I recently visited Home Depot to purchase a new compass. After the clerk mistook my intent to be a search for compost (was it my accent?), I was informed that they no longer sell compasses.
I have an iMac, an iPad, an iPhone (but refuse to wear an iWatch). I know I can download a phone app for a compass, and I know I can use Google Earth to evaluate building sites without ever walking them with my clients.
Still, the demise of the compass suggests the loss of one of the most vital aspects of home design – romance.
Every great design begins with an understanding of the building site. It begins with a compass- understanding where the sun rises, floats in the midday summer and winter skies, and where it sets, sparking a discussion of which rooms clients want bathed in sunlight at which times of day. Which trees and topographic features will shade the house from blistering summer sun and chilling winter wind, and what yard areas will the house shade (who wants to sun on a dark deck)?
That is just the beginning of a wonderful exploration of how the design will romance the site, responding to every natural feature, including the fragrance of wisteria, the view that can only be captured 10 feet above the ground between two mature trees. The color and layering of ledge that will help shape the house and inform its hues. How to minimize the noise of nearby traffic or to enhance the experience of awakening sounds of wildlife with whom you will share your piece of ground.
Walking the path of the intended driveway and imagining how the house will reveal itself to all who approach. Creating privacy from neighbors at specific locations.
I have participated in the design of homes shaped by Google Earth, and I have been consultant to modular manufacturers who eschew the idea of moving view or breeze -capturing windows to some point in the “box” where steel is required for the requisite highway journey from factory to homesite. Cool scientific- dispassionate - discussions that don’t allow the time, effort, or experience of romancing the site also suggest a detachment that extends through the entire design process. Scientific perhaps. Romantic? Never!
Be suspicious of any process that minimizes the experience - the romance - of the pre-design site visit. There is no scientific method that compares to beginning the process of designing a new home by walking the site with you. Something wonderful happens every time. Let’s experience it together with all our senses and explore the many possibilities of the romantic interaction between the built and natural environments.