-----In 2004 we bought a falling-down house and 30 acres. This blog documents our progress-----

Friday, February 17, 2006

applying patterns (1): House shape

These patterns are my favourites from the book "Pattern Language", as described in my previous post. In this post I look at the ones relating to the overall shape of a house, and check out how our current plans for the new house measure up.

#107: Wings of Light
Buildings which displace natural light as the major source of illumination are not fit places to spend the day. Therefore:
Arrange each building into wings... make each wing long and
as narrow as you can, never more than 25 ft wide. Use the wings
to form "positive outdoor spaces"

After some measuring up on the latest set of plans, I think we fall within this limit pretty much if you count it as having 3 wings - two either side of building and one jutting out for the library. The library and also the screened porch that sticks out from the main building also help to frame the 'secret garden' area behind the house so that's good too.

#127: Intimacy gradient
Unless the spaces in a building are arranged in a sequence which corresponds to their degrees of privateness, the visits made by strangers, friends, guests will always be a little awkward. Therefore:
Lay out the spaces of a building so that they create a sequence
which begins with the entrance and the most public parts of the
building, then leads into the slightly more private areas, and
finally to the most private domains.

If you start at the main entrance, then it works OK. The only thing that potentially jars is having the downstairs toilet in the mudroom area. We're still working on the precise layout for this, the latest is here. I think provided we can get it so that the mudroom part can be closed off without making the toilet feel stingy and cramped, it'll work. I like how the library is off in it's own area. This will let it be both a place for quietness (reading, sleeping) and for partying, around the mid-sized billiards table, which Dave is eying up putting here ... I think this could be cool provided that it has a cover so can be a normal table at other times.

#128: Indoor sunlight
Very few things have as great an effect on the feeling of a home as the sun shining into it. If the right rooms are facing south, a hosue is bright and sunny and cheerful; if the wrong rooms are facing south, the house is dark and gloomy. Therefore:
Place the most important rooms along the south edge of the
building and spread the building out along the east-west axis.
Fine tune the arrangement so that the proper rooms are exposed
to the south-east and the south-west sun. E.g., give the
common area a full southern exposure, bedrooms south east,
porch south-west.

follow the sun

As this was written for the US I presume in Australia we'd need to reverse 'north' and 'south', but the concept is still relevant and our plan works. We have the breakfast area, kitchen, and main bedroom where the morning sun comes, and the lounge and library at the evening side.

#130: Entrance room
Arriving in a building, or leaving it, you need a room to pass through, both inside the building and outside it. This is the entrance room. Not only is this for practicalities such as providing a place to put things while you fumble with keys, or to shelter from the weather, it's also for psychological reasons - eg: to provide a symbolic marker for saying final goodbyes when guests are leaving. Therefore:
At the main entrance to the building, make a light-filled
room which marks the entrance and straddles the boundary
between indoors and outdoors. The outside part may be like
an old fashioned porch; the inside like a hall or sitting room.
Provide seating areas either side, with the indoor seating
part of a sequence of sitting spaces.

Yes yes yes! This puts into words why I like entrance rooms, and generous ones at that, not just at one end of a passage. With the addition of the seating nook, I think ours will feel nice. I'm rethinking though using that lovely door that Dad found as the front door, because it doesn't have any glass in it. I know we could cut out some of the panels and insert it, but that'd be such a shame. Maybe instead this chould be a door to the Library or something, hmmm. Alternatively, perhaps we use the solid door still, but have glass panes either side in the wall? That might work really well, although obviously it means the entrance area has to be wide enough to fit it (but that's no bad thing)

#131: The flow through rooms
The movement between rooms is as important as the rooms themselves; and its arrangement has as much effect on social interaction in the rooms, as the interiors of the rooms. Therefore:
As far as possible, avoid the use of corridors and passages.
Instead use public rooms as rooms for movement and for gathering.
To do this, place the common rooms to form a chain, so it becomes
possible to walk from room to room, and so that private rooms
open directly off these public rooms. In every case, give this
indoor circulation from room to room a feeling of great
generosity, passing in a wide and ample loop around the
house, with views of fires and great windows.

We're on the way to accomplishing this I think, at least in terms of flow. The exception is the library area, but that's deliberately meant to feel separate. Ditto the screened porch area as that's a kind of outdoor garden room as much as an inside space. We even have a loop if you consider throwing open the porch doors between kitchen & lounge.

