Whether designing a single house or a pocket neighborhood of homes, we always begin outside the box. What is the larger environment that surrounds us? What is lovable —in particular— about the street we’re on, or the houses to either side? Is it the massing and proportion of the neighboring buildings, their pleasing palate of related colors, or the detail of a roof bracket?
What is not lovable? What is missing? Do the houses seem to stand alone rather than being in conversation? Does the street feel too wide and vacant? Are there are trees missing in a rhythm?
And then we ask, how might we make the larger better with our smaller action? As we arrange the car connection, building positions and layout of the gardens and major trees, how can we add to the qualities we love and repair the broken patterns or missing elements?
These initial questions are the most important efforts we do to ensure a successful project.
I’ll risk illustrating this with a bad example. Here’s a classic cottage courtyard with a central commons. The homes are relatively affordable. Yet a parking lot hangs out in front like an afterthought. The ends of the buildings are blank and landscaping almost non-existent. Clearly, no attention was given to how this project connects and contributes to the fabric of the surrounding houses and streetscape. It does not add to the walkability of the neighborhood, the engagement of the community, nor the prevailing home values.
This counter example is a bit unfair. It had a much larger budget, but I want you to notice the core patterns.
Danielson Grove is also a classic cottage courtyard nested within an existing neighborhood of single-family homes. While the front of the homes face onto the courtyard, the buildings on the street offer a friendly gesture: the Common House has an entry porch and garden, and the End House has a gabled dormer and trellis. Large conifer trees along the street were preserved, helping the new development feel settled in on Opening Day. Parking is out of view completely, in a cluster located off of a lane on the backside of the court.
To say this in another way, outside-the-box thinking leads to “both/and” solutions, where our own needs and desires are met in ways that enrich and enhance the surrounding neighborhood. Have your cake and eat it, too.