While porches may seem like very simple, everyday things, from a design perspective they are extremely important and powerful elements as they significantly define how a building user engages with both the interior of the building and the environment around it.
The type of porch and its location in the circulatory sequence of the space sets up a series of experiences, and has a profound impact on the lifestyle of the inhabitants. For the purposes of this article, we will confine ourselves to the residential porch, and focus on the distinctions between a “front” (entry-side) porch and a “back”(garden-side) porch.
The front porch tends to have more “urbanistic” importance, i.e. it faces the approach to the building, and is the “bridging space between the public and private elements of residential life. In a formal sense, this space is usually the first “built” element a visitor encounters, and sets up a sequence of welcoming spaces (through the main entrance, to the vestibule, public spaces, etc.).
One of Dan Fay’s earliest memories is associated with front porches, and their outward looking relationship with the neighborhood. When he was very young his parents rented the first floor apartment of a “triple decker” on Clyde Avenue in Syracuse. The houses were extremely close to one another, all of very similar configurations, and all with multi story porches on the front. As can be seen in the attached drawing, the result was a “porch zone, connecting neighbors, allowing conversation with both family members in the house and your adjacent neighbors. This resulted in impromptu “block parties” on warm summer evenings, as everyone hung out on the front porch, visiting, and generally enjoying one another’s company. This urbanistic peculiarity, observed at a very early age, continues to resonate with Dan to this very day.
The other type of porch we would like to look at is the “back” porch. These elements tend to be more intimate in nature, and focused on the private “garden” or “yard”. As such, they are often less formal and can take on a myriad of configurations from three-season room, to screened porch, to open deck. Brian Manning is a devoted lover of his backyard “forever wild” area, reveling in the wide variety of birds and other creatures who he gets to visit with as he enjoys his back deck in the evenings after work. The intimacy of being able to enjoy wild birds, ducks, squirrels, foxes, and other types of natural visitors delights him and refreshes his soul. All of us look forward to his stories of his “evening adventures,” and it can truly be said that one would be hard pressed to find someone who enjoys his back deck more.
Neither of these “types” is either better or worse than the other. They each have specific qualities enhancing the spatial experience. As mentioned above, from a design perspective, both front and rear porch/decks create “bridging” spaces, bringing the “inside” out and “outside” in.
Porches and porch-like elements function as powerful elements in the composition of residential design, and can inform how the space is experienced in profound ways. From a practical perspective, they provide opportunities for protection in bad weather, and enjoyment during fair weather. As we begin our (all to brief) summer we hope you enjoy the season and take advantage of such spaces. If you are interested in adding to, or modifying your residence, please call, we would love to help you with your project.