#132: Short passages
Long sterile corridors set the scene for everything bad about modern architecture. Therefore:
Keep passages short. Make them as much like rooms as
possible, with carpets or wood on the floor, furniture (eg:
seats in alcoves), bookshelves, beautiful windows. Make
them generous in shape and always give them plenty of light.
The best corridors of all are those which have windows
along an entire wall.

Yes. The only corridor we have, really, is the small one going to the library. I'm seeing that this will definitely have windows all the way along looking onto the secret garden and probably waist high shelves too below it. (No point having full length windows as there'll be stuff on the verandah and who wants to look at the back of chairs?)

#133: Staircase as a stage
A staircase is not just a way of getting from one floor to another. The stair is itself a space, a volume, a part of the building; and unless this space is made to live, it will be a dead spot, and work to disconnect the building and to tear its processes apart. Therefore:
Place the main stair in a key position, central and visible.
Treat the whole staircase as a room (or if it is outside, as a
courtyard). Arrange it so that the stair and the room are one,
with the stair coming down around one or two walls of the room.
Flare out the bottom of the stair with open windows or
balustrades and with wide steps so that the people coming
down the stair become part of the action in the room while
they are on the stair, and so that people below will naturally
use the stair for seats.

stairs can make good seats

I really like this concept and I think we could definitely achieve it in the "living hall" area, we just need to carefully design the bottom part of the stairs. Maybe the first few steps has a kind of arc'ed area like in this picture? I like the feel of it. It can get a bit more formal further up when the bannister starts. Also, I think we should give careful thought about having shelving as you go up the stairs for books, ornaments, etc, as well as space for hanging pictures. Perhaps the area midway up, where you turn, is quite wide, almost like a teensy room, with space for a chair, some book shelves, and of course the windows looking out over the view? This would also let us have more 'under stair storage' which is always a great thing to have... and perhaps help the "living hall" feel not quite so cavernous?

#138: Sleeping to the East
As humans, we are sensitive to natural rhythyms and cycles. The best time to wake up after sleeping is at the end of REM sleep (ie: just after a dream), as you'll feel much more energetic than if you awaken at other times. But, the only way to make sure you wake up at this best time is to be woken by the sun. The sun warms and nudges you awake so gently that you will wake at the best point, unlike an alarm that jerks you awake no matter what your dreamstate. Therefore:
Give those parts of the house where people sleep an eastern
orientation, so that they wake up with the sun and light. This
means typically that the sleeping area nees to be on the eastern
side of the house, although it can also be on the western side
provided there is a courtyard or a terrace to the east of it.
Position the bed so that you can see the sunlight from it,
but it isn't shining directly onto the bed itself or else
you'll get too hot.

I think we're OK on this, as the master bedroom is at the right side of the house to allow this.

#145: Bulk storage
There is always some need for bulk storage space; a place for things like suitcases, old furniture, old files, boxes - all those things which you are not ready to throw away, and yet not using everyday. Very often the need for this kind of storage space is neglected, meaning that some other part of the house is sacrificed to this function. Therefore:
Do not leave bulk storage till last or forget it. Include
a volume for bulk storage in the building - its floor area at
least 15-20% of the whole building area, not less. Place this
storage somewhere in the building that costs less because it
doesn't need a finish. It could be in the roof, if you have a
steep roof, or in the basement if building on a sloping site;
it could even be in a separate shed.

Inside the house we are definitely lacking in this at the moment. I think making the stair landing area wider (and thus allowing more under stairs storage) will be a big help. In fact, this would probably be plenty when you consider there will also be sheds and things. But some things are too important to entrust to external sheds.

Also, this reminded me about the wine cellar. Where or where shall we put that? It doesn't have to be a huge place you actually sit in, but we do need space to store it. Hmmm.

#159: Light on two sides of every room
When they have a choice, people will always gravitate to those rooms which have light on two sides, and leave the rooms which are lit only from one side unused and empty. Therefore:
Locate each room so that it has outdoor space outside it on
at least two sides, and then place windows in these outdoor
walls so that natural light falls into every room from more
than one direction. Don't let this make your plans too wild
however; you can stick to the essense of the pattern with
windows on one side only if the room is unusual high, if it
is shallow compared with the length of the window wall, the
windows large, the walls of the room white, and massive deep
reveals on the windows to make certain that big windows bright
against the sky do not create glare.

