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Designing Outdoor Spaces

Module 3—House Design Tutorial

This is Module 3 of the Design Your Own Home tutorial. In this module you will consider how you would like to use the outdoor spaces of your property. You may feel that you would rather jump right into designing the floor plans of your home but resist this urge since you will need your indoor spaces to connect smoothly with your outdoor spaces. Most parents with young children appreciate having the home space they spend the most time in to look out onto the children's outdoor play area. So locating where this play area will be is a necessary first step. Even situating the driveway or any paths leading to the home are important first steps before you decide where your home entrances will be.

The walls of your outdoor "rooms" can be figurative or real. A hammock slung between leafy trees creates a relaxation area. A garden table sitting in the open, partially surrounded by trellises or shaded by an umbrella creates an outdoor dining area. A vegetable garden, gated or open, would also be designed as an outdoor space.

Through the use of bubble diagrams, you will design these outdoor rooms and their associated pathways before moving on to the inside of the home to design your indoor rooms.

These modules are best read in order. If you are just starting out with your house design, go to the tutorial introduction or see our tutorial site map to navigate the tutorial as it suits you.

This module, Designing Outdoor Spaces, assumes you have already completed the last tutorial module (Site Analysis), have created your site map and have researched your zoning laws.

Drawing Bubble Diagrams for Outdoor Rooms

This is a good time to make a few photocopies of your site map so that you can use them to make a few different plans.

During our initial design stages, I quickly realized that before we could even start we would have to consider how we were going to use the outdoor spaces on our land, how we would arrive at the property, where the views were, and from which direction any noise or wind came from.

To plan your outdoor rooms, make a photocopy of your site map, then:

  • Indicate with X marks or loosely drawn circles (we'll call them bubbles) areas that you really love and would like to preserve as sitting places, a garden, a children's play area.
  • Mark where you would most likely approach the property by whatever means applies: by car, foot, bicycle, boat, ski or any other manner. This will help define pathways between outdoor rooms and where your house entry points should be.

(In the image below we've lightened the site map from Module 1 to make the new information stand out.)

Design My Own Home Outdoor Spaces

Site Repair and Site Preservation

Now consider a pattern proposed by the book A Pattern Language. It is called site repair. The basic idea behind site repair is that you choose a part of the land that is not so attractive and you place your house there. In this way you repair or improve this part of the land. However, if the only spots like this on your land do not take advantage of the view or don't work with your drawn bubbles or approach routes, discard this idea. But stop and think about it for a while and ask yourself if parts of the land could be improved upon by building there.

I have a variation of this concept that I call site preservation. The idea is to not build on any of those parts of the land where you really love to sit, play or relax. These are the places that should be preserved as they are, designed as outdoor rooms, and should not be somehow obstructed by a building.

House Placement

For a city lot, consider how close you want to be to the street but balance this with how much you will actually use a front yard. If it's the type of neighborhood where you will sit on the front porch, plant a garden in the front or the kids will play out on the street and in the front yards often, leave adequate space for this. If the front yard will be barely used, consider placing the house closer to the street so that there will be more space for a back yard.

Finally, on your site map, draw a bubble where you could picture the house sitting. Consider how this placement interfaces with the outdoor rooms you have created. Don't worry too much about dimensions of the house bubble at this point, just make a loose bubble shape that is roughly the size of the house that you are thinking of at this time. We'll modify this bubble later when you design your floor plans and consider house shapes.

Next Module—Home Needs Analysis Worksheets

Now with your map for outdoor spaces complete, it's time to move on to designing your own house with a:

Home Needs Analysis for indoor spaces—Module 4.

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