the blog posts

houses in a garden

The brilliance of designing houses that truly fit into a garden is exmplified by this design in Mexico of Alejandro Sanchez Garcia Arquitectos. The development, Casa Chipicas, comprises four townhouses set in a wooded garden setting.

image: alejandro sanchez garcia arquitectos

As outlined in this piece from freshome, "Private Garden in Mexico Accommodating Four Wooden Houses", these houses look like "gorgeous little vacation resorts".

Residents enter via a shared landscaped access area but largely blank facades present towards the pathways and, in that way, preserve privacy. Each has a yard onto which the living rooms spill over with carefully selected and tended trees and shrubs providing picturesque green barriers between the houses. The three storey structures ensure necessary habitable space is achieved without sacrificing the garden. 

The ambience tends towards tamed wilderness but these houses appear to be located within a developed area. The defining characteristic, therefore, is the fantastic garden. 

image: alejandro sanchez garcia arquitectos

The equivalent in Bermuda could be a wooded area where a stand of, say, Fiddlewood or Spice trees might be sacrificed for the house footprint and the houses themselves constructed upwards rather than outwards. Dedication to intelligent garden design is required, along with a preference for a yard the size of a postage stamp instead of a football field. It's possible and, given the island's limited land mass, ought to be preferable.

design communities, not housing

Bermuda has lost the opportunity, several times now, to design communities and, instead, has erected a crowd of dwelling units, between them providing or intending to provide a roof over the head of more than one hundred families. Examples that come to mind include Harbour View Village, Grand Atlantic - unfortunately, it's simply very visible; there's no intention to pick on it! - and Loughlands.   

It's the lost potential that is probably most frustrating. No doubt current residents enjoy living in a new development but architects and planners, me included, should take some responsibility in settling for OK, or even pretty good, when great might have been within reach.

tassafaronga village, east oakland, ca image: matthew millman for nytimesDesigning for a community can be done. This article in the New York Times, Design as a Balm for a Community's Soul by Michael Kimmelman wonderfully explains and illustrates the possibilities, admittedly in an urban setting. (Enjoy the accompanying slide presentation too.)

Useful points include: design so that eyes are on the shared public spaces; make those spaces ones that encourage walking, recreation and community; include business ventures that appeal to immediate residents as well as passers-by so as to bring activity to the site; and, open the development up to its surrounding neighbourhood.

We tend, here, in both the private and public sectors, to engage in some 'tick the box' design and planning. So, for example, the Cataract Hill/Fritholme Gardens residential complex, which includes a swimming pool and an attached clubhouse with a bar, hairdresser, yoga centre and gym, enables both architect and planner to tick the communal amenity space box and pat ourselves on the back.

As it turns out, this residential amenity space deliberately does incorporate uses that are a part of daily living and which appeal to both immediate residents and the wider island community. In that way it steps up the community building ladder, more so than most, and that's a good thing. Also, with 100% occupancy and more townhouses and villas on the way, clearly there is something working in this formula. Are there tweaks, though, that might help it fulfill its community potential and take it to the level of great?

Given the economy and current lack of construction, it is unlikely issues of community building will move to the front burner soon. That doesn't mean Bermuda's architects and planners can't spend some time considering new ideas and ways to improve the communities, neighbourhoods and apartment complexes we have now. The collection of buildings and activities somewhat randomly sprouting up around the Warwick Gas Station on South Road and the proposed residential community planned for Victoria Terrace in Dockyard point to the opportunity for new thinking around community design that ought not be lost. Such new thinking can only be good for Bermuda.

new designs in historic settings

Historic buildings are on my mind these days, so this new design in an historic residential area in Madison (Wisconsin, I presume), USA caught my eye - Compact Family Home in Madison Inspiring Warmth and Sophistication featured in

Particularly, Johnsen Schmaling Architects's explanation of the design approach made me smile:

Successfully contesting the local preservation ordinance whose strict guidelines advocated stylistic mimicry while failing to recognize the neighborhood’s rich architectural diversity, we designed a quiet but unapologetically contemporary building...

This building is set between a one hundred year old Spanish Colonial and a house dating back to 1896, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It would be wonderful to see more of the hisortic setting to truly assess the architect's claim. Nonetheless, what do you think?