let nature win 02/2013

Natural Modernism in Residential Site Planning


Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature.

It will never fail you.

Frank Lloyd Wright



Our firm designs homes for a wide range of properties, from dense woodlands to open meadows with distant views. In collaboration with our clients, we use a common site planning approach for all projects that we call natural modernism.  This approach allows us to see the big picture, whether it’s a mountain top in Vermont or the remnants of a 19th century estate in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts.


Here are some of our core principles:

  • Take a Walk: It takes time and patience to learn what makes each site unique; where a building
    can be located so the most sensitive part of the property can be preserved and enhanced. With
    a property survey in hand, walk the property in different seasons and weather to find varying views,
    sun and shade, and patterns of forests and clearings.
  • Map it: Record observations on the survey, whether it’s a grove of trees you love or the stone
    remnants of an old chimney. The map becomes a graphic manifesto of the features you appreciate
    and become focal points for your property.
  • Let Nature Win: Natural systems of water drainage, wildlife habit and forest ecosystems are often
    fairly intact on rural sites. On our Wayland project, we’re removing a dilapidated house but are locating
    the new home overlapping the existing footprint to minimize disturbance. Invasive plantings are being
    removed and a forester consulted on enhancing the forest by thinning the unhealthy and dying trees and
    adding native trees. Driveways are kept to 10 feet in width and are paved with a special pervious
    material that allows water to absorb into the ground.
  • Historical Remnants: Almost every site contains remnants of a previous time. On a current project
    in Vermont, there are old stone walls, fading logging roads and a cellar hole where a building was
    removed years ago. The stone walls are being rebuilt as a nod to the sites prior agricultural use. Where
    the existing road fords a creek, we’re building a small timber bridge to restore and protect the resource.
  • On the Brow of the Hill: Frank Lloyd Wright was passionate about not building on top of the hill, but
    rather on the “brow of the hill”, so the house would complement rather than dominate its setting. The
    same goes for not plopping the building in the middle of a meadow, instead locating it at the boundary
    between forest and meadow. Tread lightly on the land by stepping the house down a slope; instead of
    having a wide floor plan that requires changing the site’s natural contours.
  • Let it Shine: An “ideal site” is when distant views face to the south so that principal windows can bring
    sunshine’s beauty and warmth into the home. We lacked long views on our Lenox project, so we made
    the most of short views within the site by creating a meadow to the south, bordered by woodlands, for
    an intimate view.