The aristocracy in Murasaki's day lived in sprawling, single-story mansions connected by covered walkways to various other subsidiary buildings, embracing a garden with a pond and rivulets, and surrounded by an earthen wall. This characteristic style of architecture is called shinden-zukuri, after the main pavilion, or shinden. According to Chinese rules of geomancy, the shinden was oriented facing south, with a staircase opening onto a garden built to contain a hill and pond. Ideally there would be a small island in the pond, reachable by a garden bridge. Behind the main hall was the northern pavilion, reserved for the main wife (who was known as the kita no kata, "northern personage"). 

‍   Eastern and western pavilions were also connected to the main hall by roofed galleries. Similar walkways led out to a "fishing pavilion" built over the pond, and man-made streams were often directed to flow under the walkways and buildings. The buildings were roofed in layered cypress bark, like those seen in traditional Shinto shrine buildings--which were the original inspiration for this style of architecture. A section of the estate at the northern edge behind the buildings was enclosed as the garbage dump.

‍   The shinden could be divided into as many as 9 or as few as 4 "rooms," (really just spaces defined by blinds and curtain-stands) the central one called the moya, and the outer ones the hisashi, or "eaves." Serving ladies like Murasaki always slept in these outer "eaveschambers". Built to be airy with deep shady recesses for escape from summer heat, these buildings were surely drafty and chill in the winter months.