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A porch (from Old French porche, from Latin porticus "colonnade", from porta "passage") is external to the walls of the main building proper, but may be enclosed by latticework, broad windows, screen, or other light frame walls extending from the main structure.
There are various styles of porches, all of which depend on the architectural tradition of its location. All porches will allow for sufficient space for a person to comfortably pause before entering or after exiting the building. However, they may be larger. Verandahs, for example, are usually quite large and may encompass the entire façade as well as the sides of a structure. An extreme example is the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan, which has the longest porch in the world at 660 feet (200 m) in length.
In eastern North America and New England, a porch is a small area, usually unenclosed, that is at the main floor height usually used as a sitting area or for removal of working clothes so as not to get the interior of the house dirty, as the front door is accessed via the porch. In the Western United States, ranch style homes often use a covered porch to provide shade for the entrance and southern wall of the residence. In the Southern United States and Southern Ontario, Canada, a porch is often as broad as it is deep, and may provide sufficient space for residents to entertain guests or gather on special occasions. Older American homes, particularly those built during the era of Victorian Architecture, or the Queen Anne style, often included a porch in both the front and the back of the home. This is used as a sitting space as well. However, many American homes built since the 1940s with a porch only have a token one, (rear one) usually too small for comfortable social use and adding only to the visual impression of the building. The New Urbanism movement in architecture urges a reversal in this trend, recommending a large porch facing the street, to help build community ties.
When covered, a porch not only provides protection from sun or rain but may also form, in effect, an extra exterior room that may accommodate chairs, tables and other furniture, to be used as living space. Screens are often used in some areas to exclude flying insects.
Porches typically are architecturally unified with the rest of the house, using similar design elements as the rest of the structure, and may be integrated into the roof line or upper storeys.
In Britain the projecting porch had come into common use in churches by early medieval times. They were usually built of stone, but also occasionally of timber. They were normally placed on the south side of the church, but also on the west and north sides, sometimes in multiple. The porches acted to give cover to worshippers, but they also had a liturgical use. At a baptism, the priest would receive the sponsors with the infant in the porch and the service began there.
In later medieval times, the porch sometimes had two storeys, with a room above the entrance which was used as a local school, meeting room, storeroom and even armoury. If the village or town possessed a library of books, it would be housed there.
Sometimes the church custodian lived in the upper storey and a window into the church would allow supervision of the main church interior. Some British churches have highly ornamented porches, both externally and internally. The south porch at Northleach, Gloucestershire, in the Cotswolds, built in 1480, is a well-known example, and there are several others in East Anglia and elsewhere in the UK.
In India porches and verandahs are popular elements of secular as well as religious architecture. In the Hindu temple the mandapa is a porch-like structure through the gopuram (ornate gateway) and leading to the temple. It is used for religious dancing and music and is part of the basic temple compound. Examples of Indian buildings with porches include:
- Kailash Temple
- Cooch Behar Palace
- Ajanta Caves
- Chennakesava Temple at Somanathapura
- Hoysaleswara Temple
- Dholpur House
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