Great beauty or purpose without design is a rare and miraculous thing. The more beauty, ease and purpose, the more likely you are to find great design. That is why architecture is such an important part of communities and hospitality. It starts with our homes and ends in our town squares and public spaces – at it’s core, town planning is about creating functional and healthy communities that live well together,
Hospitality is my great art form. Welcoming people into my spaces and making them feel completely at home, as if they were their own. Part of that love includes a love of designing and making spaces that encourage conversation and comfort. For this reason, I love front porches. My love of the American South is birthed in my love of these homes with wide open entranceways, homes that greet the street with living spaces, spaces that are meant to be seen and enjoyed. I also love the hospitality that flows naturally through these spaces and into neighbourhoods and streets.
The iconic front porch movie scenes are almost out of context until you realise the rest of the architecture that supports them. These great wide porches and outdoor rooms spill out directly and down stairs to a front yard that is rarely fenced.
What an anomaly into my culture, that lives behind hedges and fencelines, even if made of wire. Sociologists talk about this as a societal shift that happened post WWII*. We became conscious of our vulnerabilities and moved our style of living into backyards and decks, rather than front porches.
*For New Zealanders, the Second World War and the warning of possible invasion from the Japanese, brought the first considered major threat to our freedom and liberty. It’s impact was felt in a series of state building programmes where security and lines of defence worked their way into social architecture. In neighbourhoods where state houses are being gentrified, often the first visible change to the property are the establishment of stone fences, steel gates or wooden pickets. This depiction of what is ‘ours’ versus what is ‘communal’ has become a unique identifier within our social culture. Modern housing developments answer this by keeping fencing to a minimum but placing the house itself at the very verge of the property where first the garage then the doors themselves form the impregnable entry, where you must first be granted access.
I lived in a cottage at the back of the converted farmhouse of some friends. My door was rarely locked – in fact, sometimes I’d come home to friends already lighting the fire and pouring wine. My best friends lived just down the road and I would pop in at leisure, breakfast in the mornings, after work glasses of wine. But I still always entered through a front door.
I was in Chattanooga once, where neighbours came over armed with a salad and announced they had smelt the grill getting started. Not just sitting and conversing, but also cooking, eating and watching the world go by. This open way of living, conducting casual early evening cocktails and conversation with passing neighbours, grassy fence-free yards making for easy playgrounds invites community.
These fundamental ideas of privacy and shared living change when you change the architecture. When you intentionally create spaces that are open to the neighbourhood, when entranceways become truly transitional spaces – the posture of your community has the capability to transform the manner in which you live amongst others.
The front porch represents an idealism in values and an idea of living in community that is based in historic social practice. Modern necessities – urbanisation en masse, the condensed housing requirements of modern cities, immigration that produces natural language barriers and the diaspora of daily life – have required new architecture of our living and public spaces to try and accomplish genuine expressions of what the front porch has achieved so effortlessly over decades.
We have to work twice as hard to connect through the front doors when we live so practically in our backyards. So – either change your physical architecture, or change the architecture of your lifestyle.