I'm convinced I was born in the wrong part of the world. Have you ever had this feeling? I love my family, don't get me wrong, it's got nothing to do with them. My parents moved from my birthplace on central Long Island in New York a few hours north - upstate - to a small town baseball fans know well, Cooperstown. It was baseball that connected the economy to the outside world drawing thousands of tourists to see heroic players inducted into its hall each August. It was farm country and when it wasn't farm country, it was snow country.
I never played baseball, and the smell of manure made me long for the trade winds of the tropics, and the searing heat of the desert, the salt air of Big Sur, and a lush, green Kyoto.
Not coincidentally, all places more temperate than upstate New York and also places where it's possible to live somewhere between inside and outside. Not fully one or the other. Something I never had a chance to do.
I'm fascinated by open air living as a human first and of course professionally as an architect. It certainly isn't a recent invention, but it's one that has been co-opted by modern architects as an instrument to connect people more fully to their surrounding environment. As a modern architect myself, now practicing in the northerly, marine climate of Maine, I can't help but drool over the imagery and apparent freedom of my colleagues practicing in more temperate climes. No need for screen doors, or tightly controlled waterproof building shells their architecture flows from inside to outside unobstructed. These structures define places for being, for living - without constraints or boundaries.
But I know as an architect too, that even though we may have black flies and mosquitos and snow - which flies for more of the year than we'd like - we still have a need for transition spaces in our architecture. Open air living isn't completely possible but these transitions can afford the suggestion and on rare days even deliver on the promise.
I would argue that transition space is the one space no work of architecture can exist without. No matter where we practice, architects follow similar rules about the need for transitions between enclosed (indoor) and unsheltered and open (outdoor) space. These buffer zones, where we move from one activity to the next are not only extremely useful, utility-driven spaces but they're integral to our comfort and our experience of a place.
Imagine stepping into the the Pantheon's cavernous dome without the large sheltering portico transition. It's not the same. The Greek's and Roman's of antiquity understood this, their architecture is rife with colonnades, porticoes, the agora, the forum - each one had a preamble. Hardly superfluous, they're necessary and comforting architectural devices.
A more contemporary example everyone is familiar with is the porch. Porches give us a place to kick off the mud from our boots, a place to sit outside while it rains or sheltered from the sun and reduce the apparent size of our two or three story homes to something more in tune with the size and shape of our bodies.
We instinctively notice the absence of transition spaces too. Think of almost any tract house in suburbia built in the last 20 years. Are you picturing arriving to a garage door? I know I was. Suburbia has asked that we eliminate the transition space in favor of our car. Step out of your car an into the four walls of your home.
Architects understand the need for transition spaces and leverage their utility. They provide a sense of scale, shelter, enclosure, protection, a sense of arrival and departure and because they lack the strict requirements of conditioned (or heated) space they can be more sculpturally free and expressive.
Modern architecture has surely sought to connect us to our place in a more direct way than its predecessors and transition spaces make this possible as evidenced by these seductive photos of a project in the desert southwest. Almost like nomadic tent structures, the architecture is reaching out to the land, buffering the extreme environment creating pools of shade around the home. This makes the interior environment more comfortable and it provides places to sit out of the intense sun for the inhabitants.
Transition space is the one space you can't live without (there just might be one other one too).