Architecture for Specific Sites (Part 1): Personalities and Views

Architecture for Specific Sites (Part 1): Personalities and Views


rchitecture is highly site specific.  Every one of our clients has their own personalities, and we design to fit each of their unique goals, yet each home is also created to fit into its own specific site.  We’ve designed all over, from snowy mountain slopes to warm oceanfront beaches, and everywhere in between.  This wide range of locales brings different influences into the process of placing a home on a site.

However, there are many other factors that also go into the individual building and site designs.  The views, local restrictions, solar orientation, wind, water, vegetation, topography, and numerous other factors, also play a role in the overall concept.  This topic is so extensive that I’m breaking it up into separate posts, and, because I’m an architect and not a book writer, I’ll only be covering the basics.

View site Lake Coeur d'Alene Sunup Bay
Building Site above Lake Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

Individual Personalities

Every building site is unique and deserves its own design.  Taking advantage of everything the site has to offer (the layout of trees, boulders, topography, etc.) is important, but so is matching the owner’s individual personalities.

The design process is typically a collaborative one.  I’ll talk with the owner and discuss their site, or potential site, along with what they would like in and around their home.  I’ll also provide a questionnaire to give them more opportunities to share their passions and ambitions.  If they are looking for something playful, I’ll throw out some fun ideas to help provide some sparks.  It’s an enjoyable brainstorming process where we’ll create something appropriately unique for them to treasure in the years ahead.  This is important since they will most likely be spending a good amount of their lives in and around the home.

One homeowner I’ve been working with has a home he’d like to remodel, as well as a barn that we’ll transform into a guest cabin.  The site is surrounded by large cedar trees.  We started talking about a way to connect the two, and came up with an enclosed bridge that will travel between the trees.  A connecting  open bridge will link trees and end up in a tree house.


Most building sites have at least one of the following; good views, neighbors, adjacent roads, or unwanted noise.  The trick is to take advantage of the views, while masking out the neighbors, roads, and noise.  Unless of course you enjoy observing the neighbors a la Dudley Moore (or vice-versa), listening to their music, and watching the cars go by.

Mountain home deck view
Mountain home view from a side deck

Not everyone has a beautiful view of the Grand Tetons or the Pacific Ocean, and I have yet to meet anyone who has both from the same house.  Many, however, may have broad or peek-a-boo views of mountains, hills, a pond, a grassy area, a beautiful tree, or other “territorial” views.

Placing and designing the home, or parts of the home, to face the best views is essential, yet needs to work with the topography and landscaping.  Most of our clients want the great room, kitchen, dining areas, master bedroom, and the main decks and patios facing the best views.

When there are unwanted elements in the view corridor, the field of vision can be enhanced by framing the landscape with trees, shrubs, hedges, boulders, and natural or man-made berms or other topography.  Man-made structures such as fences, half walls, sculptural elements, a playhouse, and even a guest house could also be placed in the right spot to frame the view.

For privacy, strategically placed plantings similar to all of the above could be used, as well as thicker railings to provide privacy on decks.  If your site is above the unwanted views, a simple solution from the interior is to have window shades that pull up, which will block the neighbors below, while providing views above.  When we lived in Seattle we had these to see the Olympic Mountains and the Puget Sound, while blocking the neighbors below us.

The best way to mask noise is to provide a fountain near the point where the owner wishes to admire the views.  The farther away the water feature, the less effective it is.  Vegetation can absorb some of the noise, and vertical walls, fences, etc. can provide a sound barrier by reflecting some of the noise away.

Next: Part 2 – Site Restrictions

John Hendricks, Architect AIA, NCARB

Hendricks Architecture is located in Sandpoint, Idaho.  

We specialize in mountain architecture, and have been listed the past few years as one of Mountain Living's Top Mountain Architects.  We have designed all over North America, from open oceanfront homes to mountain homes.  

Please visit our selected projects page for some of our more recent projects.  

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