Walking Houses

Included in the definition of ‘home’ is the idea of a stable, secure structure… which doesn’t get up and move! The concept of home is especially important in children’s stories, which explains the popularity of the home-away-home structure: Child leaves home, has a little adventure, then returns to security. The young reader falls into slumber, undisturbed by nightmares.

Speaking of nightmares, loss of home base is an enduring theme. We can’t find our home; we return home to find it changed; people we love abandon us. Another creepy take: The home itself gets up and moves. This is the walking house.

Baba Yaga’s Walking House

This must be a very old nightmare because we see it in fairytales such as Baba Yaga, who lives in a house on chicken legs. A constant across fairytales: weird feet. Why chicken legs? Well, why not. Humans have long lived with chickens and we’ve had ample time to notice their creepy-ass feet, more similar to human hands than, say, puppy dog paws, yet birds are more distantly removed in the evolutionary tree. Chicken feet are enough like human hands to lead us into uncanny valley.

baba yaga by by Rima Staines
Illustration of Baba Yaga by Rima Staines, suggesting the chicken feet may have been inspired by the base of certain trees, whose roots are reminiscent of bird feet.
Ivan Shishkin (1832 – 1898) Sandy Coastline, 1879. These naturalistic beach trees appear to have chicken feet.
Henrique Alvim Corrêa (1876 - 1910) Illustration for a 1906 edition of H.G. Wells's 1898 "The War of the Worlds"
Henrique Alvim Corrêa (1876 – 1910) Illustration for a 1906 edition of H.G. Wells’s 1898 “The War of the Worlds”
One of the oldest buildings in Hattfjelldal (a municipality in Nordland, Norway). Photo credit: Elin Kristina Jåma.
One of the oldest buildings in Hattfjelldal (a municipality in Nordland, Norway). Photo credit: Elin Kristina Jåma.

Howl’s Moving Castle

A standout example of a modern walking house is Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, published 1986. Later, in 2004, Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki released a film adaptation.

Here is an excellent breakdown of main differences between the YA novel and Hayao Miyazaki’s film adaptation, from a feminist point of view. Though both Miyazaki and Wynne Jones are known to be feminist storytellers, the feminism of the Japanese man is quite different from that of the Welsh novelist.

One thing the film did do though, was to broaden the audience for the novel, which had until then remained relatively obscure.

Howl's Moving Castle three book covers


Go back to the 1960s and I wonder if Diana Wynne Jones might’ve been influenced by an architectural-art movement known as Archigram.

Archigram was an avant-garde architectural group formed in the 1960s ⁠that was neofuturistic, anti-heroic and pro-consumerist, drawing inspiration from technology in order to create a new reality that was solely expressed through hypothetical projects.


In the 1960s they mounted an exhibition called Living City. Archigram wasn’t a green movement — these futuristic thinkers let their imaginations run completely wild, and imagined a future without material or carbon constraints.

The Walking City is constituted by intelligent buildings or robots that are in the form of giant, self-contained living pods that could roam the cities. The form derived from a combination of insect and machine and was a literal interpretation of le-Corbusier’s aphorism of a house as a machine for living in. The pods were independent, yet parasitic as they could ‘plug into’ way stations to exchange occupants or replenish resources. The citizen is therefore a serviced nomad not totally dissimilar from today’s executive cars. The context was perceived as a future ruined world in the aftermath of a nuclear war.



Buildings with legs continue to fascinate.

For the last 27 years, Theo Jansen – a Dutch kinetic sculptor – has been creating new forms of life out of plastic pipes. His beach creatures, called ‘Strandbeest,’ get their energy from the wind. 


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