the blog posts

those pesky hillsides

It seems there is a shockingly slow realisation in Bermuda that we have left for development the difficult sloping sites. Everyone recognises "the easy sites are gone" but the natural conclusion to that statement doesn't seem to be uttered: "and we are stuck with the nasty hillsides!" It would be funny except it's true. 

I grew up in a house with no front yard. There was no front yard because the house sits on a hillside and the only way my father could create a front yard was by spending ridiculous amounts of money on unsightly retaining walls. Even if he'd had the money, which he didn't, my grandfather the stone mason would have stopped him from being such a complete biscuit.

blair house, image: jbennett fittsIn the western world front yards generally came about because of setbacks between houses and roadways - some mandated, some not - in the early 19th century. The purposes varied from allowing for a garden or avoiding the tenement look of urban areas to ensuring space for socialisation or, conversely, privacy. With the space established, regulations as to what could happen or be placed in the space later sprang up. Yes, you can have a garden gnome; no, you may not erect a basketball hoop. Yes, you can grow flowers; no, you cannot grow tomatoes. Go figure.

It is probably past time, in Bermuda, to assess whether that front yard is really necessary. There are innovative hillside design solutions that result in wonderful, spacious houses where entertaining is fun and easy, parking is not a problem and there is no need to own a lawn mower.

Architect Bruce Bolander designed such a house in Malibu, California and it is featured in an article by Erika Heet, Up and Away, in Dwell magazine. Built on caissons, this compact house of 900 square feet has ample area for living, working and entertaining. 

By the way, the house I grew up in has an enormous front balcony. I never felt I was missing anything due to the lack of a front yard.

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.

city parklets

I was amused and jollied the other day to see the Christmas tree set up on Reid Street, outside Gibbons. The department store has commandeered a car parking space and erected a Christmas tree, decorations and all.

I believe it's great for a couple of reasons. First, every time there is talk of pedestrianising lower Reid Street, business owners are understandably concerned that the loss of street parking will result in a loss of customers. After all, this is a community that thinks the walk from Bull's Head Car Park on the north side of the city to Front Street on the south side is akin to a mini version of the End-to-End trek. Never mind that distances in Hamilton are measured in yards not miles. While the Christmas tree results in the loss of only one parking space, it adds immeasurable sparkle to the season. Kudos to Gibbons for doing it!

Second, the pedestrianisation discussion is more than 20 years old now, so shouldn't we try to move things along? A slow but determined occupation of car parking spaces might help demonstrate that Bermudians can walk and we do love to shop. The Gibbons Christmas tree would be even more wonderful, for example, if the store had taken over two spaces, installed some benches for weary shoppers and - voila! - created a parklet. Further down the street the Chatterbox Cafe could place benches and small tables in front of its shop too.

Maybe, instead of assuming all cars will be removed at once - clearly a disturbing prospect for some - we could build up to it? Make lower Reid Street vehicle-free for just the weekend to start? Design and install a series of parklets so that shoppers and businesses can envision the future? We can see how that works and then try a little more for a little longer. 

The possibilities are quite wide ranging but we should either get on with it or stop talking about it.