Category Archives: Porches

Porches and the Primitive Hut

Dream Time

The idea of escape to a simpler more relaxing way of living is especially appealing right now. In my case that would mean lounging on a porch — like this

elegant screened version by In Situ Studio — my head buried in a good spy novel

(photos courtesy In Situ Studio). The Roman architect Vitruvius believed that all architecture began with the primitive hut, which I think you could say is in the DNA of most great porches. Later philosophers, like the former Jesuit priest Abbe Laugier in his Essay On Architecture of 1753, adopted this idea and visualized the first buildings as simple — but classical — lean-tos made from tree trunks. You can see the

roots — literally! — of the classical pediment in that triangle of twigs at the top. The big idea was that architecture evolved as a refinement of elemental nature, meaning that the tree is simply a column in its primitive state. Or, put another way — in the beginning there was a gazebo! (Remember that Jean-Jacques Rousseau is talking about man’s natural state at this time as well.) This elemental and romantic nature-based concept remains powerful — think of Henry David Thoreau’s back-to-nature shack on Walden Pond or the evolution of the camping tent  — especially among architects and designers and almost

anyone looking for rest or relaxation, as this wonderful recent example designed and built by Alan Brown on the Big Island of Hawaii — out of mostly recycled materials — shows. Note to Thoreau: Why build in the cold-climate east when you can enjoy balmy evenings with scents of  plumeria and ginger on the slopes of Mauna Kea?! (Photo courtesy Alan Brown)

Moscow architects Kerimov Prishin designed their Arbor 15 project as a

performance platform containing a dining area, fireplace, and sink. Panels in the slatted front unfold to reveal that everything is on stage. Curtains at the sides

reinforce the idea that the act of dining is itself a theatrical event — which seems

very logical when you think that conversation in the dining room is the subject of so many plays and film scripts (photos courtesy the architects via designboom). It’s the outdoor dining room as dacha…Chekov, anyone?

Perhaps the most extreme form of the porch as primitive hut is a unit at the famous Swedish Treehotel (another room was mentioned in an earlier post) in

the shape of a giant nest, as shown here — or is it a condorminium…(image courtesy Treehotel).

Though most porches are attached to houses, it’s also true that many rooms can grow up to become porches; it just takes a little education and the addition of a

folding window wall or two. Which is what happens in the kitchen of Plan 48-46,

shown here. The breakfast area opens up to turn the entire space into a dining porch. Trees and triangles have come a long way since Vitruvius.

Recycled Redwood and a New Cabin Plan

Red Zeppelin

Hangar wood is the latest must-have recycled material — at least for me. It’s  from the historic zeppelin terminal known as Hangar One (not a vodka!)

built by the US Navy at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California in 1931 to house the airship USS Macon, shown above. Covering 8 acres, it remains an impressive Bay Area landmark with its own Historic District, and is adjacent to the NASA Ames Research Lab. The seductive, cinnamon-hued, handsomely

grained old-growth redwood — “with occasional to frequent screw and fastener

holes” — was part of the hangar’s roof framework that was uncovered during a recent renovation and is being sold by innovative reclaimed woods specialist Terra Mai. It’s marketed as Terra Mai Moffett Field Redwood for lumber, paneling, siding, or for custom applications (photos courtesy Terra Mai). Meanwhile, the fate of the hangar remains in doubt, but according to Terra Mai: “Google founders Page and Brin, along with Google CEO Eric Schmidt, have proposed funding the estimated $33 million cost of fully restoring the structure in exchange for private use of two-thirds of the floor space for their eight private jets.” I guess I would call this an extreme form of “parking karma.” And they could even sublease the air rights since the interior is so high (198 feet) that fog sometimes forms near the ceiling…

Terra Mai markets other reclaimed woods, which are used in distinctive projects

like this Sunset Idea House designed by Siegel & Strain Architects with interior

designer Chad Dewitt. The barn doors are reclaimed fir; the counter in the master bath is reclaimed teak (photos courtesy Terra Mai).

Cabin Fever

I would use some of that beautiful Hangar One redwood to build our newest exclusive design: Cabin Plan 546-1 by Maine architect Bruce Butler. The

1,194 sq. ft. shingle style, gable-roofed home is designed for relaxation and easy

indoor-outdoor living. There are two covered outdoor spaces for fresh-air living

at different times of day: a generous porch off the living room and a screened porch off the kitchen/dining area. The master bedroom is beside the living room

on the ground floor; two bunk rooms and the half bath are upstairs. It’s a simple and rustic design and suits a rural site in the mountains or near water. Add a place to tether your airship and you’re there! Welcome Bruce!

