The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Southern Sitting: Front porches provide architectural, functional, easygoing social spaces

Andrew Yerger
Porch livin’

As days shorten and fall weather falls into place, students and Starkville residents can find porches a great place to relax, enjoy the sights and the sounds of a calm afternoon and commune with passersby. Though many houses and campus buildings do not have porches available for relaxing, anyone with access to some form of porch or balcony benefits from the serenity and sense of community the simple structure brings.  

Kenneth Thomas, a Starkville urologist, said although he may not use his porch very often, he understands porches form an integral part of Southern community.  

“(Porch sitting) is an important piece of the puzzle to community,” Thomas said. “It is a classic part of the South.”  

Jim West, dean of Mississippi State University’s College of Architecture, Art and Design, said porches are an icon of Southern culture largely because of their practicality.  While he enjoyed his spacious front porch in a rocking chair, West said porches originally served two purposes: to keep the sun’s heat off the houses’ walls and allow a place for people to sit in the shade with cool winds not available inside a sweltering house before air conditioning was invented. 

“(A porch) shades the front wall of the house and so it keeps the house cool,” West said. “It protects the wall and provides a breeze that you won’t get inside the house.”

Due to the almost year-round need for porches’ thermal conservation, the South includes a large number of both old and new homes with porches.  

West said before air-conditioning was invented, porches provided crucial protection from heat. He said porches originally jutted from nearly every home, though now many builders forget the functions porches can serve.  

“If you look at Southern houses from a hundred years ago, they all have porches,” West said. “Many builders in modern times have forgotten their original use and have allowed them to be shorter, as just a social function, and lose the benefit of the shade from the overhanging roof.”

Though the practical function of porches is easily forgotten, porches in the South often scaffold social interactions. Peggy West, Jim West’s wife, brought to light the social benefits of taking time to sit on a porch and chat with friends.

 “A lot of (the benefit) is the conversation and socializing,” she said. “The conversation is meandering and relaxed.  It doesn’t really have a point; just being outside makes you feel connected to your community.”  

Jim West said even from an architectural standpoint, the best porches provide social barriers between the home and the sidewalk and have the right dimensions for social interaction.  

“(The porch) is a social transition space, higher than the front yard and more social than inside the house,” Jim West said. “To come up and sit, (passersby) have to be invited.  It provides a layer of social transition, a sense of security.”  

Jim West went on to describe how a good porch has a proper width and depth for people to converse naturally. He said porches should rise above the yard and the street, and when a barrier surrounds them it adds a sense of security Jim West likened to sitting behind a full desk compared to sitting behind an exposed, four-legged table.

Peggy West said almost every day the Wests spend time sitting on their front porch, which faces Louisville Street. She said she and her husband like to participate in their local community and take a rest from the day’s activity.  A little farther down Louisville Street lives another porch-sitter: Spencer Newman, a junior history major.  

Newman said sitting on a porch is a great way for him to take a break from the business of college life.  

“The porch provides very good relaxation and bonding time with the roommates,” Newman said. “It is nice and calm. You come back from class and take a seat on the porch and unwind.”   

Whether the porch above the post office on campus or a family-occupied porch on a Sunday afternoon, porches provide an important stage to express Southern community in the form of happenstance meetings and visits planned for nothing more than a good talk.  Sitting and talking about whatever comes to mind builds friendships based off leisure time, without distracting professional obligations or duties. As the leaves continue to change and the weather cools down, the porch remains a respite from the hubbub and hyperactivity of modern life and a forum to develop valuable community for Starkville residents.

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Southern Sitting: Front porches provide architectural, functional, easygoing social spaces