In a globalised world, sense of place is what makes architecture unique by tying buildings and the way they are used to a specific place and culture. Sense of place refers to both the physical environment and the cultural context. How can thoughtful architecture connect with the real character of place, and how can a new design transform this into something better?
Harris Architects & Designers focus every project on the unique opportunities and difficulties of each new site. This provides great opportunities for design: providing not only original insights for each scheme, but also ensuring that every project is unique, developing out of the particular characteristics of place from the very start of the design process.
At a time when houses and their furnishings from around the globe come to resemble one another ever more closely, we consider that architecture should respond by building upon the individual character of its site to make original designs for unique places. If we can design buildings which transform the specific difficulties of a site into original and positive design solutions, then design will add considerable value to not only the pleasure of using the building, but to the economic investment involved.
Our design process is unique to every project, but all our work starts out by uncovering the fundamental questions underlying each site. We consider three main ways in which the design of our homes can reveal and improve the essential character of place:
First through analysing the physical conditions of the site, from geography to orientation, views and services. This can uncover both advantages and difficulties, all of which, if considered from the start can be of great benefit to the design.
The house in a fig orchard is sited in a highly fertile alluvial plain in the south of Mallorca, in one of the few remaining original fig orchards. The design of the house has to both respect the idyllic nature of the landscape and its agricultural but also counter the inevitable hazard of periodic flooding.
Second, through taking into account the tried and tested solutions offered by local and traditional architecture. Daylight, climate control, installations and spatial configuration, all require a modern approach – but this creates great opportunities to reinterpret the building types of the past. Traditional buildings can be re-organised to allow a totally new experience of their architecture, whilst maintaining strong connections with the past. In essence, Mallorcan architecture has always held a close relationship between form and function.
A common arrangement for Mallorcan farmhouses in the past was to raise the living areas of the house up to the first floor and reserve the ground floor spaces for the practical requirements of tools, storage and animals. The house in a fig orchard, updates this ancient strategy, leaving the ground floor open for practical tasks, as a workshop, boat store or parking. The domestic living areas are all raised to the first floor.
Third, through finding new ways through which design can enhance the positive aspects of place and transform the negative ones.
On the one hand, the periodic floods mean that the ground floor is left open allowing the view of the open field to continue beneath the main house, this maintains the agricultural character of the orchard and provides an authentic connection to the traditional architecture of the area. On the other, the living spaces are now at the level of the fig branches enhancing both the views out over the flat landscapes and the feeling of living surrounded by the canopy of fruit trees.
Our approach to sense of place uncovers the opportunities unique to each individual site. This proactive strategy means that potential hazards can be designed around, whilst the natural advantages of a site can be coherently transformed into the essence of the new home. Projects such as the house in a fig orchard demonstrate how we think new design can combine new ideas with Mallorca’s ancient sense of place.