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Last updated: April 19, 2021 • Traveling Around the World

Traditional Houses Around the World

From the basic houses of Africa to the traditional houses of Japan, I’m going to be your guide from and will take you on a short architectural tour around the world. This will be a lot of fun and I hope you will find it helpful for your future real estate investments. So welcome aboard! Imaginary plane tickets are on the house!

Whenever I traveled, I used to take tons of pictures. No, not selfies… but pictures of buildings and houses. When I arrived in a new city, I would walk the streets hunting for the next architectural gem. Didn’t you do the same during your travels?

For example, in my last visit to Decin (Czech Republic), I was impressed by the beautifully landscaped gardens in front of the little houses located up the hill from the train station. I felt like locals were fighting for the “Best Garden in Town” title – everyone was trying to make the place more beautiful and that gave me such a nice feeling!

I think we are all fascinated by other people’s way of living. No doubt that traditional houses and local architecture can even attract tourists from all over the world. Think about Barcelona or Santorini…

Discover the Beauty of Traditional Houses

Culture and tradition influence the exterior appearance of a house, but also the interior partitions. When more buildings respect the same design principles in one area and create a visually pleasing picture to look at, then you can call that building a traditional house specific to that area, or to that ethnic group. While inserting certain cultural elements into the design of a house is done for artistic purposes, imitating a traditional house from foundation to the roof in a different territory that has no other similar buildings turns it into an architectural kitsch and lack of respect for the community. A challenge for most architects will be to artistically integrate new fast and cheap building technologies, like 3D printing, into their work. Will 3D printed homes become the new traditional house? Who knows?

As we jump from one continent to another, you’ll see that most traditional houses around the world were built from locally available materials, some very unconventional, but sustainable, in great harmony with nature. This is why we should appreciate those who still live in traditional houses.

Traditional Houses Around the World Tour. First Stop: AFRICA

Traditional house in Kenya

So, dear passengers, you may unlock your seatbelts and drink a gallon of water. We have just landed on a hot and dry continent full of contrasts. The 1.2 billion inhabitants still carry on the same well-known fights and struggles, slowing down economic development. The good news is that more and more Africans have access to education. “Between 1990 and 2012, the number of children enrolled in primary schools more than doubled, from 62 million to 149 million children,” writes The Africa-America Institute in a report on the state of education in Africa from 2015.

In an optimistic scenario, as the level of education will increase, demand for real estate assets (more or less traditional houses and commercial buildings) might exceed supply. Until then, apart from the big cities, the real estate market is practically nonexistent.

Most of the traditional houses will be simple, providing one room for the whole family. This is the reality for many living far from an urban area. Houses made of clay (adobe homes), straws, or woven palm leaves or other botanical parts provide shelter for many families. Raw materials are bound together like a cover for the burning soil. And nobody seems to desire a bigger or a more luxurious home than his neighbors.

They don’t need real estate agents to sell this kind of dwellings since anyone can build their own house in one day.

manyatta house in kenya

For example, the Maasai tribe in Kenya live in manyatta, a grouping of small homes made from mud, cow dung and sticks.

In Uganda, houses are circular and covered with a straw roof.

In Rwanda, you shouldn’t be surprised to find houses build out of banana leaves.

In South Africa, the traditional houses are the Zulu Huts (made of thatch grass, Acacia, Ficus, and other trees) and the Straw Huts, which are round houses made of clay and covered with large domes of straws.  

In spite of their poverty and primitivity, children still put a smile on their faces. Life and joy find a way and there is a lot of hope for the future. Africa’s economies are rising and there are many successful high-end real estate developments for the next generation. Now back on the plane for our next stop.

Traditional Houses Around the World Tour. Second Stop: ASIA

Rumah Gadang traditional house in Indonesia
Rumah Gadang

Asia is the continent of extreme weather – from scorching temperatures in the South to freezing temperatures in Siberia.

