The term “carport” comes from “porte cochere” or covered portal. It was a common architectural element found on elite homes and hotels in the 19th century. Among other things it provided shelter from inclement weather for coaches & buggies as well as their occupants. Later around the mid 1930’s the world renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright popularized the term when he began including carports as prominent architectural features on his famous “Usonian” style homes.
Mr. Wright’s logic was quite forward thinking and truly demonstrates the suitability of the carport in the modern era. He understood the garage was originally designed to store not only the car but also the fuel and tools for proper maintenance. By the late 1920’s fuel and maintenance were conveniently available at local service stations, thus eliminating the need for a standard garage and the extra space it provided.
Mr. Wright was also very keen on design elements that reduced clutter. Along with eliminating the superfluous basement, which was often a clutter magnet, he also felt the garage was an opportunity for the same problem. He was convinced the carport, with no walls to hide a mess, would lend itself to a tidy environment. With the existence of millions of cluttered garages as proof, his words feel nearly prophetic.
Additionally the carport was an efficient use of resources because it required less building material than a garage and served multiple tasks once constructed. Not only did the carport provide protection and storage for the car, but it also served very nicely as a covered main entryway, a place to entertain and do outdoor cooking, a spacious front porch, a shady place on a hot sunny day, and a relaxing place to hang out on a rainy day.
Last and certainly not least in Mr. Wright’s mind, the carport was a delightful architectural element for a home. Properly placed as part of the overall structure, the carport was often the difference between ordinary and extraordinary. His “Usonian” homes are excellent examples where the carport was an integral part of the overall architectural scheme.
It’s interesting that a century later the carport continues to deliver these same values. Carports still restrain clutter, provide more than adequate shelter for vehicles, require few building materials, multi-task well, and often serve as handsome architectural elements. With environmental concerns on the rise, increasing numbers of people are looking closely at the environmental impact of garages compared to carports and choosing the less costly carport. In fact, modern manufacturing techniques and lightweight, durable building materials have made elaborate carport designs accessible to non-professional “do-it-yourselfers” who would otherwise be unable to construct such a structure. For these reasons and many more, the carport continues to increase in popularity and will undoubtedly be with us for another century and beyond.