Six Questions to Answer in Evaluating your Home

Warwick Rowell

To give you a feel for Alexander’s work, and to help people design their houses here is part of a book review.  The book is Community And Privacy, by Serge Chermayeff and Christopher Alexander, written in 1966.

They suggest we examine our plans or our present home and answer six questions. The first question is to do with creating a barrier between the domains of house and public.

1. Is there an entry “lock” to give the house as a whole an adequate buffer zone against intrusion?

This entry lock has important impacts on people coming into the house, whether they are residents or visitors. They can shed the outside world, and get in tune with you and your place. In later work, Alexander defines this pattern as “ENTRANCE TRANSITION” – there is a change of level, texture, sound, direction, and above all view in entrances that make people feel comfortable.

The second question considers the forces that come between people under the headings of noise, interruptions and dirt.

2. Is the children’s domain directly accessible from outside so as not to interfere with the family domain and the adults’ private domain?

This question is about private entry to the house for everyone – children and adults. It ensures that if they want to, kids can move in and out of their parts and shared parts of the home, without causing hassles for anyone else.

3. Is there a buffer zone between the children’s private domain and the parent’s private domain?

This question acknowledges that kids are noisy, and leads to much more than just a wall between these two domains, particularly just a stud and panel one!

4. Is there a “lock” to the parent’s private domain?

Here we deal with couple’s needs for space and time away from the kids. Other activities require our attention and concentration as well, so question 5 asks:

5. Can a “living room” be isolated acoustically, as either a quiet or noisy zone, from the rest of the house?

This is so people living together can pursue different activities without having to adapt to the activities of others in the house. Study, tax, reading, dinner with friends,…

6. Are the outdoor spaces private and differentiated?

Immediately our expanses of open front lawn are condemned. More subtle is the idea of differentiating different spaces for different times, and groups, and activities. Build boundaries to make special and different domains, and all of a sudden the house and its spaces will become more alive. You will feel more lively in spaces like this. They are no longer just places to go through, but places to live in.

Looking at your present home and evaluating the answers to these six questions could give you some new insight into why something has felt “not quite right”. And now you have a framework that would enable you to do something about it. The ease with which you can use them shows the power of these patterns.

We have used these questions to design and build houses for ourselves and others for twenty years – they work!