Space in a Box For all intents and purposes, the typical townhouse garden site is a rectangular box with an open top. Walls or fences commonly enclose the “box” on three sides while the residence forms the fourth side (Figure 13—27). The top of the “box” is ordinarily open to the sky, and the ground is often a simple, level plane. The wall-like vertical planes and relatively flat ground surface establish a precise, architectural quality that is very much like the interior room of a house. From inside the house, the townhouse garden site appears to be just another room with the same inherent characteristics as other rooms throughout the dwelling.
Limited Views and Interest The surrounding walls and/or fences of a townhouse site create a space that is inward and self-focused (Figure 13—28). Views and contact with the nearby environment are limited at best because of the separation created by the walls. Thus, views tend to be contained internally on the townhouse site.
Simultaneously, the townhouse garden site has little spatial interest in and of itself. The singular spatial quality is frequently stark and completely without intrigue or appeal. Everything within the space is seen from all vantage points. This is true when standing in the space and when viewing it from inside the house. One look reveals all.
Furthermore, most views into or through the townhouse garden site tend to be directed to the back or outside wall. This is particularly true for views from inside the house (Figure 13—29). Anything placed on or in front of this end wall is readily seen and typically functions as a focal point.
Limited Area The townhouse garden is relatively modest in size. It may be as small as 100 SF, and usually not any larger than 500 SF. This diminutive size accentuates the qualities already discussed and limits the uses or elements that can be placed within the space. The little townhouse garden site creates a rather intimate and personal setting that often fits the relative scale of the human being. However, for some people, this kind of space can also feel claustrophobic. The petite size additionally makes all decisions about its design critical. There is little room to make mistakes or adjust to special site issues.
Fixed Access Points Fixed entry and exit points frequently determine access into and through the townhouse garden site (Figure 13—30). One point of access is from the house itself. This may be through a standard door or sliding glass doors, which are included on most houses built in the past 40 years. Another point of entry is often from a gate or door in the end wall. This may lead to a street, parking area, garage, or public green space. Access points are located less frequently on the side walls. The
points of entry and exit normally cannot be altered because of the fixed position of existing doors, gates, windows, or off-site conditions.
Lack of Privacy Even though solid walls or fences enclose the townhouse garden site, it commonly lacks privacy because nearby neighbors can see into the garden space from upper-story windows (Figure 13—31). This creates a “fish-bowl” like experience for people in a townhouse garden site. Whatever happens in this space is
like being on a theater stage to nearby upper-story windows. The limited size of the townhouse garden site makes this experience a difficult one to escape. Some townhouse garden owners simply choose not to use their outdoor space because of this quality. They give up what little outdoor space they have because they do not wish to be “on display.”