An editor from This Old House magazine recently contacted us about providing a rendering for their Photoshop Redo feature in an upcoming issue. It’s pretty straightforward: TOH chooses a home in need of curb appeal from their reader submissions; they then find a local architecture firm that can review the photos and provide them with a plan or sketch for suggested exterior renovations. It sounded like a simple enough exercise that would be a good fit for our weekly Design Review meeting. But when we sat down to start the process, I witnessed what was a moment of mild anxiety among everyone at the table when all they had were a few photos of the actual house to look at and no photos of the surrounding neighborhood. After a few minutes of sleuthing, Greg found the property on Google Earth and we were able to look at the home’s surroundings and context.

Designing in context is everything and at the heart of our commitment to “building from here.” The first step and key part of any new project is the site analysis: it involves sketching, wandering through the site at different times of day, gathering historical information about the neighborhood or site, being aware of surrounding properties. A well designed home is a good neighbor and respects its natural and architectural surroundings.  Here in Utah we sometimes get the opportunity to design buildings in dramatic mountain settings, but just as often we design within existing urban neighborhoods. In every case, we try to build from here, accentuating the best features of any given property.

Whether we’re designing a home on acres of land:  

renovating an old warehouse for a new use:

or undertaking a major renovation in an existing neighborhood:

we look carefully at the surroundings and try to be a good neighbor.   A local architect once posted a photo on Instagram of our Hillsden house with this quote from architect Michael Meredith:  “I’m totally against the heroic stuff.  We do little stuff.  We are totally for the pathetic.” 

Hopefully “pathetic” isn’t the first word that springs to mind when looking at our work, but we do find that the modest, simple structure  is quietly powerful and makes a good neighbor.

For other examples of buildings in context, respectful of the surrounding landscape or streetscape, visit our Site Fit Pinterest board, featuring architecture from around the world. 

Something to Build On: I was recently sent this article from Dwell.com about a cottage in Norway, so minimal and stunning in its natural surroundings,  a “minor character” that defers to the surrounding landscape.