The size of Sakalava communities ranges from small-scale homesteads or villages of perhaps only a dozen to several hundred inhabitants, to large towns and cities (e.g., Morondava, Majunga, Analalava, Ambanja, and the island of Nosy Be). Urbanization is not a new phenomenon: Portuguese accounts from the 1600s describe the southern town of Sadia as having as many as 10,000 inhabitants. Nevertheless, the more recent economic demands of a colonial administration certainly encouraged rapid urbanization in numerous locations.
Sakalava settlements, often regardless of size, follow common patterns. Dwellings are typically lined up along a main path or road in parallel formation, reflecting an older pattern found throughout Madagascar, whereby houses are oriented according to compass directions (northeast being a sacred and thus auspicious point of reference). A common design is a square structure with a peaked roof, elevated a foot or two off the ground. Houses are built of ravinala palm or other locally available plant materials, corrugated tin, or concrete or earthen bricks. Houses generally have one or two rooms, each of which will then have a separate door leading out onto a small veranda where perhaps up to half a dozen people may sit comfortably under the roof's shade during the hotter after-noon hours. Such houses may have windows as well, made with hinged wooden shutters that can be locked from the inside. There may also be granaries, which are higher off the ground, or shaded platforms under which people sit, work, visit, or hold ceremonies. Cooking is generally done outdoors over a wood or charcoal fire on a three-stone hearth, a three-legged iron support, or a small brazier.
In villages, the occupants of any given household are usually expanded or extended family; household membership can vary radically from day to day in response to the demands of labor migration and child fostering and because of short- and long-term visits from kin. In precolonial times, royal households were often polygynous. Furthermore, village affiliation, especially in the past, was generally clan based.