Faculty of architecture Czech Technical University in Prague, CR
The aim of the paper is to oer a comparison between a burgher’s
house and a modern townhouse. The current townhouse is
a type of family, higher townhouse with more living rooms.
Usually with three or more ﬂoors. The height signiﬁcantly
exceeds the width of the house. Townhouse is a type of family
urban house with a strong connection to public space. This
is an example of a low rise, high density housing. In Czech
environment, townhouses are known in the form of burgher’s
houses, which, like contemporary townhouses, oered life in the
city and combined a place for both living and work. Over time,
there was a great emphasis on representation the homeowner.
A comparison of a burgher‘s house and a townhouse shows their
common characteristics. Pointing out why the townhouse is
typologically connected to the burgher house and why no other
type of family houses is based on it. The comparison is made
on a scale of the city, house, ﬂat and room, but also within the
target group of inhabitants. The result of this part of the research
is the answer to two questions: Why is the burgher house of
typological predecessors of the modern townhouse? What can
we learn from it when designing a modern townhouse, focused
on the urban environment of the Czech Republic?
Cílem příspěvku je nabídnout srovnání mezi historickým
měšťanským domem a novodobým townhousem. Současný
townhouse je typ rodinného, vyššího městského řadového domu
s více obytnými místnostmi. Obvykle se třemi a více podlažími.
Výška výrazně převyšuje šířku domu. Townhouse je typ
rodinného městského domu se silnou vazbou na veřejný prostor.
Jedná se o příklad nízkopodlažní zástavby s vysokou obytnou
hustotou. U nás jsou townhousy známy v podobě měšťanských
domů, které jako současné townhousy, nabízely život ve městě a
kombinovaly místo jak pro bydlení, tak i pro práci. Postupem času
byl kladem i velký důraz na reprezentaci. Srovnání měšťanského
domu a townhousu ukazuje na jejich společnou charakteristiku.
Poukázání, proč zrovna townhouse typologicky na měšťanský
dům navazuje a proč jiný druh rodinných domů z něj nevychází.
Srovnání je provedeno v měřítku města, domu, bytu a místnosti,
ale také v rámci cílové skupiny obyvatel. Výsledkem této části
výzkumu je zodpovězení dvou otázek: Proč je měšťanský dům
typologických předchůdcem townhousu? Co se z něho můžeme
naučit při návrhu novodobého townhousu, zacílené na prostředí
Townhouse is a type of family, higher urban terraced house with
more living rooms. Usually with three or more ﬂoors. The height
signiﬁcantly exceeds the width of the house. Townhouse is a
type of family urban house with a strong connection to public
space. This is an example of a low rise, high density housing.
In the Czech Republic, townhouses are known in the form of
burgher house, which, like contemporary townhouses, oered
life in the city and combined a place for both living and work.
At present, we do not ﬁnd many realizations of townhouses
in the Czech Republic. The construction is hindered mainly by
A Burgher‘s House as a Prototype of a Modern Townhouse
Měšťanský dům jako předobraz novodobého townhousu
complicated legal legislation and ignorance of this typology.
However, the aim is to point out that the modern townhouse
is the predecessor of the burgher house and that urban living
in family houses has a long tradition in the Czech environment.
The result of this paper is part of the research, which is used
to ﬁnd suitable models of townhouses targeted at the Czech
The comparison is made within 3 periods of the historical
development of the burgher house. From the Gothic, Baroque
and Renaissance periods and compared to the modern
townhouse in the world, from the 20th and 21st centuries. The
individual periods of development of a burgher house with a
modern townhouse were analyzed in 4 scale levels. At the level
of the city, house, ﬂat, and room. The distribution of these levels
is based on the Certiﬁed Methodology „Sociální bydlení: Příprava
projektů” (2017). In the analysis and in the overall comparison, it
focused only on the spatial aspects of houses. At the city level,
this is the overall character of the development, in terms of
typology, involvement of houses in the development, parcelling
and height of the development. Within the open space, it
is mainly a public space to which the houses are oriented
and shared spaces. The last parameter of the comparison is
transportation. At the level of the house, the composition of
the ﬂat units and the entrances to the houses were compared.
At the level of the ﬂat, the focus was on the composition of the
ﬂat within the hierarchy of the degree of privacy and then the
arrangement of rooms, which determine the width and length of
houses. An important and further level of comparison was also
made within the target group of residents who live in the burgher
house or in the current townhouses. At the end of this part of the
paper is the answer to the question: What can we learn from a
burgher house when designing a modern townhouse, aimed at
the environment of the Czech Republic?
The second comparison is focused on the comparison of
individual typologies of family houses with a burgher house
and the current townhouse. An important parameter of the
comparison is the parcelling of houses and involvement of
houses in the development, the relationship to public space,
storeys and, last but not least, the arrangement of rooms. The
result of this comparison is the answer to the question: Why is the
burgher house of typological predecessors of the townhouse?
