In a major city that has an historical center, the standard list of attractions seldom includes what, in my opinion at least, constitutes the area's most important part: historical residential buildings built a long time ago.

Unlike cathedrals and palaces, these do not seem to be carefully designed. In France (and, specifically, in Paris), these buildings are from two to five stories high and have slanted facades. That's right: the facade is tilted backwards. And they're ubiquitous. All historic residential neighborhoods have them. Just like in the photo below.

You won't find anything like it in any other country (except maybe Belgium).

So, what's the idea?

Is it because in Italy, to pick a place at random, the slap-dash residential construction of yore used bricks and lime render as building materials, while in Paris they favored limestone - is a limestone wall prone to falling over unless you build it like a pyramid? Or does this design feature have something to do with natural light?

Note: sometimes, not always, the ground floor's wall is tilted the other way, like a section of an upended pyramid.

More: These buildings predate the Haussmann's Reconstruction, as attested by the black-and-white photos below. In fact, a lot of them got knocked down to make room for the boulevards. Many remain to this day, however, which is a good thing. They're typical of that city; they're its heart, if you ask me. And they're literally everywhere. Just get off the boulevard - any boulevard - and you'll see them.

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    Are these houses generally build before, during or after the 1853 to 1870 Haussmann's renovation of Paris - Wikipedia? Commented May 11, 2021 at 5:42
  • @MarkJohnson: Most certainly before. He razed a hell of a lot of them in the process. The only large historic neighborhood relatively untouched by this would be the Marais, with block after block of buildings looking exactly like the ones in the photo.
    – Ricky
    Commented May 11, 2021 at 5:52
  • A wild guess would be that the main floor is built as a very stable foundation, designed withstand/support of the upper floors preventing a leaning. Groundwater conditions may also effect this. Have you looked to see if something similar is done in Amsterdam, where groundwater conditions would definitely define how taller buildings deal with a possible soggy ground conditions. Commented May 11, 2021 at 6:06
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    Please add the information to your question that the houses in question are pre-Haussmann so that timeframe for other readers is clear. Commented May 11, 2021 at 6:17
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    @MarkJohnson old houses in Amsterdam tilt forward, so that you better can lift furniture with a winch - the houses are narrow, the staircases more so. I think the construction in Amsterdam was mostly wood frames bu I'm not sure.
    – mart
    Commented May 11, 2021 at 7:31

1 Answer 1


These are load bearing walls. The top floor walls support only the roof, so the walls are the thinnest. The bottom floor walls support the whole building so they’re the thickest. You can either have extra space on the inside or outside. Here, the streets are thin, so tilting the exterior side of the walls back allows more light and air on the street. It’s similar to the setback laws they enacted in NYC when skyscrapers got taller. The widespread use of this technique speaks to strict zoning. I actually don’t know for sure, having never read Parisian zoning documents, but as an architect, this makes the most sense.

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    Hi and welcome to HSE. Adding a link or two in support of your answer would improve it. Commented Aug 6, 2023 at 5:08
  • Very good, thank you.
    – Ricky
    Commented Aug 6, 2023 at 8:29

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