How to plan ‘Outdoor’ areas of use in a Garden Design?
Geofferey Bawa was one of the most prolific and influential architects and landscape designers in South and South-East Asia of the modern period. Of his many inspiring projects on contextual tropical modernism in Sri Lanka, Lunuganga remains his greatest legacy. It was here, in these 40 acres of a former rubber estate in Bentota, that Bawa experimented and curated his ideas of landscapes, of indoor and outdoor space over a period of fifty years. The outcome was Lunuganga, a garden meticulously designed for the most immersive experience of the surrounding topography and the vast expanse of Deddawa Lake.
Just as a scenographer, he conceived a space as a series of tableaux to be experienced sequentially. He broke down the barriers between the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ and established a dialogue between building and landscape, to famously create the concept of ‘outdoor rooms.’
Thoughtfully designed outdoor spaces can add value- and space to your home. Many homes have gorgeous lawns and backyards, but they are not really living spaces until they are liveable. Instead of limiting your use to the interior spaces, take advantage of your entire property and create more space to live and relax in. Once you have assessed your requirements for your outdoor space, here are some considerations to keep in mind when planning.
Relationships between indoor and outdoor activities
The location and design of areas of outdoor use will depend on the family’s needs and preferences. The particular uses planned and amount of space available will determine the size of the usable area. An important consideration here is the relationship between indoor and outdoor activities. For example, you would want to keep the outdoor areas near the bedrooms quiet, while locating noisy outdoor areas near the kitchen, or perhaps away from the house if space permits. If you desire to extend your indoor living area into a semi-shaded outdoor one, you could make the threshold between the inside and outside disappear. A simple way to do this would be to have a continuous flooring pattern.
Segregation of Spaces
As a common practice in architecture, interior spaces are segregated into public and private to ensure a smooth transition from one space to the other, without overlapping non-conforming functions. The same concept is very well applicable to exterior spaces as well. Any home landscape design should be able to distinguish clearly between public and private areas.
The exterior public area in a house typically includes the front yard, driveway, sidewalks and the entrance or porch. In a corner lot, the public area may also extend into the sides or the backyard. The entrance and front yard remain the most public areas of houses. You can design the entire front yard for public viewing or – because of small lot size or a need for privacy – enclose parts of it with plants, fencing or both.
The ‘private’ outdoor spaces cater more intimately to the individual requirements of the members of the house. Such spaces may include a cosy breakfast nook, a nice sit-out engulfed in fragrant plants with a pleasing view, or simply a reading nook with an outdoor swing or a hammock for the children. Whatever the space, privacy is an integral part of a relaxing ‘outdoor room’. Division of an outdoor space for seclusion can be achieved by carefully placed screens, trellises, fences or low walls. A valuable addition may be an arbour, a small gazebo or a pergola to enhance privacy and provide the necessary shade.
Composition of Spaces
Historically, it is interesting to note that in the design of houses and villas, most cultures and geographies have used gardens as a foreground to the entrance. Sometimes, the garden takes up as much as half of the total depth of the plot. The distance from the compound of the plot up to the entrance foyer must be well thought out, considering the use of the garden, and its visual relationship with the building.
South facing gardens and courts are considered the most pristine because they allow activity to be spread out throughout the year.
Southern gardens and courts usually have a pond or water feature to accentuate the aesthetics. Ponds provide a great backdrop to south facing gardens, by lending their own little foreground where activities and gatherings can take place. If the pond is large enough, it may have a central island that could double up as a stage for the entire garden. Ideally, the side of such a central island rests on the central axis of the building, given it is symmetrical. This can add a sense of movement and some drama while approaching the entrance.
While front yards often make a strong impression on visitors, remember that your entrance and front yard also contribute to the neighbourhood’s overall appearance and its physical context. The trees, shrubs, flowers, lawns, fences and other landscape elements should fit in with the neighbourhood’s character, or not be too far off, at the least. Front-yard gardens can change neighbourhoods- a few plants shared, some commonly admired or planted together by you and your neighbour can make for a friendlier neighbourhood!
Driveways and pavements link your home to the streets in the neighbourhood. Consider safety, topography and lot character while locating them. Keep slope gradients as gentle as possible and ensure as few road cuts as possible. Remember the need for landscape maintenance.
Another key factor is to chalk out the visitor circulation through the outdoor space – how would you lead your guests to the door from the parking or the yard? You could create a pathway or pave your lawn with bricks or stone up to the entrance so that when guests arrive, they know exactly where to go. While straight paths are definitive, curvilinear paths feel more interesting and deliberate, especially when they wind their way around a beautiful piece of décor or alongside a garden bench.
The private area of your yard may consist of living, recreation service, and spaces for multiple use, depending on the needs you identified earlier. Your outdoor living area may include hardscape features such as a terrace, deck, patio, a screened porch. There may be grassy areas for the occasional outdoor cooking, sunbathing, entertaining guests or just relaxing on a bright day.
Try to estimate the number of people who might use the area at one time so you can design it accordingly. Take into account the different requirements of activities. You may want outdoor recreation areas for lawn games, a swimming pool, a greenhouse or other purposes. Lot size, family needs and finances will determine how much space you can devote to outdoor recreation.
Many homeowners also like to have a service area for their vegetable and fruit gardens as well as waste management. So, choose these areas carefully. Vegetable gardens and many flowers need full sunlight and suitable soil. Garbage storage area and compost pits should be accessible, but out of view.
In many yards, space is limited. You may need to use the same area for several activities. Multiple-use areas may serve as living, recreation, and service areas at appropriate times.
A functional outdoor space will certainly encourage and provide the opportunity to spend more time outside. After all, outdoor spaces are more customisable than interior ones because you can decide what function they serve. The design of your outdoor space will add character and personality to your home. A great place to start would be to understand the basic principles of landscape design, which we will discuss next.
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About the Writer
Reva Saksena is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. She has experience working at SiteLens Cultural Research Division of India Lost and Found (ILF) by Amit Pasricha. She is the winner of the "2021 Berkeley Prize Essay Competition.”
About the Editor
Srishti Mehta is the author of From the Land of Mist and Snow: Haikus from Antarctica. She is a creative writer, editor and publisher. She is the Editor-in-Chief at Zeyka. She is a graduate of the St. Xavier College, Ahmedabad, and the H.R. College of Commerce and Economics, University of Mumbai (MU). She has been the India Ambassador of the International Antarctica Expedition (2018) with 2041 Foundation. She has diverse volunteer experience in natural field studies, explorations, and journalism with numerous organisations including the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Mumbai.
About the Illustrator
Shruti Bhagwat is an undergraduate architecture student at the Sir J.J. School of Architecture. Shruti has a keen eye for art, design and detail and a passion for books and movies. As the head of public relations for her college, she has organised and hosted multiple events for the institute’s talk series- ‘Manan.’ She was a finalist of Spacematrix’s Designathon 2020.