Load-bearing, single-wall constructions from shanties to Structural Insulated Panels Academic Article uri icon


  • The box-type or single-wall construction was a widespread form of owner-built shelter in America, from the earliest plank-wall constructions of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to single-wall plantation style houses in Hawaii today. That the single-wall was constructed in climatic zones as diverse as the snowy windswept high mountain boomtowns like Bodie, California and the hot humid coastal plain of Central Texas is testimony to the versatility of the singlewall method as basic shelter. The single-wall, also called the shanty, escaped documentation in the popular press and publications by the American Building Culture, which focused on the innovations of the balloon and platform frame to the point where the singlewall, the most prevalent form of "do-it-yourself shelter since the log cabin, is virtually invisible in the historical record. This paper presents a study and digital reconstruction of a post-civil-war single-wall type of structure, using surviving examples, anecdotes, and recorded anthropological data to illustrate the principles and details of this form of construction, and compare them to Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian wall and contemporary Structural Insulated Panel constructions.

author list (cited authors)

  • Obrien, M. J.

publication date

  • October 2013