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Front Page - Friday, May 13, 2016


Napkin Sketch Series

Taliesin, the home and estate of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. - (Drawn by Ed Garbee)

Architects like to throw out descriptive words when discussing design that might not be used in everyday discourse. Contextualism is one such word. This important concept in design has been pushed to the bottom of the owner’s list of priorities with the advent of plan books that provide a selection of homes from which to choose.

Frank Lloyd Wright once said, “no house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill.” What Mr. Wright suggests is that a home should blend with the surrounding landscape in form, space, and order. Rather than dominating the landscape, a home should complement, and become a part of, the environment.

Let’s take Mr. Wrights’ home near Spring Green, Wis., for example. Resting on the side of a hill, rather than on top, the house avoids dominating the scenery of the surrounding landscape yet still provides excellent views of the rural countryside. The materials used in building the home are of local origin, creating a natural connection to the site. Roof forms are kept low to complement the local topography, and the exterior of the building is covered in limestone native to the area. These are all examples of building with the context of the site in mind so that the home blends with the terrain. Instead of announcing its presence and overshadowing everything around it, the house complements the hillside.

If you’re considering building a new home, give some thought to the context of the site. Think beyond the large family room, the two story entrance, or the multiple gables that make up the typical high end residence. Look at what makes up the building site. Is the site wooded? Is there a nearby source of water? Is the plot level or sloped? Is there exposed rock or earth? What direction does the sun shine in the afternoon? What composes the view? All these components taken in context with each other can help develop the organization and aesthetics of a home.

Ed Garbee can be found at Garbee Architecture, 633 Chestnut St., Ste. 600, Chattanooga, TN 37450. Phone: (423) 364-2830. Email: ed@garbeearchitecture.com.