Building the Outside In

by Gillian Haley-Meierbachtol, Principal, Haley Construction

It’s a familiar phone call, one I enjoy. The caller on the other end of the line has an air of urgency and excitement, as they explain they’ve found the perfect lot, or the perfect home to remodel, they just need a builder.

As a builder, I understand what they are asking. Clients looking to build a home are sophisticated, well researched, and astute about their desires. They are asking about logistics, utilities, site development, costs, materials to build, and timeframe. All of which are important, but what has inspired the excitement in their voice is the dream. It’s this dream that in every conversation undoubtedly leads quickly to their list of “must-haves”.

Here in Northern Arizona, the number one “must-have” we encounter is that the house must have outdoor living space, emphasize the natural resources, “feel like we are living outside.” And so, we build it, we build the Outdoors In.

Admittedly, Walden is one of the most boring books I have ever attempted to read, however Henry Thoreau’s transcendentalist thinking about the basic human need for a connection to nature was spot on, and today is a leading design principle in architecture and construction. Which begs the question, how does the home evoke a sense of bringing the outside in?

Creating this connection begins when approaching the site. What are the defining natural characteristics of the property? Are there sweeping views, or is it set among 100-year-old trees? Will the house be nestled among boulders? What colors catch the eye?

Simplicity in design and the use of modern construction techniques allows us to create connection, even in the simplest of decisions, down to the paint. Today the use of open space floor plans is most common, incorporating elements such as accordion pocket doors that seamless join an outdoor area with a large indoor living space, typically the Great Room. Other factors in the design process one may want to consider include examining the shapes, colors, and patterns that naturally occur on a property. How can these integrate into the home in a holistic way? How does the design maximize the use of natural light, acoustics, air quality, and the use of natural materials?

There is an intimacy with nature we long for, to experience and live among. Through biophilic design, which focuses on increasing human connectivity to nature in the built environment, we can quite literally build the outside in.

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