common U-shaped plan, the H-plan configuration creates two courtyard spaces. If the length of the the verticals in the “H” or the legs are varied, each courtyard can have a distinct feeling and focus.
The shorter side of the ‘H’ is seen here form a street-facing courtyard. The surrounding walls are more solid and screen the living areas in the central hall from the street. In a neighborhood setting, this kind of orientation makes good design sense.
By contrast the courtyard in back is glazed, open and permeable, which is a very different feeling than the street side. It’s a result of how the walls are treated as well as the dimensions of the ‘H’.
Longer sides of the ‘H’ result in a more focused view toward the end of the courtyard and a stronger sense of enclosure.
Reduced Apparent Size
When the building’s functional spaces are separated into wings, the overall impression of size can be minimized. Architects and designers use this trick frequently to make larger homes feel more approachable. This home’s 4,500-square-foot living area feels smaller because of the H plan. Sensibly dividing the spaces of the home between private and public and orienting them in an H-shaped configuration have resulted in a comfortably scaled, approachable home.
In this plan the hall has been reduced to a simple breezeway connecting the public living and private sleeping areas. The two-story private wing is situated to the north to shield views to a neighboring property, while the lower, public wing is positioned to the south to capture sunlight.
If the entire square footage had been in a single volume, the effect would have been of a much more imposing structure. Reducing the size, separating the spaces and using the breezeway to reconnect them have the added effect of refocusing the occupants on the rich, varied views of the surrounding site from the forest to the sea as they move through their daily routines.