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Architecture of Pandemics

by Jim Pfeifer

The architecture of Hillcrest is considered highly diverse, but more than half of the nearly 1,500 single family homes in the neighborhood have something in common. The “porch”, a word derived from the Latin porta (gate) and the French porche (vestibule), may be Hillcrest’s most definitive architectural feature. During Hillcrest’s early development, the porch was a place to cool off in summer heat before domestic air conditioning was available. It added an attractive design feature to the home where residents could enjoy the views and socialize with neighbors.

Promotion of health and safety has always been a goal of most American architects and homebuilders, and the history of our housing design reflects this. A highly contagious disease called Tuberculosis (TB) was one of the leading causes of death in Arkansas when much of Hillcrest was developed. It killed 160,000 in the United States in 1908, with two-thirds of those between the ages of 15 and 30; and Arkansas still had a higher than average rate of TB into the mid-20th century. Fresh air and maximum ventilation were considered important in containing the spread of TB, and some thought these factors to be curative. Early advertising by developers boasted that residents of the higher and healthful elevations of Hillcrest and the Heights would be “looking down on those who are broiling and sweltering with the heat and breathing contaminated air.” Porches, including second story “sleeping porches,” became an architectural response to this dread disease by some home builders, and this feature became important to buyers for health reasons. Screen was often added to porches to further their hygienic value by preventing insect bites.

New medications controlled TB, and porches lost some of their popularity with development of domestic air conditioning; however, a new health issue, Covid-19, has unexpectedly brought renewed interest in our porches. They have served many of us as settings to safely distance from visiting friends and relatives in the midst of a pandemic. The historic porches of Hillcrest have seen increased use over the past year. Some of the diverse porches of Hillcrest are pictured here.


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