In many ways the most important philosophy that has guided the design of this house is an attempt to answer this question
– How can I create a physical environment that creates an ideal environment for the nurturing and development of my children?
I believe that most people – especially children today have become too separated from natural systems and other species. Our cities and suburbs have severed the natural relationships between us and the rest of life to our detriment- diminishing us psychologically and making us insensitive to the challenges facing the natural world (see my article in Trim Tab magazine – Our Children’s Cities in the resources section).
Richard Louv writes elegantly about this as ‘nature deficit disorder’. To know life is to love it – but too few children today truly know it. I grew up in Northern Ontario, spending a great deal of my time camping and being outdoors – yet now the allure of electronics and the dependence on the automobile has reshaped how children spend their time. Our suburbs, in an attempt to offer a modicum of ‘space’ and greenery has, since the end of world war II, only further eroded the wild places that remain and further isolated most children from natural systems.
With Heron Hall I wanted a place that would intimately connect my children to several different types of habitats and a myriad of species. I wanted a place where they could learn to be true stewards of the landscape and feel at home with dirt, rocks, bugs, fish, birds and animals. We chose a rural life – so we could grow some of our own food and be near to others that farm and provide – at least for part of the year, all our fresh food. For several months of the year we buy intensely local.
We think we found such a place –our site has several key ecosystems – a manmade estuary that is part of a thriving Ecotone – a freshwater creek that mingles with tidal saltwater surges, resulting in one of the best ‘birding’ locations on the island. We also have a gravel beach ecosystem filled with crabs, oysters and other aquatic creatures (the heron fish here) and a transition forest ecosystem with deer, raccoons, snakes and more birds. We love this place and my kids love to be there. Spending time outside with trees, grass and water always brings them alive with new games and new activities.
Part of designing for biophilia is ensuring that the house itself is deeply connected to the natural world. A passive solar, naturally ventilated home, the project does just that. The seasons and diurnal cycles play a major role in how the home is operated and experienced.
The house also integrates living things directly into its design – green roofs that double as food production zones, indoor and outdoor plantings and a general celebration of water and nutrients through our cisterns and composting toilets. Natural materials – wood, rammed earth, stone further connect us to nature’s palette. And the views… water, trees, flowers are wonderful.
Inside smaller kids bedrooms encourage more family-based interactions and shared relationships – much of which we hope will encourage even more outdoor activities. Oh and did I mention porches and the variety of courtyards, gardens and outdoor spaces?
I could go on… but I’m too busy playing on the site with my children.