Thursday, January 19, 2006

Going in the front door should be a no-brainer.

Visiting Sharon's house for the first time today I walked around her house the wrong way and into the back door. The front door is hidden from the gate by a seventies sun-room and has a fairly secret path under a big tree compared to the young highway to the back door, so I'm sure she's not just trying to make me feel better when she says that lots of people make the same mistake. Our last house also had guests confused but not because they couldn't see the door. It was that the front door was a sliding door at the top of a few plank stairs and led into a eighties sun-room. It didn't look proper enough.

One of my favourite books is A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein and some other people (Oxford University Press, New York, 1977). It describes things that make buildings work well in a way that ordinary people can use to design and build their own places. It starts very large in scale, bigger than town planning, and finishes with construction techniques and "Things from your life" which tells us to put stuff that means something to us where we can see it. In between it deals with the rest, my favourite sections mostly deal with abstract stuff about single buildings. The pattern that those two houses are missing is called Main Entrance:
110 Main Entrance
The functional problem which guides the placing of main entrances is simple.The entrance must be placed in such a way that people who approach the building see the entrance, or some hint of where the entrance is, as they see the building itself. This makes it possible for them to orient their movements toward the entrance as soon as they start moving toward the building, without having to change direction or change their plan of how they will approach the building.
Place the main entrance of the building at a point where it can be seen immediately from the main avenue of approach and give it a bold visible shape which stands out in front of the building.
Sharon plans to change where the gate is in her fence to be straight in front of the door and put a really obvious path between them.

To fix our old house's secret front door problem we started by putting lounge furniture and push-chairs in the visible sun room which made it seem like an appropriately public room for a front door to go in to (see also Intimacy Gradient), a doorbell and house number on the wall by the door, plants on the stairs and a garden beside the path (to add to the formality of the stairs), and ended up with adding a whole porch (see also Entrance Transition).

We were very fond of that house and we meant to live there longer than we did, but we got a bit more money coming in and started to find ourselves at open homes most weekends. To those open homes I took a list of the patterns I didn't want to live long without.

104 Site Repair - build on the worst land so the best land is still land not building.
105 South Facing Outdoors - excuse their hemisphere parochiality, they mean Sunny Outdoors.
107 Wings of Light - fat houses don't get enough natural light into their middles, long and thin is better.
110 Main Entrance - going in the front door should be a no-brainer.
112 Entrance Transition - when you arrive it should be a process not sudden.
113 Car Connection - if you arrive by car you should still get a nice transition.
115 Courtyards Which Live - courtyards (decks and yards need this too) should be part of the way to things that you need to go to. ("Indoor/Outdoor Flow")
127 Intimacy Gradient - spaces in a building should be accessible in order of publicness, we don't want to walk through the bedroom to get to the lounge.
128 Indoor Sunlight
130 Entrance Room - there should be a place that is the place where one changes from being outside to being inside.
131 Flow Through Rooms - shared rooms should be part of the way to get to other rooms.
139 Farmhouse Kitchen - it's nice to be able to make meals sociably.
159 Light On Two Sides of Every Room - well, every shared room, if you have windows on just one side of a room it makes one person in silhouette and the other with the sun in their eyes. This makes it hard to talk.
160 Building Edge - it should be a usable space.
161 Sunny Place - the sunny side of the building should have a place to hang out.
163 Outdoor Room - somewhere to do the things we do inside but outside (e.g. eat, read, talk).
167 6' Balcony - any smaller than 2m x 2m and you can't fit a conversational group on it.
180 Window Place - a spot by a window to sit.
200 Open Shelves - so you can see what's on them.
236 Windows Which Open Wide - to let the air right in.
247 Paving With Cracks Between the Stones - so things grow through.
251 Different Chairs - not a suite that fits one person well and the rest cope with but different chairs for different bodies and moods.
253 Things From Your Life.

Often one part of a building realises more than one of the patterns. Our house has a sunny little back garden with a table, a climbing frame, the compost bin, a shed, some lawn and some bricks. It is our courtyard which lives, our building edge, our sunny place, our outdoor room, our 6' balcony, its sliding door is our window which opens the widest and its bricks are our paving with cracks between the stones. It gets a lot of use.

Oh blast, the cat has a rodent squealing under Hazel's bed. Off to be heroic.


Blogger Martha said...

How great to have it all clarified in a checklist. I've been hankering after a house on a hill, but not very rationally really. Our place gets all the ticks apart from the entrance transition area. Sadly our front door opens right into the lounge.

I love the sound of the book. May have to buy it as a surprise gift for my husband (the best way of getting something I want).

9:56 AM  
Blogger said...

I'm glad it's not my catwith the rodent. I am not a big fan!

8:13 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

Our back door and front door at are at each SIDE of our house, and this confuses people to the point of one hawker knocking on BOTH DOORS thinking it was another house...duh. Bet she felt dumb. Anyway, Hi and do visit my blog if you're wondering who the hell is this nosy tart??!?!

10:24 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home