Accessibility in West House

In order to begin the design process, this week I learned about the layout of a typical home in ancient Akrotiri. I was specifically interested in West House, which is one of the largest buildings at the site that has been completely excavated (Palynou 2005, 46). Although West House is large and well preserved compared to many of the other structures at the site, archaeologists are careful to note that we should not overestimate its significance simply based on these facts. After all, only a small and random fraction of the site has been excavated, and the settlement may have much larger buildings that we are currently unaware of. Still, West House is valuable because it has the characteristics of a “typical” Theran home (Palynou 2005, 49).

Something I found particularly interesting about homes in Akrotiri is that the 2nd floor is the primary living space, and the ground floor is used for storage and labor (Castleden 1998, 51). As a result, the layout of the first floor is much more compartmentalized and the space receives very little natural light.

Floor plan of ground level of West House.

Although I am not sure how accurate this model is, the depiction of the ground level windows helps us understand the lighting of that floor in comparison to the floor above it.

This is particularly interesting because in several grand buildings that we have discussed in class, the entrance and 1st floor are important performative spaces. For example, even at the Providence Public Library, the reception area that you enter initially has been the most luxurious space within the building since its construction.

Providence Public Library, looking toward the front entrance.

Floor plan of the upper level of West House.

Even in private homes like the Lippitt House, the first floor was designed to be a symbol of opulence. However, in Akrotiri, the main communal space and other living spaces are located on the 2nd floor (Castleden 1998, 54).  Even the famous frescoes, “the Fisherman, the Priestess, the Miniature Frieze, and others” are located on this level (Palynou 2005, 50). Palynou calls the rooms with these paintings “the most luxurious rooms” in the building, and they are quite inaccessible to the public eye (Palynou 2005, 50).

Extravagant Miniature Frieze at West House.

The Fisherman, fresco at West House.

Because this kind of arrangement is characteristic of houses in Akrotiri, it is especially indicative of social dynamics at play. Entranceways seem to lack importance because they are simply composed of a small lobby, and stairs leading to the upper level. Magnificent frescoes, however, are located in the rooms of the 2nd floor, only accessible to those within the core of the building. Houses in Akrotiri were built abutting one another and buildings like West House opened up to public squares (Castleden 1998, 48). Therefore, the external parts of these buildings must have been quite accessible to the public. However, despite the accessibility of the entrances, the best spaces in the homes seem to be relatively exclusive.


-Aishwarrya Arivudainambi

Castleden, R. (1998) Atlantis Destroyed. Routledge. New York.

Palyvou, C. (2005) Akrotiri, Thera: An Architecture of Affluence 3,500 Years Old. Institute of Aegean Prehistory Press. Philadelphia: INSTAP Academia Press.