Many years ago I co-designed a wonderful hillside house. The economy then tanked, and the clients put the project on hold. I opened my own firm, and got busy with that. About a year ago, I heard that the clients finally began construction. Just last week, I had a chance to see the house, and much to my delight it’s almost finished, and it looks great. I didn’t take any pictures, but I plan to at some point. Seeing the house almost finished got me to thinking about the genesis of the design. The house is very simple, with a few special touches, but its main features are the courtyard and the spectacular views. One of the challenges of designing in the hills is finding a way to provide good outdoor space, and I’ve long been a proponent of the courtyard as a way to do this.
This all brings me to Jørn Utzon, and the Kingo courtyard houses that he designed and that were built in the ’50s in Denmark. Utzon’s vision was for a simple, 50′ x 50′ courtyard house that could be built inexpensively. By building the houses back to back with zero lot lines, the interior wall of one house becomes the courtyard wall of the next. The houses nest against each other, and each family has its own outdoor space.
These houses served as the inspiration for the courtyard house mentioned above. But one of the interesting aspects of the Kingo houses is how they work together, and how the small footprint of the houses creates an interesting suburban street, and preserves open ‘mews’, or naturalistic open space.