A house designed for a wide or an unusually large site can take advantage of design strategies that are not suitable for smaller, more restricted sites.
This article examines the potential for some very exciting and innovative wide house block plans that are used in modern architecture.
A key design aspect on any house design is consideration of the orientation and passive solar or sustainable strategies. Using the most appropriate orientation it is possible to provide more comfortable internal living conditions using the sun, (admitted in Winter and excluded in Summer) and capturing the prevailing breezes for natural cross ventilation. On a wide or large site the house can be turned to the most favorable orientation to gain the benefit of these free, natural assets.
Another aspect of designing for a wide or large site is that the floor plan does not need to follow the normal compact footprint. With most house designs much consideration is given to observing the necessary setbacks to side and rear boundaries and privacy from neighbours. This invariably leads to a very compact footprint where many of the rooms suffer from limited external exposure.
On a large site the house can extend out from the centre so that all of the rooms can receive good levels of natural light and opportunity for ventilation. Often a long, linear floor plan can enable all the principal rooms to receive the best aspect in terms of views and orientation.
Larger sites enable a house to be designed with a much more open character with more extensive external areas. These areas can be open areas for play, courtyards protected from harsh winds, or areas of natural Australian planting with the benefit of the low maintenance this offers. This greater opportunity for landscaping can provide varied and pleasant outlooks from the house where views are not available. Different portions of the site can be treated in different ways to provide a variety and individual character for different orientations to suit the prevailing weather conditions.
In conjunction with the landscaping and the larger setbacks that can be provided, a greater level of privacy can also be achieved on large and wide sites. The setback distances to the side and rear boundaries are invariably larger offering a degree of privacy that is difficult to achieve on more restricted sites. In conjunction with these larger setbacks more opportunities arise for the placement and distribution of windows on all sides of the house, something which is often not possible on more regular suburban sites.
It is very rare that a building site is truly flat, invariably there is some slope which must be taken into consideration. With a large site, a level platform can be excavated and banks formed at very gentle gradients, avoiding the need for retaining walls and other measures required to contain the excavated material. By creating a level platform for the house the construction can often be simplified and level transitions formed between inside and outside. Also, with a larger site, any surface stormwater can be directed and controlled using open culverts and swales avoiding expensive sub-surface drainage. A greater area of “deep soil” can also be accommodated, allowing for natural ground soakage.
While exploring the opportunities a larger site offers, it is important to also not lose sight of the additional construction costs that may be involved. The greater the site area the larger the cost involved in landscaping and fencing the site. Quite often the cost of vehicle access and driveways is a significant factor. With larger sites, visitors are less likely to be able to park on the street, therefore areas of paving for visitor parking may be required.
A wide or large site requires a different mindset on behalf of the Owner and the Architect. The design strategies that almost become habit when constantly working on typical, suburban lots or inner-urban sites must be re-thought. The larger site offers a degree of freedom for the designer to explore different ways of designing the house which takes maximum advantage of the space on offer. This needs to be carefully considered against the building budget to ensure appropriate value is obtained.