Welcome to our architectural review newsletter. This up-close look behind the scenes and the mind of Harry Gandy Howle reflects how each finished home is a project of energy and enthusiasm that represents an intense level of attention to details.
As we collectively experience the COVID-19 crisis, we take comfort in knowing that our community is strong and stands together even though we’re socially distanced. It seems most appropriate for this issue of HGH REVIEW that we reflect on the historical aspects of diseases and how they actually influenced modern architecture.
There is truth in the saying: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Unlike the front and back porches of American domestic architecture that saw a dramatic rise in popularity following WWII, today’s outdoor living spaces – living rooms with fireplaces and summer kitchens for example – saw a significant rise in popularity among homeowners two decades ago. For those of us fortunate enough to live in a beautiful coastal community, these living spaces are enjoyed year-round. And during this pandemic crisis, our home has become a literal sanctuary, including our open-air rooms. History repeatedly shows that fresh air and natural light are both good for the soul and our health.
During the tuberculosis epidemic, for example, fresh air and sunlight were recommended for patients suffering from the disease. And for those that could afford to stay at a sanitorium, it proved to promote their healing process. Although sanitoriums began as collections of cottages in mountainous regions in Europe, they evolved into purpose-designed buildings, intended to limit the spread of germs while providing key ingredients for recovery: dry, fresh air and sunshine. They also strongly influenced modernist architecture.
The first tuberculosis sanatorium in the United States was founded by Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau in the Adirondacks town of Saranac, New York in 1885. A key feature of his buildings was a glass-enclosed deck known as a “cure porch.” The design and construction of specialized sanatoria coincided with the advent of Modernism. Architectural elements like flat roofs, terraces and balconies, and light-painted rooms gained popularity, which was intended to cure the perceived physical and mental ailments brought on by crowded cities. Part of the appeal of flat roofs was the extra outdoor space they created, which could be used for sunbathing – known as “heliotherapy” at the time. Glass enclosed rooms allowed pastoral landscapes – bringing the outdoors indoors.
Fast forward to today, and yesterday’s architectural styles continue to influence design – including classical architecture. You see this in homes with sunrooms enclosed in glass, open terraces or balconies, and screened-in porches. We also see it reflected in commercial office spaces and hospitals. A 1984 study published in Science by environmental psychologist, Robert Ulrich, found that “when all other aspects of patients’ care were equal, those with a window that looked out onto trees had fewer surgical complications, healed faster, and required significantly less pain medication than those whose window faced a brick wall.”
But in addition to interior and architectural designs that bring the outdoors indoors, we now enjoy open-air rooms that bring the comforts of indoor living to the healing aspects of the great outdoors. Modernism was once associated with sterility and a mechanistic approach, and hence had the tendency to feel cold or ‘cheap.’ Over time, there has been a gradual transformation away from the strictly mechanical approach to one that is much more organic and warmer. The joy of spending time with family and friends gathered for alfresco dining or huddled around a firepit in the evening, naturally soothes what ails you.
They are an important lifestyle feature today and we understand the flexibility outdoor rooms offer homeowners. The additional space blurs the line and bridges the interior family space and the great outdoors. While the majority of today’s residential architectural designs feature an outdoor living space, houses designed and built 30 or 40 years ago did not. They weren’t a trend in the 1980’s when many of the homes in John’s Island, for example, were constructed. As the houses became ‘a little tired’ and owners had their kitchens and family rooms remodeled, they also added on beautiful family outdoor living rooms.
While the end result may be attractive, a great deal of prior planning is necessary. The addition must conform to the footprint of the house and the existing living spaces, not to mention taking into consideration total lot coverage, setbacks, allowing for the right amount of green space, and building codes. The new space also has to be compatible with the vernacular of the home.
To create a seamless transition from one space to the other, we often design patio doors that are buried into the walls. They literally disappear, so you can walk right through from one space to the other. They’ve come a long way from the communal front porches and back decks of the mid 20th century!
My favorite outdoor living space designs? Those that perfectly complement the home’s architecture and become instant magnets for family and friends.