Window Walls and Rooms-Within-Rooms

Every Solid Loves a Void — and Space is a Wrap

Let’s explore two strong architectural ideas — the window wall and the room-within-a-room — and how they can enhance house design. Both have long histories. In one sense the glass wall goes all the way back to the tall banks of windows at the Tudor estate known as Hardwick Hall in England, built by Bess

of Hardwick in the late 1500s, shown here (photo courtesy Anglotopia.net). At that time glass was an important emblem of power and wealth because it was so rare — thus it was a fitting material for the richest woman in England after Queen Elizabeth I. You didn’t mess with Bess. A more recent example is the glass

living room wall to the right of the tree courtyard, at the Pavilion de l’Esprit Nouveau designed by Le Corbusier and built as a demonstration house or “machine for living” for the Paris Exposition of 1925 (photo courtesy 4rts.wordpress.com). As we have seen in previous posts, the window wall became a signature feature of Modernism, especially in mid-twentieth century works like Mies Van Der Rohe’s Farnsworth house and Philip Johnson’s Glass

House. Our Plan 520-4, by Irish architect Frank McGahon, shown here with its flanking window walls, is a recent version. The great appeal of the window wall is to unite inside and outside while framing both. The trick is to beware of exposures — even insulated glass can transmit heat and cold.

The room-within-a-room idea is vividly illustrated by a piece of furniture, also from England of centuries ago: the Great Bed of Ware, ca. 1580, with its large

post and beam frame and heavy curtains closing it off for privacy and warmth (photo courtesy Wikipedia).

Thomas Jefferson’s bed alcove at Monticello, shown above, is a sort of built-in version, minus the curtains (photo courtesy Colonial Williamsburg). Architect Charles Moore was fascinated with this idea and referred to it as an aedicula, which is Latin for a small shrine. (The most famous example of an aedicula

is the baldacchino with twisting columns over the altar at St. Peter’s in Rome, by Bernini, photo courtesy Saintpetersbasilica.org.) Moore used a much simplified version of it in his own house at Orinda from the early 1960s, where the larger

living and smaller bathing spaces are defined by columns and skylights, like separate domestic temples clustered under one roof (image courtesy Eleanor Weinel’s Arch4443). Moore’s design partner, William Turnbull, used an even more spare — and more Jeffersonian — version in his Sea Ranch cottage of the early 1980s, which is our historical Plan 447-1, where the bed is an alcove

in the corner. A flexible contemporary take on this idea is “The Cube” designed by architect Toshi Kasa of Spaceflavor for Feng Shui expert Liu Ming in his live/work loft in Oakland, California (photo by Joe Fletcher via The New York

 Times). The 8 foot-square cube-on-wheels is a bedroom on one side and an office on the other, allowing Mr. Ming to use the rest of his loft for his classes. I trust the brakes are on in case there’s an earthquake.

An outdoor room within a garden is yet another way to go, as architect Ross

Anderson shows in our Plan 433-2, above. See the outdoor fireplace opposite the built-in bench forming a small living area at the edge of the courtyard in this partial view.

But where might the window wall and the room-in-a-room work together? How about Hojo House by Akira Yoneda of Architecton in Japan. The glass house is

behind an elegant scrim of steel tubes, creating a modified screen porch that distracts from the very tight infill site (thoughts of cages inevitably spring to mind; photo courtesy infoteli.com). But I think today’s most famous example of the two ideas working together might be the marvelous glass cube entrance to the Apple store

on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, where the novelty of a structure that is there-and-not-there makes you see everything around it — like the Plaza Hotel across the street — more clearly. The simple contrast between solid and void is visually refreshing and builds a larger whole. Designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Apple’s magic container makes you realize it is a room within the much larger room that is the terrace on which it sits, the street, and the edge of Central Park itself. Some ideas just expand!

What Makes a Great Outdoor Room?

Fresh Air Fantasies

Spring fever is upon me so what makes a great outdoor room? In Baroque Italy it might have included finely clipped box hedges, stone benches, a bubbling fountain, the odd grotto, and perhaps a running stream for keeping wine bottles cool (those thirsty cardinals and popes!). In the late 1920s the famous modern architect Le Corbusier designed a roof garden for an eccentric client in Paris that was a surrealist living room: an ornate fireplace, a rug-like lawn, and the

Arc de Triomphe peeking over one wall like the fragment of a floating cornice (photo courtesy Studio International). More recently architects and designers have continued to push boundaries, literally, and they have shown how almost every room in the house can move outdoors. Here’s a quick round-up of indoor functions that migrate.

