Sharing the Front Garden with the Street : the importance of creating a connection between public and private space….

Imagine you are walking down a street near where you live.

It's a beautiful morning, and you are walking along,

stopping here and there to admire a charming garden, 

a flowering bush peeking over a front fence,

a striking front door or a fabulous building of pleasing style.

It's good so far, yes?

You may have picked up some ideas to apply to your own home,

or you may have just enjoyed the beauty of looking at a variety

of housing and gardening styles.

Either way, it's the visual connection between you, the pedestrian,

and the public face of the private houses where you are walking

which creates a sense of engagement.

And that engagement is a form of sharing,

one which I firmly believe a building and/or front garden

must do to make city streets wonderful spaces. 

After all, the street belongs to all who walk it,

who drive upon it, and to those whose buildings create its context,

so it's hardly utopian to want it to be visually pleasant to all parties.

Because now imagine that same walk,

but this time, all of the front fences are 2 metre high solid, blank walls.

You can't see the house behind,

let alone catch a glimpse of garden.

It's an austere, unpleasant streetscape which may be good for privacy

for those within the house,

but which gives nothing back to the street: there is no sense of sharing.

Of course, there are situations in which the house is so close 

to the street itself that there is no option other than a high fence,

but even then, the fence can still create a sense of engagement 

with the streetscape if it incorporates something of visual interest.

It can still share elements which help to create the context of the street's personality.


This morning, while on my daily walk,

I quickly snapped a few of the houses around and about

to illustrate this importance of visual interest to creating a shared space...

(which means they are phone images…not such great quality

especially as it was drizzly - but they serve their purpose, I hope!)


A contemporary style house, built of simple massings of form,

yet it still provides an artistic composition to the street viewer.

The horizontal lines of the timber cladding and window shutters

are repeated in the horizontal massing of the box hedges.

The three pear trees will soon erupt into flower,

as it is spring here in Melbourne,

yet even in their deciduous form,

they provide structure and composition,

and the low hedges allow the pedestrian to feel

invited to enjoy the vista : not to be precluded from it.

This Edwardian weatherboard house has a classical side entry,

which was generally preferred as the point of axis in this style of architecture,

because of the love of asymmetry of the era.

(It's good feng shui, too, but that's another story…)

Anyway, the ensuing curved, box hedge lined path is delightfully visible,

as they have chosen to go with a low picket fence of around 1 metre high,

again inviting the pedestrian to enjoy the beauty of the garden.


 Even though this impossibly high cypress hedge does not allow views

of the house behind

(except for a peep through the low gate),

it's incredible verdancy and size atop a contrasting style of fence below

creates enough visual interest that it does, in fact, 

share something with the street. 

So I shall forgive its lack of openness because it is still 

adding to the context of the streetscape.

An "open garden" can still have that important sense of "entrance transition"

often referenced in the pivotal 1970s book The Pattern Language,

 a style guide, if you will, on how to create better cities through better architecture.

This fence is very open in its construction -

almost too open to be called lattice -

and certainly not intended to create visual privacy.

But its existence, together with a dark paint colour

and a lych gate,

create just enough entrance transition between public street

and private house to define the space,

while still sharing its beauty with the pedestrian.


And it goes without saying,

that sharing a beautiful front garden or the front view of a beautiful house

with the street is exactly the very thing which creates a beautiful streetscape,

because they actually form the context.

(And conversely, a series of high, blank fences

creates a horrid streetscape, because the context is a selfish one.)


So next time you go for a walk in your neighbourhood,

have a think about the importance of sharing the connection between

private and public space,

because without it, there really is no streetscape. 

A streetscape is the ultimate sharing of urban life, you could say,

so we may as well make it a good one. 


Once a month, I join with a group of bloggers to muse on a subject

selected by Marsha from Splenderosa,

and it's always fascinating to see how different people interpret the same word, 

which is the whole point of the exercise. 

This month, that topic is Sharing

Now while I could prattle on about all kinds of sharing,

my mind honestly never strays very far from the world of architecture & design.

It's a sort of obsession, which is rather lucky as that is my profession. 


So this gives me the perfect opportunity to chat about something

which is very dear to my heart:

the importance of a building creating a sense of engagement with the street,

which is really a form of sharing, is it not?

To see other interpretations of the word,

go here