3 A Burgher‘s House as a Prototype of a Modern
The townhouse (Fig.1) is an urban family terraced house. It
Townhouse Berlin - Friedrichswerder, Germany
68 is mainly a low rise, high density housing, which has a strong
relationship with public space.
The townhouse is a family house, which is characterized by its
location on narrow plots. This parcelling of house also aects
the dispositional arrangement inside the townhouse (Friedman,
2012). It is an urban individual form of housing with an individual
entrance from a public space and with its own outdoor space.
According to the type of development, we rank townhouses
among terraced houses (Kohout, 2014).
Currently, townhouses are most widespread, especially in
Western Europe. In Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and the
United Kingdom, where urban housing is widespread.
In the Czech Republic, townhouses are known in the form of
burgher houses (Fig.2). Burgher’s houses began to appear in
Czech territory in the 12th century and their construction is
primarily associated with urbanization and settlement of the
Czech landscape. Why people moved to cities was trade and
handicrafts (Dulla, 2014).
Cities originated mainly at the crossroads of important trade
routes (Homann, 2009). The individual plots of houses were
perpendicular to the roads and the main facade was oriented
to the street or to the square. Every builder’s eort was to make
his house oriented to the street precisely because of trading and
the operation of the craft. This economic pressure resulted in
a very dense urban development of cities (Staňková, Voděra &
A mutual comparison of a burgher’s house across history and
a modern townhouse can be seen in (Tab. 1). Both of these
houses represent an urban family house and oer their owner,
a builder, housing directly in the town. Housing is primarily
associated with the work and representation of its owner. These
are family houses that combine mostly three functions together.
The houses are therefore inhabited by townspeople, who are
characterized by their living and life in the city, as well as their
social status. In addition to the function of both family houses,
the connection to the city itself, which oers the builder’s urban
culture and education, is also important. However, the current
city oers, compared to the past, several leisure activities and
the proximity of public transport.
The resulting comparison of the target group shows that
these are family houses located directly in the city. Within
the character of the development, the burgher’s house had a
gradual historical development. However, there was an increase
in houses due to the merging of neighboring plots. In the
Gothic period, these were narrow and long plots, which in the
Renaissance period often merged from two neighbouring plots.
In the Baroque period, it was a combination of up to three or
more plots. As a result of merging plots, enlarging and growing
houses upstairs, the scale of the house itself also changed. The
current townhouse is characterized by a narrow plot, which is
Taunhouse Tábor, Czech Repoblic
closer to the Gothic one, where the depth of the townhouse is at
least 1.5 times greater than the width of the house. According
to the involvement of houses in the development of both family
houses, these are terraced houses. In most cases, the height of
the houses itself is the same, at least from 3 ﬂoors.
The burgher’s houses and townhouses are located on the main
streets, side streets or squares. Today’s townhouses, as opposed
to burgher’s houses, oer shared indoor and outdoor spaces
that share with other neighbours, in most cases within a block
of buildings. The current townhouses also oer parking for its
owners. And either within your own plot or in groups in a shared
The composition of the ﬂat units within the whole houses is
vertical. The entrance to the house is located on the ground ﬂoor.
At the burgher’s house, the ground ﬂoor has always been used
for trade or craft production, and the upper ﬂoor has been used
Tab.1 Comparison of a burgher’s house and a contemporary townhouse
70 for housing. The current townhouse may also contain space for
a commercial or oce on the ground ﬂoor. The burgher’s house
had only one ﬂat unit. The current townhouse can contain a
maximum of 3 ﬂats units, which are located vertically on top
of each other. A characteristic of both houses is also the main
entrance to the house directly from the public space.
The degree of privacy hierarchy is also related to the vertical
division of houses. The ground ﬂoor, where a shop or other
trade takes place, is open to the general public at both houses.
The upper ﬂoors only serve the inhabitants of houses where
the premises are only private. The arrangement of rooms for
burgher’s house and townhouses are the same. Due to the
limited width of the plot, the width of both houses is either one
room or a maximum of two rooms.
Tab. 2 Comparison of all typological types of family houses
Within the internal layout of houses, the characteristic of both
houses is a staircase, which is located mainly part of the living
room, due to the limited space. This living space takes over both
residential and communication functions. If the staircase is
located in the central part of the layout, it can serve as a skylight
and thus illuminate the inner part of the house, which would
otherwise be dark.
The comparison shows the interconnectedness and common
characteristics of the burgher house and the current townhouse.
