Stilt houses raising home building to a whole new level

Stilt houses are raised structures usually built over water or sometimes over land. They are often called pile dwellings because they are supported by large spikes known as piles, pushed directly into the water or into the ground.

These structures are about 4m above the surface and designed to avoid flood and water damage. There are several additional advantages to this type of house. The elevation of the house protected it from vermin and other animals.

The type of the soil in the particular region might not have been suitable for another kind of dwelling. The space under the house was used for storage, and sometimes fishing directly from the porch was possible.

City of Yawnghwe in the Inle Lake Photo credit

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In the Neolithic stilt houses were often found in the Alpine and Terramare regions. Remains of such structures have been found in Slovenia at the Ljubljana Marshes and in Austria at the Attersee lakes. In Germany and Switzerland there are open-air museums where reconstructed stilt houses can be seen.

In 2011, the Prehistoric pile-dwellings around the Alps were designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. They are settlements dating from around 5000-500 BC, built on the edges of wetlands, lakes and rivers. Because the size of the lakes has grown over time, many of them are surrounded by water giving the false impression that they were built over water.

Reconstruction of Bronze Age stilt houses on Lake Constance Photo credit


Stone Age Houses Schussenried, Pfahlbaumuseum Unteruhldingen, Uhldingen-Mühlhofen, Lake Constance, Germany Photo credit

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A single settlement of this kind was found in Sweden and it is the only one of this kind in the country and its from around 3000 BC. It is believed that it was a tribe’s social centre where they gathered for festivities and it was inhabited only for a few months in the summer.

Although they date from prehistoric times, the stilt house is still commonly found around the world. The Kelong is found in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. Only a few of them remain in Singapore due to rapid urbanization. It is built primarily for fishing, although larger structures are used as homes for fishermen and their families.

The Nipa hut is usually the symbol for rural Filipino culture. They are the native houses of the indigenous people of the Philippines and are still built today mostly in rural regions. There are several architectural designs present among different ethnolinguistic groups in the country but all of them are stilt houses similar to those find in neighboring countries.

Stilt house, Attapeu province, Laos Photo credit


A Tboli Nipa hut in Southern Philippines (original description: “Bahay kubo ng mga T’boli”) Photo credit

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The traditional Thai house usually includes a wooden structure raised on stilts. It was usually built without the use of metal including nails. The stilt houses in Thailand have distinctive styles around the country which reflect people’s living style, religious customs or cultural beliefs.

Stilt houses in Castro, Chiloé(Palafitos en Castro, Chiloé) Photo credit


Traditional Thai-style stilt house on a canal near the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok. Photo credit

Stilt houses have gained popularity lately and they are often built in the United States, notably along the Gulf coast where there’s a major threat of hurricanes. Raising the house on stilts allows better ventilation underneath it, gives options for building on uneven or unstable ground and provide the owners with a wonderful view.