1 May 2013


Photo: Little Venice House ANDY MARTIN ARCHITECTS
The Contemporist

There are a collection of physical and environmental elements that surround a building that help to make it a great to be in, and especially if it is a residence, a great to live in. To visualize, think of these surrounding and enveloping things as a collection of attributes that makes something like a cosseting, comforting blanket, providing the 'comfort' of the feeling of well-being and beauty.

Visualize a blanket that is often sometimes substantial, wide and deep, but remember it can sometimes be a surprisingly and effectively thin layer around the inhabited building. I our blanket exists in its full and complete form, it makes for a wonderful environment inside the place it envelops, with great characteristics contributing to the quality of the interior space, and the well-being of its occupants. It conveys nothing less then the feeling of luxury and well being.

I (
borrowed from the thoughts of others) have given the technical term to this set of characteristics the name of The Semi-Private zone.


Here are a few of the characteristics of The Semi-Private zone:

Asymmetric Permeability

The Semi-Private zone should have the quality of being able to allow a lot in and a little bit out. Call it asymmetric permeability. A lot of natural light, ample views of the surroundings, and the general connections to the surroundings should be able to come right on in. Other things like sounds and smells can come in too, but they are necessarily more filtered.

What is much more filtered is what 'goes out'. The visibility of what is inside, the sounds, and everything else are filtered, sharing enough of what goes on inside to contribute life to the surrounding public streets; naturally, great distance to the window from the outside view point works. Closer in the viewport must be filtered by trees, walls, fencing and fabric screening. In a living or work area, the ability to see in is OK, especially during select hours. Some areas need to be completely secluded.

Applying these attributes to expensive building projects is mostly a matter of course. In tightly spaced and economically challenged city or suburban dwellings, these criteria are harder to come by; but they can skillfully be designed in, and there really isn't a good excuse for not designing them in.

In every dwelling constructed there should be some sort of view form, even if it is something akin to a miniature courtyard, or a compact group of trees substantial enough to support wildlife. In tern, these spaces or interventions cannot be seen into, or they show so little from the outside as to offer only glimmers of light and shadow.

Inner Transitions

Just as the Semi Private provides a way of passively filtering things from outside to in, as well as inside to out, it also provides a controlled way of moving through, from the activity of the Public realm to the sanctuary of the private. This is an important part of how a building inhabitant feels about the space where they live or work.

An Appropriate Extension of the Private Indoors

A functional extension of the indoor space, especially during clement weather, provides a wonderful extension of the interior space to the outdoors. It doesn't have to be huge, just accommodating and well done. With the attributes of asymmetric permeability, the outdoor living space provides accommodation and livability to the remainder of the building complex it serves.


The spaces within buildings and residences are universally deemed to be important to do well and get right (though this gets messed up all of the time). What goes on right outside of out considered interiors is often ignored.

The Semi-Private is usually done very well in places that are expensive and opulent. I think it can be done everywhere, if it is just considered as an important part of the design. It does need to be considered important enough to be included in the design checklist, so that the creative, cost effective solutions can come.

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