What we can take from the example and inspiration of a burgher
house for the design of a modern townhouse focused on the
environment of the Czech Republic is precisely its location in the
city and the social context within the city. Throughout its history,
the burgher house has fulﬁlled three basic functions - housing,
subsistence and representation - from various periods, from
the Middle Ages through the Renaissance to the Baroque. The
house provided a roof over his head, a place for the profession
(crafts and trade) and, on the basis of external and internal
form of house, represented his builder. In the Middle Ages, it
was only a combination of housing and livelihood, but with the
advent of the Renaissance, greater emphasis was placed on
representation, which grew stronger in the Baroque period. The
house expressed the individuality of its builder. The house was
the basic organizational unit within the city and society. It was
closely connected with the urban culture, which was reﬂected in
the household of each burgher, in the form of the house itself, in
the form of residential development and in the overall structure
of the city. Urban culture, in addition to housing and livelihood,
was one of the other reasons why people wanted to live in the
city. Urban culture, together with housing and subsistence,
oered a certain way of living. The most important aspect was
the connection of the house itself to the public space and its
openness to the general public. It was his close contact that
created a soft boundary line between public and private space
and clearly deﬁned public space. The mutual proximity of
houses to each other contributed to greater social integration
and to the economic beneﬁts of development. These include
higher economic eciency, higher population density and lower
economic intensity of the territory. Depending on the factors
already mentioned, such as the needs associated with housing,
subsistence and the position of each burgher in society, these
aspects were reﬂected in the layout of the whole house. The
current townhouse in the world has the same characteristics.
In addition to family individual living in the city and the historical
characteristics of burgher houses, we can also be inspired
in the design by the small scale of these houses. The modern
townhouse can be more easily adapted to the existing historical
environment of the Czech Republic.
The speciﬁc local characteristics of burgher houses, which create
a genius loci, are of great value for the Czech context and can be
transferred to modern townhouses.
The answer to the question “Why is a burgher house typological
a predecessor of the townhouse?‘‘ Can be seen in (Tab. 2). The
table shows a comparison of all typological types of family
houses. These include group houses, such as burgher house,
townhouses, terraced and atrium houses. Combined, which
include semi-detached houses and quadruped houses. And the
last group are isolated or detached family houses.
Important parameters being compared, where it can be seen
that other family houses, apart from townhouses, do not follow
the burgher’s house, are mainly the subdivision and involvement
of the house itself in the development, the relationship to public
space, ﬂoors and arrangement of rooms.
The burgher’s house and townhouse are family terraced houses,
which are located on narrow plots. This parcelling is mainly
due to the economic impact. For burgher houses, the narrow
parcelling resulted in each house trying to have a shop or its
72 craft oriented directly to the street. For current townhouses, this
is due to the economy of the area and higher population density.
Other family houses have a looser involvement in development,
which is not caused by economic consequences but mainly by
their certain freedom and privacy.
The relationship to public space plays an important role in
burgher’s house and townhouses. Both of these houses have
direct access from the public space. This leads to a higher social
integrity of the population than compared to other types of
family houses. This relationship and strong connection to the
public space is also related to its internal arrangement of house.
Due to the narrow parcelling and limited space, living rooms
in burgher’s house and townhouses are also oriented towards
public space. For other family houses, this orientation of living
rooms is arbitrary and is not limited by narrow parcelling. These
houses are mainly related to the surrounding garden, not to
the public space. This relationship to the surrounding space is
an important aspect that distinguishes a burgher’s house and a
townhouse from other family houses.
The height or storey of the burgher’s house and townhouse is
also related to the narrow parcelling and economic impact.
Due to the limited space, houses are built in height. Each ﬂoor
corresponds to a given function. On the ground ﬂoor there is a
shop (commerce) and a craft, on the upper ﬂoors there are the
living rooms themselves. Life in these houses takes place mainly
on the staircase that connects the individual ﬂoors. Other family
houses are built in width rather than height and allow a dierent
lifestyle of the house itself. The internal layout of houses also
corresponds to this.
The last parameter is the arrangement of rooms, which is
the same for burgher’s house and townhouses. Their internal
typological composition has not changed during history. Due to
the limited space, a maximum of two rooms are arranged next
to each other, which determines the maximum width of the
house. Other family houses have a layout and arrangement of
In the modern townhouse, from a historical point of view, it is
not a connection to the typology of a burgher house and its
form, but mainly a connection to the tradition of urban living in
an individual family house with regard to current requirements
associated with housing and its importance within the city. This
historical overview is proof that urban housing has been the
most common form of individual housing in the past. And in the
case of townhouses, this is not a new typology or a new type of
housing. It is a renaissance of this residential town house.
The comparison is also proof that other family houses are not
based on a burgher’s house, as their actual involvement in the
development, the relationship to public space, the house height
and the arrangement of rooms within the internal layout of
house is dierent.
It could be said that life in a townhouse is a certain lifestyle, which
is given by its very location in the city, the social classiﬁcation of
the inhabitants who live in the townhouse, ie the townspeople,
but also the way life works inside the townhouse.
Based on the introduction of a burgher house as a type of urban
house in the Czech environment, it can be stated that town
living in an individual form has a long tradition in our history.
Urban living in family houses can be returned to the Czech
environment with the help of townhouses, which, as burgher
houses, create a genius loci and can be adapted not only to the
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