The Two Faces of Homes

In the superb book Body, Memory, and Architecture — currently 35 years old — authors Kent C. Bloomer and Charles W. Moore discuss Frank Lloyd Wright’s Winslow House (1894) in terms of the contrast between the formal street front and the asymmetrical back. They quote Nathanial Hawthorne: “The greater picturesqueness and reality of backyards … compared to front which is always fitted up for the public eye” A contemporary word for the latter would be “curb appeal,” but the entrance remains public and formal, while the back is private and casual.

This ideabook collects varied examples of how the front and back of a house are expressed differently, although not always as discernibly like the Winslow House. The focus is on modern and contemporary dwellings, but the exact same idea can be implemented to residences of any style.

CONTENT Architecture

This house by the Content Architecture of Houston introduces an face that is staid to the street. The front door is located below a canopy in the corner of an wall using checkerboard-like openings. The impression is that the house is a solid block.

CONTENT Architecture

In the rear of the house, Content is much more playful with the volume (L-shape) as well as the surfaces (terracing in brick and timber). The articulation of this brick and windows is consistent with the front, however the terrace as well as the terraces set the emphasis on appreciating the outdoors.

Randy Bens

A house front can be playful too, as this residence in British Columbia by Randy Bens attests. A slatted sunscreen shades the top floor and, along with the set-back plan and freestanding concrete wall, announces the front door.

Randy Bens, Architect AIBC

Yet again the volumes in the rear of the house are looser. Outdoor space is also crucial in the house, with a terrace and a terrace that is raised. Additionally, the makeup of these windows points to the rooms, driving their size and positioning, not an outside formal look; it is a jumble which is not the least shy.

A Parallel Architecture

Trick question: Is this photo or the subsequent one the front part of the house?

A Parallel Architecture

Answer: Neither. The elevation in the former photograph used to be the front part of the house, but every time a Parallel Architecture renovated the duplex to one single-family house, it relocated the front door to the side. Nevertheless the formality of the previous front prevails from the windows flanking the vertical opening at the middle.

This elevation was the back of the house and is currently the side. It expresses a new component of the inside: a double-height living space.

In many modern homes, the difference between front and back is a matter of transparency. Lots of glass is a symbol of the modern house, but not all fans of modernism wish to reside in glass boxes. What results are layouts similar to this one by Ruhl Walker Architects, where one side is predominantly solid …

Ruhl Walker Architects

… and another side is glazed. This elevation faces the backyard along with a river outside. This glass box and screened porch sit upon an old base with 2 bedrooms and storage for boating and beach supplies.

Arcademia Group Inc..

This house in Ontario, designed by architects Robert Markovits and Gary Lichtblau, also introduces a more solid face to the street. The three-story volume is almost symmetrical concerning the openings from the darkened 2 floors, a balance that’s violated from the cantilever within the garage and driveway.

Arcademia Group Inc..

The rear of the house is even more inflexible concerning symmetry and a grid pattern, but the higher transparency makes it appropriate for this private side of the house.

Abramson Teiger Architects

As I’ve mentioned, not all distinctions between back and front are so easy to differentiate, at least in terms of architectural form. Such is the case for this house designed by Abramson Teiger Architects. This approach to the front part of the house reveals a complex, irregular makeup of folded roof and wall planes, constant along the length of the house.

Abramson Teiger Architects

The rear of the house presents exactly the exact same ribbonlike folds defining the roofing, walls, and flooring. Nevertheless some of the materials on the front part of the house — concrete wood — give far more orange and glass stucco, a more playful composition that opens up to views along with sunlight. A focus on the pool is also apparent from the articulation of the elevation.

Peterssen/Keller Architecture

This mid-1930s house in Minneapolis, expanded by Peterssen/Keller Architecture, clearly shows the global style/art deco leanings of this time. The asymmetry, planar walls and curving accents give it an informality that’s similar to a rear. Nevertheless the solid with emptiness and the landscaping create a hierarchy which clearly locates the front door.

Peterssen/Keller Architecture

The rear of the house is much more spacious and therefore less hierarchical about entry. Instead, each of the rooms open up to views and sunlight, many with terraces.

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