Traditional houses are designed to provide comfort for the inhabitants, but even more so in Asia. Religion and mysticism have also shaped the buildings in this part of the world. I’m pretty sure you have heard about the beautiful temples of Indonesia, India, and Thailand.

In Japan, traditional houses are called Minka. They are famous for their tatami floors and sliding doors.

In Mongolia, the traditional house is called Yurt or Ger. It is a circular tent covered with skins or felt, while inside it is full of color and patterns rich in symbolism.

In Bangladesh, houses on stilts are very common. Stilt houses made of bamboo turned out to be very practical for a country crossed by so many rivers.

In Thailand, houses are made of bamboo and wood as well. A traditional Thai house is usually raised on poles, protecting it from wildlife and the monsoon floods.

In India, diversity is the only similarity. Interior or exterior courtyards are important for socializing and for keeping the rooms cooler through ventilation. In the middle of the concrete jungles, two traditional forms of dwellings are worth mentioning: the Havelis of Rajasthan and the Bhungas of Kutch. Among the materials used for Havelis, one can find baked bricks, wood, granite, and even marble! Most facades display intricately carved patterns. Besides their artistic value, carvings also provide additional shadow, keeping the walls cooler. Bhungas, in contrast, are simple round houses with a thatched roof – a design that proved climate responsive, but also very safe in earthquakes and storms.  

In Indonesia – the beauty of Rumah Gadang is hard to equate. Inhabited by the Minangkabau ethnic group, these traditional houses can be found on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia.

In Turkey, the region of Cappadocia takes you to the stone age. Yes, here people still live in cave houses, carved in stone! No doubt they also attract lots of tourists every year.

In the Middle East conflicts have been devastating the real estate markets of Syria, Iraq and their neighbours, no doubt about it. Who can live without fear in a neighbourhood where a terrorist attack can occur any moment? No wonder thousands flee and leave their traditions behind, hoping to get a better life on the other shores of the Mediterranean sea.

When it comes to modern day’s real estate markets, the Asia-Pacific region boasts more and more high-net-worth individuals and investments rose to $158 billion in income-producing real estate in 2017, according to a PWC report.

I know Asia is so tempting, but please don’t spend all your money here! We have three more stops to make!

Traditional Houses Around the World Tour. Third Stop: EUROPE

Trulli Alberobello traditional houses Italy

Dear passengers, welcome to Europe! Home to over 741 million people, Europe is a blend of cultures, as migration from east to west is a constant. Add in the mix the migration crisis that has hardly hit the countries around the Mediterranean sea, and you will find a very reluctant population that embraces tradition and homogeneity. Europe is the birthplace of some great architects and artists and they have left a precious architectural inheritance. But when it comes to traditional housing, if you ever cross the continent, make sure you will visit some of these amazing places

In Southern Spain, Castellfollit de la Roca is a picturesque village, with houses built on the edge of a cliff.

On the heel of Italy’s boot, you will find the trullis of Alberobello – a white and bright village, preserved by UNESCO. All those conical roofs made of stone will take your breath away.

Chalets are a traditional house design encountered in the Alps, especially in Austria, Switzerland, and France. Small or large, these are built with a lot of wood, but on a strong foundation.

In Germany, the traditional Middle German Houses will delight your eyes. These are timber-framed farmhouses, built for the first time in the Middle Ages. If you will ever fly through Frankfurt Airport, take the time to visit the city center – you will see some right there, near the City Hall.

Surprisingly, German architecture found a way to Eastern Europe, especially to Romania – in  Brasov, in the citadel of Sighisoara or in the UNESCO World Heritage village of Viscri. But did you know that Oradea and Timisoara are the only two Romanian cities included in the Art Nouveau European Route?

Brugge city center traditional architecture

But one of the most famous traditional houses are in the Netherlands. Narrow and tall, with big windows, extremely crowded on the little patch of dry land available, dutch houses are aesthetically good looking rather than practical, especially in Amsterdam. Equally magical is the well-preserved UNESCO World Heritage city of Brugge in Belgium (photo).

