For the majority of homes, siting—the process of optimally positioning the structure on its parcel of land to balance topography, views, climate, solar orientation, and myriad other factors—can effectively be thwarted the moment a land developer sketches in the lines and arcs representing streets that will curve through the project. The critical nature of siting is one of the key lessons on architectural design one can take away from The Distinctive Home, and the chief reason this coffee table-worthy book has earned its rightful place in our 12 Days of Sustainable Reads series.
Authored by Jeremiah Eck, a partner at Boston-based Eck | MacNeely Architects and a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA), The Distinctive Home is highly recommended reading for those contemplating designing and building a sustainable or zero net energy home.
Siting a house is the biggest challenge in design. It poses the biggest risks, and, ultimately, it provides the most lasting satisfaction for the people who will live in the house. – Jeremiah Eck
Now, in this book appropriately subtitled “A Vision of Timeless Design,” Eck never specifically delves into the fundamentals of sustainable design or high-performance building science. Rather, he builds a rock-solid case for carefully and thoughtfully siting homes of any architectural persuasion, a crucial step that must be integrated from the onset of design. And a process that is doubly important for sustainable homes, as their ongoing high performance is often strictly dictated by their orientation with site. As Eck writes: “Siting a house is the biggest challenge in design. It poses the biggest risks, and, ultimately, it provides the most lasting satisfaction for the people who will live in the house.”
Of course, Eck dedicates one of his five chapters to the art and science of siting, but his messaging on the topic strongly permeates the other four chapters as well, echoing the lessons he has learned through many years of practicing the process with his clients. And he articulates those learnings smartly, through wrapping his words around carefully selected case studies, the lot well illustrated and beautifully photographed.
Published jointly by The Taunton Press and the American Institute of Architects (AIA), this large-format, 234-page book has the following chapters:
What makes a house distinctive?
Site: Marrying a house to the land
Floor Plan: Expressing the way you live
The Public Face: Balancing function and beauty
Details: The intimate realm
And for those who may think this book’s emphasis on siting is overrated, Eck offers the following suggestion. “Take a drive into the outskirts of any established town or suburb in America, and eventually you will come across a subdivision brimming with new homes,” writes Eck. “You’ll notice how, in most cases, they face the road like soldiers in formation, their garages competing with the house for your attention.”
That is not to say some of those parcels of land in the typical subdivision can’t be rescued from the cookie-cutter siting orientation malady. They can. But it will take a prospective homeowner willing to engage a qualified architect to guide them through an appropriate design process. The AIA Web site can be an excellent resource on that point.
Tom Kolnowski is the Chief Content Officer & Founder of Digitized House Media, LLC, the publisher of Digitized House | Guide to the Connected Home. When he isn’t writing about smart home technology, sustainability, and high-performance architecture, you’ll find him exploring faraway destinations with his family.