House/Site Planning 101
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Ranch House Diary: The Lot As Chessboard
Guess what? Building a house is a complicated process. You’re constantly juggling design ideas, needs, essential functions, construction details, esthetics, and affordability. And remember one of my mantras, or what some might call my “daily rants” — house and lot/site should complete each other like any strong partnership. So the juggling process continues outdoors as well. Why am I always surprised…Take today’s meeting at our ranch house construction site, for example. Architect Nicholas Lee’s plan carefully situates the house on a north-south axis to preserve as much of the lot for outdoor living as possible.
The driveway is at the left or north end. The site plan, unlike the house layout itself, forces us to consider the functions of the sections of the site. The late great landscape architect Thomas Church always attempted to make his outdoor spaces compatible functionally with the rooms adjacent to them. And that’s what we want to do here — i.e. have a more public sitting and entertaining area off the Great Room beside the pool, and a more private area off the bedrooms. To refresh your memory, here’s the Long House plan again (508-1) showing the Great Room and the entrance off the porch beside the kitchen.
You can see in the plan below how we haven’t quite fixed the placement of the pool — moving it a few yards south would give more room for the outdoor entertaining area.
The big diagonal line at the left of the plan marks the required area for the septic system — in fact the septic system essentially determines where the house itself can go on this lot. A water storage tank is also required, along with a small pump house for the pool. These latter elements present new challenges and possibilities. Should the tank be at the front of the house as a kind of agricultural exclamation point to the front facade?
Or should it be close to the pump house, or somewhere else.
It turns out that for practicality sake, the tank needs to be near the well (we decided that today so the tank is not yet in the drawing) which is at the southwest corner of the lot. This is where it also seems most logical for the pump house to go and provides the opportunity for a handsome architectural grouping marking the southern boundary of the garden. So in the end the lot is a kind of chessboard, or more precisely – since budget is always involved — a game of Chutes & Ladders. Every move has a consequence affecting nearly every other decision.