After enduring what felt like and endless winter in New England, it is refreshing to see the greens of summer and feel the warm kiss of the sun. This turn to balmier days has my mind moving outside. I find that the best outdoor spaces provide a special, sometimes tenuous connection between man and nature. It is in these spaces that we start to re-connect with the awe-inspiring world in which we live.
As an architect, often working in bucolic rural settings, I am very conscious of how my buildings relate to the landscape and how, through framed views and circulation patterns, I connect the inhabitants with the outdoors, drawing them both literally and metaphorically out from the shelter of our built environments. The Italian architects of the Renaissance can be credited for some of the finest examples of integrating architecture with the landscape. Consider the amazing palazzi that extend out into the countryside with gardens and vineyards that knit structure and order with the organic fabric of the untamed landscape.
The notion of the Outdoor Room has been exploited by the likes of Home Depot and Webber. When we hear the term, we often conjure up images of built-in grilles, trellised ceilings, and furnished spaces, even with indoor/outdoor rugs. But outdoor spaces can be as loosely defined as a clearing in the woods or pattern in the ground plane.
We must be careful in our enthusiasm to celebrate outdoor spaces that we don’t lose the essence of what makes them so special. I like to use natural materials in outdoor settings. And when appropriate, indigenous materials that speak of the place where they are. There are countless “weatherproof “ products that to my eye clash with the landscape rather than integrate with it. I’ll take a courtyard of pea-stone over a terrace of stamped concrete any day!