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Bring the outside in

William Dangar Associates, Australia

Designing a new home brings with it a great opportunity to put right, on the micro level, one of the major flaws of modern life: our ever-growing distance from nature. Many thousands of years ago, our ancestors roamed the lands, and had a deep connection and understanding of nature and the shifting of the seasons. As populations increased, our relationship with nature changed from one of interconnection and respect to one that was dominated by our drive to profit from nature’s resources. Cities have grown to meet the demands of greater numbers of us on the planet and the natural landscape has been irrevocably damaged, while our bond to the natural landscape has weakened. Putting aside the negative environmental impacts, the human psychological and health impacts of this disconnect are far-reaching. There is now much evidence to suggest that our estrangement from nature has led to increased stress, illness, and reduced cognitive function.

The good news is that you can mitigate this by designing your home in a way that enhances the relationship between indoors and outdoors, bringing with it not only an increased sense of wellbeing by being more deeply connected to nature, but also improved air quality, temperature regulation, and noise reduction. Biophilia is the term used to describe our natural affinity and attraction to the natural world. There are multitudes of ways that we can deepen the relationships between our homes and nature, thereby increasing the quality of our living spaces. Innovations in construction methods mean that we can design in ways that seamlessly merge inside and out, allowing for flexibility and seasonal adaptability in our homes.

The most fundamental aspect to successfully harmonising the inside of our home with its surroundings is to carefully consider particular aspects of your site or lot. Check out our blog on getting to know your site here for more about that!
Of course, different climates demand different levels of indoor/outdoor connection; while warmer climates may allow deeper physical blending of spaces, colder places or seasons may require that such links are limited to the visual or aural.

The visual connection through windows is the simplest means of bringing the outside in. Carefully placed picture windows can frame the landscape like a piece of art, a composition to be admired from within. It doesn’t have to be the most spectacular view in the world – we’re not all that lucky!- so be mindful of a specific part of your garden or surroundings that you’d like to project to the inside. This very simple window (note that the glazing is fixed and unbroken so that the view is not disturbed by mullions) frames a view of a garden hedge and a bird table – a subtle way of drawing the eye from within to the birds and the trees.
In the Four Cornered House by Avanto Architects in Finland (above), the visual connection to nature is magnified in two ways: first, the frameless floor to ceiling fixed glazing reinforces the idea of continuity between indoors and outdoors – the space just seems to flow uninterrupted between the two; second, the snowy, forested landscape is reflected in the near-white timber lined walls of the interior – both the color and the materiality blur the distinction between what’s built and what’s natural.
Of course, we don’t all live in such majestic surroundings, but we can use the same tricks to bring the landscape into our own more humble homes. The continuity of materials on the floor, along with the large sliding door, blend the living space with the courtyard beyond, essentially creating another room for the home. The threshold is indistinct, and the spatial flow between the two areas is flexible depending on the time of day or year.
Architect: John Pawson
John Pawson goes a step further by extending his kitchen right through the glazing, drawing the eye beyond the boundaries of the room and seamlessly merging the dining area and the courtyard, a trellis-lined space that is punctuated by a table and a single tree.
While there were a plethora of badly designed – and mostly unused – conservatories and sunrooms tacked on to houses around the world in the 1990s, better quality windows and construction materials and methods now mean that the sun space can be a justified and welcome addition to the living spaces of contemporary houses. They can be super modern or very classical like this version by Rafe Churchill Architects; and they can be either clean and reserved or luscious and leafy.
Corner windows are another great way of creating connection, particularly if you’re lucky enough to have an expansive view. Newer methods of construction and the ability to open up the corners of buildings without supports, means that our views suddenly become multi-dimensional, and panoramas unfold before us. The Picture House by Fabio Barilari shows how a corner window gives the feeling of being projected right into the landscape.
Courtyards are one of the most wonderful ways of injecting your home with a little bit of nature. Whether lush and overgrown or reserved and contemplative, courtyards bring light to deep plans, and gardens to houses that need to turn inward. Two beautifully contrasting approaches to the courtyard are the very minimalist White Cave House by Takuro Yamamoto in Japan (above), and the verdant Australian home by William Dangar Associates (above). Courtyards are frequently used as a means of natural ventilation in hot climates, often with greenery and fountains to regulate air temperature and humidity.
Water features such as fountains or reflecting pools can add another dimension of nature to a space. Common in Islamic buildings, water can regulate humidity, provide a relaxing sound, and give a home to bird-life, aquatic plant species, and even fish. Reflecting pools, as the name suggests, can reflect light into the depth of interior rooms, along with casting mesmerizing rippling reflections on to inside walls.

Casa OM1 by AE Arquitectos is a masterclass in bringing the outside in, incorporating gardens, sliding glass screens to the outdoors, a lush internal courtyard, and covered dining spaces. The floors run seamlessly between inside and outside, blurring the boundaries completely. The natural timber and stone used inside the house reinforce its natural approach.

Casa OM1 AE Arquitectos, Mexico, photograph by Lorena Darquea

So, whatever kind of home you have, consider the following: analyze your site and which aspects of it you would most like to draw in to the home; pick your favorite views to frame; and blur the distinctions between inside and outside with continuous materials, level thresholds, and sliding screens.

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