Siting Help from an Architect

By Dan Gregory

Think about how your plan works with your site's key features, like a slope, sun-orientation, and views. Plan 891-3 by Cathy Schwabe.

I asked the eminent architect Donlyn Lyndon — one of the designers of the innovative, environmentally forward-thinking  second-home community called The Sea Ranch on the Sonoma County Coast in Northern California (and author with Jim Alinder of the definitive book about it, shown here), for siting advice. 

Donlyn is also the co-author with Charles Moore and Gerald Allen of the influential The Place of Houses, and Emeritus Professor of Architecture at U. C. Berkeley. Here’s what he suggests:

“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 -- after you have thoroughly explored your site -- would be to find a few plans that already show some sort of site relationship,
 the way Matthew Coates' Plan 498-6 takes advantage of the sloping site with a large view-oriented

deck on the main level over a covered patio off the recreation room and bedrooms on the lower level. In this case the carport is on the upper level near the main entrance. In Plan 901-8, also designed for a sloping site, the upper level contains the great room, kitchen, screen porch, and master suite and the 

the lower level is somewhat more exposed, which brings more daylight into those ground floor bedrooms.

Another approach would be to dig the garage into the slope and stack the main living rooms over it as happens with Plan 909-10 by MA Architecture, above, 

and with Plan 902-1 by Confluence Architecture, showing the concrete block base. Sometimes it may be necessary for the automobile to arrive

near the main level and then drive down to the lower or garage level, as happens with Plan 926-3 by Oakhurst. Yet another way to fit a house onto a slope is to stair-step down it, as Plan 496-14 by Leon Meyer does,

allowing overlapping decks on different levels. If it's possible to terrace your sloping site and your design is not too large it might be possible to fit it  to the flattened area, as with the studio cabin Plan 891-3 by Cathy

Schwabe (also at the top of this post), where the living room opens easily to the adjacent paved area. If the site is flat but somewhat open and you desire more privacy consider a courtyard arrangement like

Plan 433-2, which wraps around a spacious outdoor living room (note the patio fireplace). Such a courtyard could also hold a swimming pool and frame a vista at the open end.

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; see my review of it in a previous post, noted below.)

To browse a collection of plans for sloping lots click here.

Thu May 18 00:00:00 PDT 2017