In recent years, placemaking tenets have been referenced to help define the full spectrum of development contexts and building typologies. Accepted as a critical component of experiential architecture and planning used to shape urban environments and larger-scale mixed-use commercial developments, placemaking is now being associated with office interiors, hotel lobbies, multi-family common areas and even private residential contexts. In these smaller environments, there is often an emphasis on connectivity between interior and exterior spaces and a conscious effort to provide a focal point that shapes the social interactions of the end users, facilitating opportunities for community-building.
In single-family residential settings, there is obviously a much more intimate and personal quality to these gathering places. It is well known that the way we use the public spaces in our homes has evolved to address a continuing cultural shift towards the less formal. An early phase of this shift was the recapturing of back of house spaces formerly relegated to the cook and the butler. Today, the kitchen is at the center of social interaction, whether entertaining guests or enjoying a family night at home. These trends have driven the repositioning of traditional rooms as owners reevaluate how they want to use spaces such as the formal dining room. With the advent of family rooms and “great” rooms, even living rooms have been relegated to holiday gathering places that often sit idle throughout the calendar year.
In his residential architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright was masterful at creating spaces that maintained a degree of individual definition while flowing seamlessly from one part of the house to another - overlapping and interconnecting visually. Le Corbusier as well, though utilizing a very different aesthetic, contributed a great deal to the concept of flow by placing emphasis on “architectural promenade” -controlling the experience of people purposefully and sequentially moving through a house.
Though crafted for very different eras, the experiential qualities of homes designed by the masters can still be applied in creating great spaces that support the way we interact socially today. While contemporary residential environments often focus on connectivity, a simple “open plan” approach alone does not necessarily result in spaces that feel defined, intentional and appropriately-scaled. Instead, architectural features such as soffits, columns, knee walls, etc. can go a long way toward establishing a variety of “places” within a largely open space. Visual connections between public rooms and exterior spaces not only allow for abundant natural light, but also can enhance the experience of both indoor and outdoor activities. The alignment of interior openings [“enfilade”] from room to room can create long views, promote a better understanding of the whole and continually reference the relationship of the home to the surrounding landscape.
The design of transition spaces and exterior rooms – whether porches, terraces or defined lawn areas – serve to integrate the house into its context, further expanding placemaking opportunities for activities such as reading in the garden or al fresco dining. In fact, one’s surrounding context is often the primary driver for the orientation of key rooms, whether extending out horizontally into the landscape to capture views of the mountains or the water or emerging vertically in the evening onto a rooftop deck to survey lively urban surroundings. Placemaking principles that shape thoughtful environments, create a context for unique programming opportunities and connect us to the larger world, and can indeed be applied at many different scales.