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A good transitional entrance space between house and garden
November 6th, 2018 by Mark Laurence

This article was first published in 2009.

There are few aspects of our built environment more emotive that that of the entrance door. It can mean shelter, warmth, food, security, friendship. All of life involves the act of entrance, from the earliest caveman to the present day.

How many times per day do we go in and out of buildings and our homes? We scarcely stop to think about it, yet entrances all convey subconscious messages which can affect us on deeper levels, for good or ill. Some doorways are enticing, friendly; some oppressive; some just dingy and neglected. Most are probably functional and non-descript, of itself a message just as powerful as the others.

We move from our homes to cars, to shops, offices or other houses. Each time we do this we experience a subtle shift in light levels, humidity, warmth, expectations and intentions. Our mood shifts and adjusts with our purpose and our expectations. Going to work we might subconsciously don a mask as we enter busy offices or a large railway station. Arriving home again, we relax as we walk up the path, shedding the mask as we close the door behind us.

A Wisteria-covered pergola gives a deep connection

A Wisteria-covered pergola gives a deep connection between the kitchen door, driveway, outhouse and rear garden

The physical structure of a building and its entrances tell us what to expect: grand doorways with tall columns tell us of status, power and authority. Grim entrances to prisons have an unmistakable message. In public buildings especially, proportion is everything, where tall ceilings and doors give formality. By contrast a humble cottage door or an old garden gate recessed into an ivy-covered wall might look secretive or inviting, asking us to explore the spaces beyond. What do the doors to our homes tell us? Most front doors are rather bland or feel inauthentic, for example the many mock-Georgian style doors on modern houses offer us nothing more than a thin veil of pseudo-style applied over a nondescript structure.

In the home, layout and door position is also important. The front door is our formal entrance to the world, the back for our private comings and goings. Yet how many house layouts truly observe such simple criteria? Some houses have both the front and back doors equally visible, with no clear indication as to which is which. Or the back door opens onto a narrow side passage, rather than directly onto the garden. Many of us live with awkward house layouts.

Overcoming the problem of awkward flow is, however, fundamental to the harmonious functioning of a house and its occupants. On occasions when looking at a house and the way it connects to the garden, I have recommended the re-location of the rear door. It sounds extreme but I have had several clients who were very glad they took my advice. Fundamental problems sometimes need bold solutions and the picture below is one such example.  Here, a new connection from kitchen into the garden via a (new) seating area made a big transformation.

French doors give connection to the garden

New French doors give connection to the garden, creating a new experience in this house

French or patio doors aren’t always the bonus they’re meant to be, though. Sometimes these confuse the traffic-flow and can destroy the usability of the room in which they occur. Lines of movement (inside or out) should not cut through a still-point. Of course, sliding doors which truly open up the house and invite a more relaxed transition can be fantastic. It’s all down to careful thought and good design.

So much for placement, what of the physical act of entering and leaving? All too often it’s a bit, well, abrupt. Ground and wall meet at the perpendicular, at which point, there’s a door. You open it, go in or out. That’s it – all over with. Yet it takes a moment to adjust, from one environment to another, both physically (light and warmth) and mentally (tasks, purpose, relaxation). Ideally therefore, we need a space in which to adjust, to experience transition, even if it’s for just one second. That space becomes an area that is “in-between” – it could be a porch to the front entrance or a pergola to the rear. A covered walkway might lead to the car, a path or set of steps might connect us to the garden.

How this transitional space is styled will of course depend upon its use. For a front door, nothing beats a good porch or recessed doorway. The visitor waits in this transitional space for the door to be opened, the owner pauses to find their keys. Both might be glad to be out of the rain, or bathed in a welcoming light at night. Where possible, the porch should be preceded in the approach by a path and suitable planting, building up the sense of arrival. In these days of open-plan front gardens, attention to these simple things can make a big difference.

Where a door fronts onto a street, a roof canopy over the door and some tubs or wall planters might serve. A step up onto a different level might be frowned upon by planners, but where disabled access is not an issue, a step up, off the pavement can make a huge difference – suddenly we are in stasis, out of the busy flow of the main path.

To the rear, where a door connects you to the garden, there are multiple ways to enrich the experience of transition. A pergola might frame a door and be part of a larger structure which defines an outdoor room. Conservatories and lean-tos might be the connecting space. Loggias and verandas make a great transitional area. Where the back door has to be to the side of the house, perhaps make a shady passage covered by pergola, with ferns, foliage and climbers to give dappled light. Choose a good brick or stone and make it feel like a tunnel leading out into the garden proper.

So think about the way you move in and out of your house. Imagine the use, mood and character you wish to create and then find the structure to answer that need. A good entrance can really root a building into its environment and enhance the user experience considerably. If a building feels settled, like it belongs, you will too. Don’t put up with the merely adequate – enrich that transitional moment and rediscover the lost art of entrance.

