Architecture and DesignIn this issueNew This WeekNewsletter

Outdoor Living Spaces: Most Desired Community Feature

Providing single-family living that integrates outdoor living design elements without sacrificing density

By Darian Rauschendorfer

It is widely known that a connection to the outdoors, even if in the form of a painting in the landscape, has a positive effect on human wellness. The prevalence of indoor-outdoor living trends in design are tapping into this aspect of the human experience. The collective experience of the pandemic further illuminated this fact.

According to the first wave of the consumer survey for the America at Home Study, outdoor spaces were the most desired community features: large parks with open fields and greenspace, 52%; trails, 47%; and picnic, BBQ area and open air pavilion, 40%. In addition to their preferences for outdoor spaces, survey results also showed that 72% of consumers prefer to live in single-family detached homes. Through strategic design decisions, it is possible to design homes that provide the outdoor living and single-family lifestyle that people want in attainable formats that are profitable to build. 

Multiple DAHLIN Architecture | Planning | Interiors projects going through entitlement for a builder client developing build-for-rent communities exemplifies a viable housing typology of which there is short supply in the market. The primary objective is to provide single-family living that integrates outdoor living design elements without sacrificing density that targets the middle-income market.

At the site plan level, the projects are designed to engage residents in the communal outdoor spaces, promoting walkability and social interaction. Across the projects, a prominent feature is the pedestrian spine and private alleys that connect homes to the rest of the community while also providing connections to surround amenities such as a public park directly across from the site or a future extension of the municipal light rail that will be adjacent to it. The community clubhouse features several outdoor amenities including a semi-outdoor resident lounge, a pool, a bocce ball court and an event lawn. Adding to the outdoor recreational and leisure space available to residents, there is also a dog park and community garden. 

Even with a more urban character that plots out at 17 dwelling units per acre with compact alley-loaded, single-family detached, zero lot line homes, it was important to provide all the components of a single-family house, specifically including private outdoor space the resident can make their own. The two-story, 3-bedroom homes with a footprint of approximately 1,400 square feet per home all provide either a private front yard or a private backyard. 

Because renters are highly sensitive to space efficiency and are resistant to paying more for increased square footage that they perceive as inefficient, a fact supported in research recently shared at the John Burns Real Estate Consulting Build-for-Rent Forum, the yard sizes were intentionally designed to minimize the maintenance burden to the resident while remaining large enough to be functional outdoor living spaces. 

In units with front yards, these yards will have permeable paving with low fences to provide privacy and create a transition from the common walkways to the individual units. Additionally, many of these yards will front onto outdoor community amenities and green spaces, further extending the outdoor connection. Units with backyards feature taller fences to increase the sense of privacy in these spaces. 

While the landscaping outside of the resident yards is maintained by an HOA, each resident will have the flexibility to customize their front yards to suit their preferences and lifestyle. The floor plans are designed to open to these private outdoor spaces through the placement of sliding glass doors and glazing, which also helps the homes live larger than their square footage. 

Balanced, efficient design is key to the development of new housing typologies. The proliferation of these kinds of new typologies can add much needed diversity to the housing stock, making the outdoor living, single-family lifestyle so highly desired by most consumers accessible to more people, creating value for consumers and builders.

Darian Rauschendorfer is a principal architect at DAHLIN Architecture | Planning | Interiors. Darian leads teams to design homes that enhance livability for homeowners while creating value for builders.