Siting Help from Sea Ranch Architect Donlyn Lyndon

By Dan Gregory, Originally Published in Eye On Design

Think about how your plan's windows and porches capture views, sun, shade, and breezes. This is the Alice Wingwall/Donlyn Lyndon residence at Sea Ranch (image courtesy Environmental Design Archives, U. C. Berkeley).

I asked the eminent architect Donlyn Lyndon — one of the designers of Sea Ranch (and author of the definitive book about it),  co-author with Charles Moore and Gerald Allen of the influential The Place of Houses, and Emeritus Professor of Architecture at U. C. Berkeley — for siting advice. Here’s what he wrote:

“Siting is about Making Places. Siting is about making connections — to the ground; to the sky; to neighbors; to existing vegetation; to water and its flows, both natural and channeled; to the sun and the wind; to transportation.

Siting is making the most of your surroundings; finding the best places to be for various activities, inside and out.” He wants you to think creatively about the site even before you start looking for a house plan.

The first step is to examine your site, imagine being in it in various ways and at differing times of day and season. Make careful note of levels and change/slope of the ground. Get a sense of its dimensions by positioning yourself in ways that you expect to interact with people and measuring the distances.”

I would add that a way to start thinking about such connections would be to find a few plans that already show some sort of site relationship,
 the way Ross Anderson’s Ranch House Plan 433-2 wraps around a courtyard;  or the way Peter Brachvogel and Stella Carosso’s Whitehall Plan 479-8 uses porches and dormers to capture views; or the way Daniel E. Bush’s Modern Living Plan 460-3 opens to a variety of outdoor spaces, or the way Dan Tyree's Plan 64-166 takes advantage of a slope with a stair-stepped design.

Donlyn sums up his recipe for siting success:

”Choose a house plan not just on what looks good to you, but on what plan will do three things:

1. Make rooms in the right places on the site.

2. Make best advantage of your site and its views, outlooks/connections.

3. Make sense with your neighbor/neighborhood, add value to the place.

Then start imagining how that plan can best fit on the site, given the findings above. Make several different arrangements of the house on the land and imagine what might eventually be added to the site.”  (You can find more detailed analysis of siting principles in his Place of Houses book.)

08/05/2013