A Brief History of the Carport

A carport is a covered structure used to offer limited protection to vehicles, primarily cars, from rain and snow. The structure can either be free standing or attached to a wall. Unlike most structures a carport does not have four walls, and usually has one or two. Carports offer less protection than garages but allow for more ventilation. In particular, a carport prevents frost on the windshield.


Carport” is a term that originated from the French word “porte cochere” which means a covering or a shed. The concept of including a carport-like structure with a personal living space was a popular concept back in 1909. Walter Burley Griffith, the architect who designed the Prairie School, became the first to incorporate a carport when he was hired to design the famous W. B. Sloan house located at Elmhurst, Illinois, in 1909.

More and more Prairie School designers were taking up the idea of including carports which were attached to residential complexes. Around then, a carport was known as an “auto-space”, which was just as so, since it was used solely as an allocated space for automobiles.

By 1913, carports were also being employed by other Prairie School architects such as the Minneapolis firm of Purcell, Feick & Elmslie in their design for a residence at Lockwood Lake, Wisconsin.

Frank Lloyd Wright used the term "carport" when he incorporated one into the first of his "Usonian" home designs: the house of Herbert Jacobs, built in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1936. From the mid-1930s through the 1950s, carports were used by Frank Lloyd Wright in all of his Usonian House designs; an idea that he may have gotten from Walter Griffith, a former associate.

The late architectural historian David Gebhard suggested that the term "carport" had originated from the feature’s use in 1930s Streamline Moderne residences. This term, which entered popular jargon in 1939, in part stemmed from the visual connection between these streamlined residences and their nautical design elements.

below: a visual medley of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed carports

Wright's explanation for building a carport-like structure instead of a garage for automobiles was the fact that cars had become a lot more resistant in their construction and hence, no longer needed to be protected by full-fledged rooms, like barns for horses. Since cars built before the 1930s were made of inferior materials and were not water-resistant, they did need to be protected by more solid concrete confinements.

But with the gradual evolution of automobiles, the concept of carports instead of auto-spaces or garages came into being. Also, since one did not need to invest huge amounts of money to build a carport, even people in possession of a cheap second-hand car can afford a 24/7 shelter for his car.

Looking back at life in 1936, it is easy to imagine automobiles prior to this time were not completely water tight; the era of robotic-assembly, advanced materials, and perfect closure lines was still 50 years in the future. The carport was therefore a cheap and effective device for the protection of a car. Mr. Jacobs added: "Our cheap second-hand car had stood out all winter at the curb, often in weather far below zero. A carport was a downright luxury for it."

Protection and style

The sleekly integrated carport was part of Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision for a modern American architecture that embraced clean lines and kept the overall look of the property clutter-free.

above: mid-century modern carports

Throughout the 1950s, the carport became increasingly popular. It was relatively cheap to construct because of the lack of walls, yet provided more than adequate shelter against the elements and enabled airflow around a vehicle so that it would not rust in the confines of a garage. Anyone could keep their car in good condition without all the expense of building a garage, and a carport could look considerably more stylish, especially when compared to a free-standing garage.

Modern Usage

The carport has never really gone out of fashion. Today, it is seen as a more ecologically-friendly alternative to a garage, which requires lighting, ventilation and electric doors. Suitable for any vehicle, the minimal elegance of a carport can blend seamlessly with your property.

From an environmental point of view, and with rising consciousness about environment hazards (such as carbon monoxide) in confined structures such as a garage, people sometimes feel safer by opting for a more open structure like a carport with ample air circulation.

Carports are also great for parking heavy vehicles such as vans, trucks or RVs because the height of the roof can often be higher than that of a conventional garage.

Modern carports are typically made of metal (steel, tin, or aluminum) and are modular in style in the USA, while more often remaining flat-roofed permanent structures in much of the rest of the world. Metal carports in the U.S. can be divided into Regular, Boxed-Eave, and Vertical roof styles. They differ in the sturdiness and how the roof panels are oriented.

The carport has come a long way since its origins solely as an auto space, as modern carports often double as entertaining spaces for summer barbecues or as an oversized porch.

However you use yours, the carport is a simple, effective, and economical way to protect your vehicle, and can be a very stylish addition to your home.

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