The seven primary residences for undergraduates at Caltech. Fraternities are banned on campus, but in order to encourage all us nerds to actually maintain a social life, every incoming freshman is placed into one of the seven hovses, where he or she must live for at least two terms. Placement is accomplished via Rotation Week, wherein freshmen are placed in temporary rooms and must spend dinnertime in a different hovse every day. Rotation culminates in a complicated and secretive picks process, which involves input from both the freshmen and the current hovse members.
Since hovse members are involved in the choosing of new members, each hovse has been able over time to evolve its own distinctive hovse culture. Hovses can command a degree of loyalty from their members which resembles that found in traditional fraternities -- hovse alumni regularly send job offers to their old hovses, or drop by to visit.
Current hovses at Caltech include the four South Hovses (Blacker Hovse, Dabney Hovse, Fleming Hovse, and Ricketts Hovse), which were built in the 1930's, and the three North Houses (Lloyd House, Page House, and Ruddock House), which date from the mid 1960's. All 7 hovses consist of a number of hallways, or "alleys", surrounding a central courtyard, but there the resemblance ends -- the South Hovses in particular are each a unique labyrinth of stairways and dead ends, with rooms of widely varying shapes and sizes, and a popular rumour on campus holds that the architect who designed them lost his mind in the process. Graffiti and murals on the interior walls are encouraged in every house but one, where they are prohibited entirely. The hovses are also populated by a roaming tribe of cats -- some belong to current students, while others were left behind by graduating seniors, and in nearly every alley, some room or another has bowls of catfood and water outside.
An eighth residence on campus, Avery House, houses both undergraduate and graduate students, as well as a few professors. It is currently pursuing recognition as the Eighth Hovse, a goal which will grow closer in Fall 2005, when it will be permitted to participate in Rotation Week and accept freshmen residents.