This is another one that is obvious when you see it written but I'd not thought about before. With the exception of the pantry, WC and walk-in closet, I think we're OK on this front. I guess in most of those places we could solve it through judicious use of skylights.

#191: The shape of indoor space
Every space which is recognisable and walled enough to be distinct, must have walls which are roughly straight, except when the walls are thick enough to be concave in both directions. Acute angles where walls join are hardly every appropriate. Ceiling shape matters too - there are some kinds of shape which tend to make people feel uncomfortable:

some roofs don't work

With occasional exceptions, make each indoor space a
rough rectangle, with roughly straight walls, near right
angles in the corners, and a roughly symmetrical vault
over each room.

Now this is interesting. I disagree with it partly, after the experience of visiting Casa Battlo, one of Gaudi's amazing houses in Barcelona. This was very curvy and organic... it looked odd in pictures but standing in it felt very very comfortable. But, that is at an extreme, and we are not going to be able to do that. So, generally I agree.

Also, I like the point about roofs. In our travels we've stayed in lots of B&Bs, several of which were renovated barns. Everyone has always raved about them, big ceilings, etc. But I've never found one that I've liked being in, not to sit and watch TV or sleep, anyway. They are just too cavernous. I always thought I just had odd taste, but now I understand why... it's the ceiling shape!

I think we will be OK on this front with our current plans... The upstairs rooms have interesting ceilings that I can't quite imagine yet but I think they will feel more like dormers? Perhaps I shall ask Dave to do a sketch, he is good at envisaging stuff like that.

#193: Half open wall
Rooms which are too closed prevent the natural flow of social occasions, and thenatural process of transition from one social moment to another. And rooms which are too open will not support the differentiation of events which social life requires. Therefore:
Adjust the walls, opening and windows in each indoor space
until you reach the right balance between open,`flowing space
and closed cell-like space. Do not take it or granted that
each space is a room; nor, on the other hand, that all spaces
must flow into each other. The right balance will always lie
between these extremes: no one room entirely enclosed; and no
space totally connected to another. Use combinations of
columns, half-open walls, porches, indoor windows, sliding
doors, low sills, frenchdoors, sitting walls, and so on, to
hit the right balance.

I like this. I think we will achieve it inside mostly through the use of indoor windows. It gives me a place to display my stained glass collection as well.

#209: Roof layout
It helps to bring the patterns to life it the roof plan is organically related to the nature of your building. To do this:
Arrange the roofs so that each distinct roof
corresponds to an identifable social entity in the building.
Place the largest roofs - those which are highest and have
the largest span - over the largest and most important and
most communal spaces; build the lesser roofs off these
largest and highestroof; and build the smallest roofs of
all off these lesser roofs, in the form of half-vaults
and sheds over alcoves and thick walls. When a wing
ends in the open, leave the gable end at full height;
when a wing ends ina coyuryard, hip the gable so that
the horizontal roof edge makes the courtyard like a room.

This I'm leaving to Eric, but it'll be fine. It's OK in the plans so far, and also on his website he says part of his design philosophy is that buildings "can be 'read' - the internal layout is visible in external form"

Speaking of Eric's website, it's been updated, there seem to be lots of new pictures compared to the last time I looked. And they're just lovely. I feel very confident that together we'll come up with an incredible house because everything I've seen that Eric's done just feels right - even the stuff he does in a more modern style I like, it feels warm and inviting. Having also just visited Oak Park, I am noticing details more and some things, like the curved finish on the top edge of the stone chimney feel similarly nice (sorry can't link directly to it so this is the picture)
chimney designed by Eric
How lovely is this?! Not only is the use of the stone gorgeous and helps roots it to the ground, but the shape gives it a character all it's own. It's worth a browse in his project gallery if you're interested in this kind of thing... it'll also give you a flavour of Australia too. :-)

#232: Roof caps
There are few cases in traditional architecture where buildiners have not used some roof detail to cap the building with ornament. The roof cap helps to finish the building, it gives it a human touch. The power of the cap is of much greater than its proportions would lead you to expect - consider how dramatically different these two buildings appear:

why roof caps matter

Choose a natural way to cap the roof - some way which is
in keeping with the kind of construction, and the meaning of
the building. The caps may be structural; but their main
function is decorative - they mark the top - they mark the
place where the roof penetrates the sky.

The picture says it all really. I totally agree. I even have just acquired via Ebay an old factory vent that might be useful for this, even if it's just on the shed... (I'll post up a picture separately).

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