Transparency and Transition
The most compelling part of a home can often be a transition zone between indoors and outdoors. San Francisco architect Craig Steely’s own house, for example,
shows how the living room merges seamlessly with the deck. The elegant suspended modern fireplace is actually outdoors, but because of the sliding glass living room wall, it’s visually — and sometimes virtually, when the sliding doors are open — part of both spaces. The ambiguity adds a layer of artfulness.
The overhanging roof and the floating fireplace define the outdoor room while making it an extension of the living room. Both spaces feel larger than they are because they visually overlap.
An open-air corridor or gallery can function in a similar but more directional way. New Mexico regional modern architect John Gaw Meem was particularly deft at the use of transitional spaces to tie structure to site. In his McCormick residence of 1931, north of Santa Fe, the entry is along a covered walkway
that opens to a terraced courtyard. The portico shades the entrance, creating an outdoor room within the larger outdoor room that is the courtyard (photo by Robert Reck from Facing Southwest: The Life and Houses of John Gaw Meem, by Chris Wilson, W. W. Norton, 2001). Here’s another example — this time on a slight downhill slope.
It’s the entrance at the Wallace house of 1933 near Santa Cruz, California by Henry Howard (photo by Henry Bowles from The Howards: First Family of Bay Area Modernism, by Stacy Moss, Oakland Museum, 1988). The long corridor, the paving pattern, and the distant open doorway beckon eyes and footsteps into and through the house. If there had been no overhang the entrance walk would be abrupt, exposed to the weather, and unwelcoming.
The porch-as-passage is an old idea: classic American examples are found in the Charleston, South Carolina single-houses of the 19th century. This version (courtesy Explore Charleston)
shows how the front door opens to the porch, which in turn leads to the front hall (in some examples, the porch is the front hall). These houses are only one room wide and the porch is oriented to catch the breeze, while the front door preserves the dignity of the street front and the privacy of the porch at the same time.
Add a glass wall and things start to evolve. One of the most important examples of the glazed hallway was designed by U. C. Berkeley campus architect John Galen Howard (Henry Howard’s father) for the University’s Architecture School in the early 1900s.
It stair-steps up the slope and is essentially a hallway
with a wall of multi-paned windows along one side. Note the use of shingle siding on the interior wall, which reinforces the indoor-outdoor connection (two previous photos by Daniella Thompson, courtesy Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association). It has inspired many architects over the years, including William Wurster, for example in his Robbins house at Hillsborough from the mid 1930s,
where the brick-paved floor and simple horizontal board walls emphasize the outdoor feeling. Wurster ultimately expanded on the glazed gallery idea to invent what he called “the room with no name,” which was essentially a sunporch or lanai that could have multiple uses as a kind of family room or indoor-outdoor dining room. Other modern architects did the same across the country. Here’s an example by Midwest architect Edward Humrich — on the cover of a handsome new book by Gary Gand about mid-century modern Chicago houses as shot by the late architectural photographer Julius Shulman.
See how half the patio is a hallway-sitting room thanks to the wall of glass. A hallway can be so much more than a corridor!