Importing the Vernacular: An Analysis of the Panama Houses of the Former Charleston Navy Yard as an Adapted Regional Building Typology

Benjamin Cunningham Walker, Clemson University


Military architectural designs are often overlooked in vernacular architecture due to the widespread use of standardized plans at military installations. However, factors including climate in certain regions force the development of new designs for military bases that are better suited to local conditions. This is arguably the case for the Panama Houses of the former Charleston Navy Yard, which are an example of a vernacular building type imported from a foreign context. While scholars have looked from a broad perspective at the Navy Yard and the more prominent structures, no study has been completed considering the history and form of the Panama House. Bringing together architectural evidence from this group of buildings and U.S. housing in the former Panama Canal Zone, this study explores the origins of the Panama House and the factors that brought it to Charleston, ultimately positioning this vernacular form within the context of the region and United States military installations.