Posted in Design, design principles, Garden Design, landscapes, Uncategorized, Urban Landscapes Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

May 9th, 2014 by Mark Laurence

I’ve been unusually quiet on the blog front – but something has been brewing.  I’ve been preparing a new green walling company – Vertology (the art of/science of vertical green-ing).  I’ve done this to build on my experience gained from the company I conceived and co-founded, Biotecture, back in 2007, and my time since then working internationally as a designer.  Vertology aims to take greening up to the next level, to increase expertise, plant knowledge, systems design and affordability.  A tall order, but it is there to do!

 

Vertology Living Wall System

Vertology will make its debut at the Chelsea Flower Show where it is providing six green walls for the RNIB fresh garden, sponsored by Countryside Properties and witht he garden designed by LDC.  I’ve never seen so much intensive design in a small space!  Can’t wait to see it finished.  Here are the walls growing in the Vertology greenhouse.

RNIB_Garden_Walls_Chelsea_Vertology

We have 4000m2 of automated greenhouse to grow our greenwalls in, and are very excited about the prospects.  MLD continues it’s work in a design/consultancy capacity.  See you at Chelsea? www.vertology.uk.com

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April 12th, 2013 by Mark Laurence

With my new website design (www.marklaurence.com), all my articles might seem to have disappeared. Because I’m focussing the new site on the design of green walls and related urban greening services, I’ve made the articles section a sub-site – www.marklaurence.com/articles.html – so they are still available.  I get a lot of readers from Google and elsewhere, and don’t want to let them down!

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August 17th, 2012 by Mark Laurence

I’ve just posted up all my favourite old articles from my old site “the Design of Gardens”, which was always about more than just gardens! You can find articles on the following link and I will adjust the menu at right to show these.

www.marklaurence.com/mainpage.html

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August 17th, 2012 by Mark Laurence

I watched a programme recently on BBC4 about Glastonbury “after hours” by Julien Temple, looking at the fringe areas of the festival, areas with names like Shangri-La, Arcadia, Block 9, the Unfair Ground, Lost Vagueness etc. All this alternative self-expression, borne out of the likes of Archaos and the traveller movement; dreads and drugs writ large. Or really, just an inevitable extension of these things. I haven’t been to Glastonbury since the mid 80’s, but probably like many, I watched with fascination and bemusement, but I was paying attention to the claims of purpose behind it all, of the founding of new societies and ways of living in an age of coming societal breakdown. It’s the same story behind the hippy movement, permaculture and transition towns, and there are elements of truth to such claims, but big misunderstandings of how things will really be.

Let’s pause and think about this festival; how does it come to be? We could say it’s because of the vision of a single farmer who has the space and inclination to organise such a thing. I would say it came about (as many things do) because we live in a society of surplus wealth, which allows us to indulge in self expression and exploration and which supports this, even if mainstream attitudes seem to be against it. How else do these people lead ”alternative” lives? They are supported, either directly, by benefits, or indirectly, by the availability of fossil fuels; how else are the welding machines they use to create their sculptural expressions powered? Not by sunlight (directly), nor by lentils. How else are their mad max-like machines powered? Recycled chip fat? Sorry that was grown with fossil fuels.

The rather sad fact is that if they had the societal breakdown they want (they’ll get it sooner or later), they’d all be out in the fields toiling, or excavating by hand old rubbish dumps, looking for resources we now call waste. There would be precious little time for parties or festivals. There will be the freedom and lack of central government control we now have, but with such demise comes lawlessness and insecurity. The hand they bite feeds us pretty well right now, with little oppression or control – hence the existence of the festival.

I love the expressions of freedom witnessed, I love the human spirit being free and I hate the mundanity of life that our (seemingly) secure society brings. I just don’t think that the “alternative” scene is actually that alternative, nor does it have any clear vision of future life as we will all come to know it in the coming decades. It’s simple: self-indulgence, alternative or otherwise (and what’s the difference, if you own a fleet of Ferraris you are indulging in the same sense), is the product of energy surplus, and that’s what’s coming to an end. All that depends on it will fall by the wayside, starting with the things that are superfluous, like festivals. Never mind; the timeless bits, like camp fires and singing, will continue and likely increase as we have less alternatives for warmth and entertainment. And a future life will be very different from now, once we’ve been through the pain bit (y’know, the next 50 years or so). There will come a day when our grandchildren don’t know what this society was like, so won’t miss it. The only question is, will they merely survive or thrive? That’s the difference we can make now, for them, by facing where we’re at and planning forward. Less self-indulgence please, more forethought. Our alternative future is just around the corner…

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August 17th, 2012 by Mark Laurence

Well I keep moving things around and changing the site, so i tried to move the blog to a different folder and it didn’t work, despite my best attempts a editing the SQL files… sigh!  So i rescued some of my recent posts from the old one and have stuck them back up here; of course, all the search engine links will have broken… never mind!!

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