Now, flying North, I wonder if you’ll be able to spot the turf houses in Iceland. Well covered with green turf, these traditional dwellings blend perfectly in the landscape, hiding from the cruel cold winds of the North. Similar constructions can also be found in Scotland, Norway, and Greenland.

Back in the South, the island of Santorini is famous for its architecture as well. Clean simple whitewashed houses, blue-domed churches, and paved paths – all add to the romantic feeling of this place, pushing it among the best honeymoon destinations.

The EU economy is doing great right now, growing at its fastest pace in a decade, so the real estate market is flooded with optimism, even though prices remain very high.

What? You don’t want to leave? Dear passengers, the gates are closing right now, I’m sorry! Welcome on this long haul flight to Brazil!

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Traditional Houses Around the World Tour. Fourth Stop: LATIN AMERICA

Chiloe Island colorful palafitos
Chiloe Island, Chile

Before we land, let me give you some facts and figures. Over 645 million people need a dwelling to reside in on this continent. Apartment buildings have become the norm and many cities are developing vertically, especially in Brazil and Argentina.  However, with the lack of a proper urban planning, the buildings appear chaotical and overcrowded.

What about their traditional houses?

Favelas traditional houses in Rio de Janeiro

In Rio de Janeiro, the dangerous favelas are covering the hills. These provide housing for low-income families and crime has always been a problem.

In Peru, two or more stories adobe houses can be found in the Andean highlands.

On the Chiloe Island of Chile, people live in colorful wood cottages called palafitos, preferred for their seismic resistance. Wood and wood tiles are common building materials in Patagonia, as well.

In Mexico, Spanish colonial style homes and haciendas are widely spread.

Cuba is famous for its houses painted in bright colors and for the colonial architecture.

The two largest economies of this continent – Brazil and Mexico – attract most real estate investors. They are perceived more stable and predictable than the others. And even more predictable is our last stop of this tour. So, brace yourselves! We are about to land in the United States of America!

Traditional Houses Around the World Tour. Last Stop: NORTH AMERICA

Traditional Gothic style house in North America
The Gothic style

According to an HSBC report, North America contains only 7% of the global population but
22% of all residential property assets by value. Over 365 million peoples look for a place to live on this continent. An El Dorado full of opportunities, many have risked their lives to reach this new land. However, it would be interesting to see how traditional American houses have been shaped by different architectural currents over the years.

The log cabins – the traditional American house of the middle Atlantic colonies, a couple of centuries ago.

The Georgian houses – popular in all colonies during the 18th century.

The Gothic style  – especially in rural areas, this style borrows shapes and ornaments from the facades of Gothic churches.

The Second Empire style – between 1852 and 1870, French architect François Mansart made the mansard roof popular, so this is the defining element for this style.

The Colonial style – one of the widest spread and beloved styles for traditional American houses, followed by the “McMansions” of the 20th century.

Other traditional dwellings are the Pueblo houses in the Southwestern part of the United States. Featuring thick walls, the interiors remain cool during the hottest days of the year.

Let’s not forget about the traditional houses of Native Americans – the conical tents called tepee (tipi in Canada) or the domed houses called wigwam.

Chickee huts are also a form of dwelling built by Native Americans, largely across Florida.

Igloo traditional house of Inuits

The igloo is a fascinating traditional house built by Inuits. An Igloo’s shape is still widely replicated by other traditional houses around the world. An experienced builder can finish an igloo in one hour, while others need more than six hours to build one. Do you think that people in Alaska and Northern Canada still live in Igloos? Not anymore. Nevertheless, igloo homes are still being built in emergency situations or to provide temporary accommodation and protection.

Dear passengers, with this, our tour of houses around the world comes to an end. I hope you have found something new or something useful. After all, knowledge is one of your most valuable assets! The more you know about traditional houses around the world and about architectural currents and styles, the easier you will spot properties worth investing in. But at, when one tour ends, another one starts. Please get in line for the next free tour: Best Cities to Live in the USA.

If by any chance we have missed a great place, leave a comment!


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