This is the final installment in our three-part series featuring discussions with Washington DC and Northern Virginia architects about the relationship between landscape architecture and residential architecture. This post features James McDonald of McDonald Associates Architects in Great Falls, Virginia.
When I’m designing a home I’m thinking of ease of flow from one room to another. I think of outside living spaces the same way. They are connected to each other and to the interior of the home. James McDonald, McDonald Associates Architects
How does the building site influence your home design?
When I’m doing a custom home or a remodel, the site has a 100% impact on the design of the home, both in the geometry and topography. One influences the other. When I’m designing I consider the setting, the approach to a house, location of the driveway and how the house sits on the lot—the views of it and views from it.
There are some lots where you have living space right there at the front: walk out dining rooms, terraces on the front. But most houses have that personal space at the back. When I’m designing a home I’m thinking of ease of flow from one room to another. For example, you have a breakfast nook that connects to the kitchen and the kitchen flows into the family room. I think of outside living spaces the same way. They connect to each other and to the interior of the home. That interconnection makes those spaces livable.
Do you see the landscape (or lot) as living space—or does it function simply as the setting for your structure?
In the first presentation I always show the house on the lot with some representative ideas of the landscape. If there is going to be a pool, where will it go? Where are the patios? How do the interior rooms view the landscape? Those are all thoughts that we want to have as we’re designing the home. I’m leaving room for them by dealing with relationships to the outside. So the family room and kitchen open up to those spaces immediately after they get built.
There are ideas and cues that come out through the process of designing the house. We work out the landscape conceptually so that it makes sense with the house. Then we’ll bring in a landscape architect to embellish and finish the landscape while we are completing the house.
If a site is difficult, is it imperative to think in terms of landscape design?
Complex topography sometimes will spark unique solutions that are ultimately very dynamic. Even with a quarter acre flat lot in McLean, each lot will present a unique set of problems that need to be resolved: a lack of trees, too many trees, views you want to maintain, views you want to obstruct. If the site is sloped, terracing adds complexity in terms of cost. And it requires imagination to deal with the vertical transitions between spaces. In both cases, I think the problems are primarily aesthetic and have to do with space planning, allocating the space for kids to play or for the adults to entertain as separate spaces.
Does the cost of finishing the house compete with the cost of finishing the landscape design?
Budget, timing and finish work determine whether a landscape plan gets done initially or at a later time. Sometimes it is a budgetary consideration. Sometimes there are permit restrictions. You can develop a really nice home knowing you want to do patios that are going to push your coverage maximums for the lot. Patios, driveways and walkways are all considered coverage. So you have to balance your needs. But when you go back in at a later date to develop patios and landscaping on a staged phase-by-phase basis, the regulations are less stringent. At the very least, we can always conceptualize what a yard could be with the owner, so they have landscape design ideas that can be fine tuned at a later date.
You can build a nice home, but with the right landscape added to that, you can turn even an ordinary home into a spectacular environment.
How do you interact with the landscape architect during the planning or ideation process?
Bringing the right members to the team at the right time really adds value to the project. In the initial design phase I’m thinking through the entire project. Then the landscape architect comes on board, takes those ideas and refines them, puts all the pieces together, finds the dialogue of those spaces to work together with the house. Or, the landscape architect may introduce a different direction that actually works better. I think that the earlier they can get involved in the process, the better. I’ve had very positive results in that team effort. It takes that initial concept and brings it another ten steps down the road—really improving and wrapping their design talent around it.
It becomes very clear, especially if you read the other two installments in this series, that home can be very sweet indeed—if only we take the time to fit the house to the place and the place to the house.
If you’d like to read more about the interconnections of landscape architecture and residential architecture, the previous two installments in this series are:
Inspired By Place featuring Mark McInturff, Principal at McIntturff Architects in Washington DC
The Spirit of Place featuring Lorena Checa, Principal at Checa Architects in Washington DC
And a great big thank yo to James McDonald for sharing his thoughts and images of his work.
As always, if you feel that more could be done to make your home complete, contact our landscape architects. We love talking with you and thinking about how we might make your home a place where you feel completely at home.