“A parti is the central idea or concept of a building”
no. 15 of 101 Things I learned in Architecture School by Matthew Frederick
In almost every design decision I make in this garden, and certainly all those close to the house, I submit myself to a number of house-imposed constraints. I want the garden to reinforce the design integrity of the house even more than I yearn to plant – finally – all the species, combinations, arrangements and rarities on my horticultural dream list. There is plenty of space further down the garden to indulge in that sort of thing.
Building our own house was never an all-consuming passion. We couldn’t find what we wanted to buy, the opportunity to buy a plot of land in the place we wanted came up, and one thing led to another. My husband’s tastes diverge from my own in so many ways, namely most music, films and books, that it was a surprise to find that we shared the same view on what style of house we should build. We both felt, first instinctively and then with growing conviction, that if we were to build a house in the first part of the 21st C, it should look both of its place and time. We were fortunate to work with a phenomenally good Scottish architectural practice, Gareth Hoskins Architects, and together we embarked on a fascinating journey of site – and client – analysis; and responses to the constraints of brief, site and budget (with considerably more success for the first two).
Although large at just over 3/4 acre, the plot of land is long and relatively narrow: 21m wide and 150m long, flat along its length and oriented roughly N/S with the road access from the south.
Our architects developed a number of options. The chosen design made a virtue of the length of the site by having a central line run from the front garden straight through the house and out into the back garden, with the boxes of living spaces arranged on either side of this line. In architect-speak: a series of differently-sized pavilions arranged in relation to a central datum*.
The crucial thing to understand is that everything – EVERYTHING – is planned. Nothing is random, unthought, or by default. All the lines in the design, from the siting of the house relative to its neighbours, to the height and position of every wall, window and door, is the way it is for a reason. A reason debated by an office-load of talented, highly trained people who then convince the client to trust them even though this way of doing things will – who knew? – cost a bit more.
And they are right. Because what you wind up with** has a purity, an integrity, a simplicity and beauty of design that makes your heart sing. We have lived in this house, still slightly unfinished (don’t ask), since November 2013 and every single day I am delighted anew by its thoughtful design, a design that actually helps us live better. You can understand how if I’m going to put a pergola over the outside dining table, I’ll want to make damn sure the posts are in the right places.
The above image shows the house and garage pretty much as they have been built (minus the building at the far end of the garden, my study-to-be), but the garden is shown as I vaguely envisaged it back in 2012, and the design has changed somewhat, as designs do.
From a gardener’s perspective, it had formerly been agricultural pasture (an historical anomaly since we are in town), and the soil is a rich loam, just on the acid side of neutral pH, with some small pockets of waterlogging due – I think – to haphazard undulations in the underlying bedrock. The garden is sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds (the big blue arrow in the first drawing is wrong, showing the wind coming from the east) by a 2m+ high beech edge that runs along its 150m length, and winter temperatures rarely fall below -10 degrees C, and even then only for a week or so a year. Being on the east coast, we have under a third of the annual rainfall of the west coast (800mm vs 3000mm).
And there you have it. This is why in future posts I will bang on about features in the garden aligning to the point of OCD.
* I now use the term ‘datum’ spontaneously in casual conversation, to the bafflement and intense irritation of my friends. I’m not going to be able to avoid using it in this blog. Pernicious architects.
** That and debt, you also wind up with more debt than you intended.