Living. Of course a patio sitting area becomes a secondary living room, as

landscape architect Bernard Trainor shows in this arrangement around a fire pit, where the gravel floor and perimeter plantings neatly define the space (photo courtesy Bernard Trainor). Crisp edges, smooth ground, two chairs and perhaps a shade umbrella are really all you need. A built-in bench protected from the sun

by a retractable canopy is another way to go as shown in this example by architect Buzz Yudell, of Moore Ruble Yudell Architects, and architectural colorist Tina Beebe, where the pillows seem to embody the weight and color of shade itself — lighter to darker green.

Cooking. Outdoor kitchens have grown in popularity and run the gamut from simple built-in barbecues with an adjacent counter to grand food preparation

zones with a full complement of appliances designed for outdoor use, not to mention pizza ovens and flat screen televisions. (The example above is from Plan 496-14, by Leon Meyer.) The arrival of versatile folding wall systems — pioneered by Nanawall from the US, with other companies like Centor from Australia adding to the mix — have made it possible to turn any kitchen with an outside wall into an outdoor kitchen. (This Nanawall example is courtesy

Shannon, Scarlett, Taylor Architects).

Dining. In good weather everyone wants to be outside, especially at mealtime,

and here’s an especially serene space for alfresco dining by Aidlin Darling Design. I hope that after this compelling image was made the owners added a little more seating — otherwise the fire seems to be entertaining itself (photo courtesy Aidlin Darling via Custom Home). Architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen is known for supremely elegant houses where outdoor rooms are proportioned

like interior ones, as this hip-roofed patio dining pavilion demonstrates (courtesy Architectural Digest).

Bathing. Where the climate is temperate and there’s enough privacy even bathrooms can move outside, as this dramatic example by the firm of

Backen Gillam Kroeger Architects demonstrates. When the walls slide away you can really soak in the sunset! (Photo courtesy BGK Architects.)

Sleeping. It’s a summertime pleasure to sleep in the open air. Certainly it can be done with a sleeping bag, but there are other ways to go. The Mexican modern architects Legoretta and Legoretta turned an entire bedroom

at a house in Hawaii into a breezeway. The corner disappears — no sleepwalking allowed (photo courtesy Architectural Digest). But simply installing a hammock

on the porch (visible in the distance, house design by and photo courtesy of Walker Warner Architects) might be enough. Or why not hang your bed from the

rafters for the ultimate relaxation room, and let your house rock you to sleep (photo courtesy Chomec.com).


New Katrina Cottages and Bungalows

Shotguns and Survival

Hurricane Katrina blew away or seriously damaged a lot of Gulf Coast architectural history — like the classic mid 19nth century “shotgun house”

at Bay St. Louis shown here (courtesy Mississippi Heritage Trust) and so-called because you could shoot a bullet front to back without hitting an interior wall, but Mississippi architect Bruce Tolar has fought back, helping communities overcome the devastation and even renew their roots. Like Marianne Cusato and others he developed a variety of innovative, easy-to-construct, small houses — including Katrina Cottages  — that add character, even a sense of history, to a neighborhood. Now these plans are part of our Exclusive Studio.

His two bedroom, one bath, 672 sq. ft. Plan 536-4 deftly brings the shotgun idea into the 21st century by including hurricane-resistant construction

and a contemporary layout. (You can still enjoy some target practice down the hall though you’ll need to be okay with blasting through the bedroom closet.) The house is tiny but lives large thanks to the generous front porch and the combined kitchen/living space. The three bedroom, three bath, 1,413 sq. ft.

Plan 536-1 takes a more expansive approach while keeping the neighborly

 front. The cross-axial dormers brighten the upstairs bunk room and bath.

Plan 536-3 is a simplified version of Plan 536-1, with no upper floor and

   a shortened front porch. I can see this plan built as a vacation cabin

or a starter home. But these houses are really designed to shape a

 community, as Bruce shows in his walkable Cottage Square development at

Ocean Springs, Mississippi, pictured in the two photos above, where his designs complement those by Marianne Cusato and others in a pleasing example of countryside urbanity.

Plan 536-5 takes a different tack and draws inspiration from Caribbean

architecture with stucco or plaster walls and high balconies as well as 

wrap-around porches to maximize cross ventilation in a hot climate.

With their connections to a larger historical context  these plans are all about creating — or in some cases re-creating — a strong sense of place. These houses remind me of Mark Twain’s famous line that history might not repeat it self, but it rhymes. Welcome Bruce!