A recent conversation transported me to a forest landscape in Maine. An unique opportunity to advise a client during the pre-construction planning phase took me on a six hour car ride to deep woods and a barely passable road–it was late March and the snow a lingering shadow. The building site sloped to a noisy creek alive with winter snowmelt that one could hear but not see.
Armed with the results of the perk tests for the leaching field and the decision to save as many trees as possible, we noted where the winter sun would warm the house and flood rooms with light. I asked the questions : where do you like to read in the morning? What do you like to see with your eyes half opened? Where do you eat breakfast or drink coffee? The same questions were reviewed for the late winter afternoon. Then we discussed the role of shade in the summer. In that part of Maine it might be July and August that needed shade relief in the late afternoon as sun would be welcome in the morning rooms. These considerations determined shifts in the interior plan. We also noted the direction of the harshest winds of winter (northwest) and discussed the option of a conifer planting to shield the house.
We noted trees to remove to provide light within the house. We noted deciduous trees that would provide shade in summer while allowing spirit- affirming sun in late fall, winter, and early spring seasons. Based on those observations we marked corners of the house and important trees to protect during the construction process.
We studied how the drive might approach the house. I’ve often found when siting paths and drives through forest landscapes that the tree spatial pattern will tell you the route. Traveling thru groves, special trees, and underplantings the drive was designed to provide special views. We considered the sun’s role to help thaw winter ice on the route from car to house door to ease the daily tread. And where it might prevent a treacherous icy winter slope for a car’s descent to parking pad near the front door. We mapped where the car would park for visitor and homeowner, the greeting to the home, the views and the sensory woodland experience.
Opening further to the possiblities of the landscape, I asked the homeowner where he would like to listen to the spring brook and the rustle of summer leaves. From which open window would he most likely linger to listen to its song. Would it be morning in a warm sunny south facing room? or evening to lull him to sleep. He hadn’t thought about this, and his answer caused him to tweak the home’s interior lay-out.
We also looked for views–any sightlines to catch the silver reflection from sun or moon light dancing on the creek, views to sky, and long views within the forest that might be opened to provide some allusion to distance to allieviate the feeling of being walled in by forest.
Today I would look for places to locate a cistern to store stormwater collected from roofs and drives to be harvested for irrigation. And I would suggest a green roof to insulate and protect and solar panels to harvest the sun.
These kinds of landscape plannning questions apply to existing structures and in those in the remodeling planning process as well. The answers or preferences create an invisible interface with the landscape, a quality of soothing energy, and a sense of magic. Connecting to the land and its creatures creates a different kind of sustainablity–the daily experience that sustances the human soul.