Place-ness or Place-less: Addressing Place in Private Residence Design

Presented by: Dr. Melanie Duffey, Will Barnes

A home or a house - a neighborhood or a subdivision - these words are often used interchangeably in common every day language, yet these words represent polar descriptions in my mind. When tasked to take on a project in a new subdivision development; it is difficult not to contemplate the nuances of these words. The intent of this projects was to create a home with a large square footage program, but with the same characteristics and scale of traditional 19th century English country residence. Where community is often disconnected in the privacy of a subdivision, this private residence strives to connect and respond to views of nature, to the pedestrian on the street, and ultimately complete a neighborhood and create community through the transparency of public spaces. To achieve these elements three major considerations were studied in the schematic design: (1) historical precedent, (2) site and views, and (3) massing study. Charles Voysey, English 19th century architect, industrial, and graphic designer during the Arts and Craft movement manipulated solids and voids and the use of light and shadow in order to achieve clean forms in design (Durant, S., 1992). While his portfolio consists of a wide range of scale of projects; the principles and elements of design are consistent and offer a clean and clear hierarchy of importance and celebration in scale. Complemented by quiet subtle nuances that whisper in scale. Voysey’s work largely influenced the design of the private residence, where you can observe it most is in the plan and massing of the home. The two vertical masses connect through a centerpiece of the home, described as “the spine” – the spine connects the public spaces to the private spaces forming a H-Plan that compliments the site. The public spaces are celebrated with transparency to the street and large windows and openings. While the private spaces are protected from sunlight and exist with careful placement of windows. The interiors reflect daylight in their neutral and light selection of finishes and materials; while the exterior is dark and aims to blend into the landscape. The project celebrates both the historical references of the past and strives to bring forward contemporary living for its users. The site was carefully planned to acknowledge and respect views. Views of the natural landscape and creek, that tightly embrace the site, and views to the street. The street is one of America’s most forgotten and neglected public spaces. The position of the home on the site sought out to embrace this public space and its visitors through a careful manipulation of solids and voids. As the visitor turns the corner, the solid steps back, and the interiors open up to the public on the street through a void. The center spine, home to the public spaces and heart of the home remains transparent with a series of windows and glass doors. The transparency welcomes the pedestrian to look in – and through – through to the creek and natural landscape nestled behind the home. The solids consist of two vertical masses housing the private spaces and bedrooms with carefully sequenced windows to allow northern exposure in. A series of sketches, massing model studies, and ultimately final drawings were created to complete this project.


  • Durant, Stuart, and Charles FA Voysey. Cfa Voysey. No. 19. John Wiley & Sons, 1992.
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