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Architecture + Branding: The divergent and conflicting architectural styles of yards

1-It’s MY Yard

The Yard, that bordered area of land commonly tied to a building, instantly conjures up its distinct images yet has broad implications. In modern parlance, a yard is commonly understood to consist mostly of a lawn or play area.

The term has also sprouted derivative words such as, shipyard, schoolyard, courtyard, graveyard, stockyard, cattle yard, churchyard, prison yard, each neatly tied to the purported function with the adjacent land area (source: wikipedia).

For a typical house, the yard in the front is referred to as the front yard, those to the side, if any, as side yards, and the one at the rear as rear yard, or backyard. Depending on lot size and zoning requirements, the actual size of each yard can vary substantially, with denser areas seeing minimal, or even non-existent yards, and suburban lots generally benefiting from much larger yards.

Regardless of physical size, each yard type is unique, and architectural identifiers brand each.

Highrise condos, front yard and side yard, Tampa, Florida

2-Front yard: Facing the street 

Formal and semi-public, the front yard can, in some instances, be extremely small, especially where properties access directly onto a street, or access route. The street presence demands a public persona that is achieved through several means. The architectural expression at the front yard is more cohesive, subject to stricter aesthetic urban forms, more comprehensive neighbourhood norms, and thorough design review committees.

Therefore, a disproportionate amount of architectural capital is expended at the front yard. The street façade is commonly more heavily adorned, replete with parapets, cornices, friezes, lintels, and various other architectural details.

Yards, Front, Mont Royal and Avenue du Parc, Montreal, QC

Yards, Rear, Mont Royal and Avenue du Parc, Montreal, QC

There is a definite premium attached to front (street) façade, both in term of function as well as curb appeal. Curb appeal, that intangible that real estate professional like to speak about, makes one property stand out from the others and increase the desirability factor.

Commonly, the materials are of better grade and quality, the details are more ornate, the overall composition is better attuned to that of the neighbourhood, and the design is better structured, highly organized and deliberately uncluttered.

Yards, Front, Guilbault and Clark, Montreal, QC

Yards, Rear and Side, Guilbault and Clark, Montreal, QC

Additionally, the architectural style at the front is more functional and intuitive. It is from here that one enters to experience the structure; it is the point of entry and the reception point. The functional transition from public to private realm is achieved at the front yard, thus requiring a more formal, and structured approach to architecture.

3-Side yard: Transitory space

The side yard, if any at all, is largely forgotten, and sometimes missing in quantity. Semi-detached, terrace, or row houses are examples where the side yard is a non-issue as individual housing units are adjoined, for example by way of a mitoyen wall, resulting in each unit without independent and distinct exterior side elevations. Although there are fewer side yards, the architectural character of the side yard is evident.

Yards, Front, Montreal Road near Aviation Parkway, Ottawa, ON

Yards, Side, Montreal Road near Aviation Parkway, Ottawa, ON

Yards, Side and Rear, Montreal Road near Aviation Parkway, Ottawa, ON

Whereas the front yard is defined by formality, the side yard is defined by being a transitory space. In the side yard, a transformation happens, a dressing down of sorts towards the rear yard, played out in the architecture with a subsequent downgrade of material quality, a marked shortage of architectural relief and ornamentation, a clear indication of a more utilitarian aesthetic, and a lack of visual intrigue.

Floor plan, residence, showing decreasing order of primacy of spaces, from the public realm to private (2048, 20110204 FE NL)

Instances where side yards are not present, a psychological and somewhat subconscious undressing can happen through the house, aided and abetted by the architectural topography of descending order of functions and rooms. This primacy of spaces, from more formal to less formal rooms, in the path from front to back, invariably leads to the panacea of yards, the backyard.

4-Rear yards: Away from street view

The rear yard, or backyard, is the antithesis of the front yard. It is less formal, less tense, and much more relaxed. The backyard could not be more divergent in purpose, utility and architectural style than the front yard.

The backyard is more of an oasis, a private space that is less subject to societal norms, upkeep and maintenance. In some respects, the constraints that are imposed in the front are relaxed in the back, away from the street. Backyards are spaces typically teeming with life, where barbecue cookouts, Friday nights, patios, pool parties, family gatherings happen partially shielded from direct public view.

Yards, Front, Coloniale near Napoleon, Montreal, QC

Yards, Rear, Coloniale near Napoleon, Montreal, QC

The relaxed laissez-faire attitude of the backyard is evident, encouraged and celebrated in the architectural expression. Typically, the least adorned side of house, finished in an almost clandestine manner, sometimes with complete disregard for zoning norms and building regulations. Construction techniques are highly improvisational, assembled with whatever materials available and within reach, resulting in a vernacular quality to the architecture. Mismatched, recycled, reclaimed, and unstructured, there is an inventive, creative and somewhat amateurish quality to the architectural composition that physically imparts and actually reinforces the casual nature of the backyard.

A hodge podge of additions, mismatched siding, sun porches, balcony enclosures, atriums, garages, cold rooms, all jut out into the backyard like unintended and unplanned appendages that would seem out of context and out of place anywhere, but in the backyard. Yet, here, in the backyard, these constructions add to the aura and expand the palate of the architectural expression, forming a visual kaleidoscope of styles and forms. Whereas norms and composition integrity would abhor to allow such a visual assault to exist in the front yard, it is a somewhat welcome presence in the relaxed confines of the backyard.

Yards, Front, Rue Clark near Rue St-Cuthbert, Montreal, Quebec

Yards, Rear, Rue Clark near Rue St-Cuthbert, Montreal, Quebec

Indeed, many municipalities have bylaws and norms that are more lax on rear yard alterations precisely because they do not detract from the front yard and street character.

Although newer developments are less likely to utilize an abundance of varied and conflicting materials in the backyard, the degradation of materials is quite common, resulting in rear yard elevation clad in vinyl siding, and the front yard elevation finished with a hybrid of more durable materials such as brick and stone.

Yards, Front and Side, Dahlia near Laurier, Rockland, ON

Yards, Rear, Dahlia near Laurier, Rockland, ON

5-Architectural Mullet

Like two sides of a coin, the branded architectural styles of both the front yard and rear yard are complete opposites. Adorned in the best of materials under the strictest of norms, front yard architecture is trim, prim and proper. Clad in the best of the rest and overseen by lax regulations, rear yard architecture is uneven, unkempt and offbeat.

Yards, Front, Rue St-Laurent near Rue Bagg, Montreal, QC

Yards, Rear, Rue St-Laurent near Rue Bagg, Montreal, QC

This widely contradictory nature results in the architectural equivalent of a mullet, with business in the front and party in the back. One of the enduring tenets of this dichotomy is the fact that the front yard exits in the public domain, visible from the street, whereas the rear yard is private, visible by invitation only if you will.

A horde of BBQs, a common backyard essential

The duality of architectural styles that persists between front and rear is pervasive and makes both unique. Equally important to the overall character of the built environment, their unique and discernable features make them easily identifiable and contrasting.

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About marc lortie

marc lortie is an Architectural Designer (Technologist) currently based in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). marc has several years of experience working in Canada and the USA on various projects, including commercial shopping centres, big-box stores, industrial plants, educational facilities, warehouses, storage facilities, intermodal facilities, hotels, offices, and residential developments. marc is a graduate of Carleton University, Algonquin College and La Cite Collegiale.


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