This past year has been a time of upheaval and change, forcing Americans to rethink how they live. As architects, we believe our homes must change to support the new demands on our living spaces and communities.
During lockdown, countless people have had to find room in their homes for offices, exercise spaces and more. They’ve also had to use their porches and lawns as informal social spaces as gathering places like cafes have shut down.
The Year in Review
We have an idea that gives people a way to help transform their homes for this new environment—as well as build social and neighborly dynamics in their communities that will endure long after Covid has passed.
The idea is called a “super porch”—not a literal porch, but an enclosed space that covers a chunk of people’s front lawns and can be used for numerous functions. We are currently designing our first model for a small house on a tight urban lot in Los Angeles.
Positioned between the front door and driveway, it consists of a floor and roof supported by columns, like a covered patio, with sliding glass walls and wood shutters to let you see out and let the neighbors see in. The super porch is outfitted with conveniences like power outlets, integrated storage, outdoor heaters, a lockup bar and music.
On one level, this space is designed to add extra space for all the new tasks we have to do at home, such as teaching and exercising. In addition, it acts as a vital transitional space—somewhere to take off work shoes and store away packages before you enter the main house.
But, much more broadly, the super porch is also a social space. Because the walls are transparent, you can see the street outside, watching cars and joggers go by, and saying hello to people as they pass; they can wave to you or drop over to chat. You’re not holed up inside working at a desk or exercising in a basement room—you’re out on your lawn, in public, interacting with the neighborhood.
Now imagine a street full of super porches: rows of houses with people visibly on their lawns, all available and part of the neighborhood in a way that they wouldn’t be otherwise. It would transform sidewalks into vital social scenes instead of the usual silent ghost towns.
We hit upon the idea for this space when we realized that the porch and the front yard—and even the sidewalk—are some of the greatest untapped resources in our neighborhoods. The traditional front porch is the original place of overlap, where public meets private, where diverse and flexible activities occur and where our families can socialize with our neighbors and friends.
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After the closure of restaurants, cafes and bars during the pandemic, people began using their porches—as well as their stoops and front yards—as replacements for the public spaces they missed. They rediscovered the idea of using porches and lawns as places for growing and gardening, working and making, relaxing and playing. This space in front of their house became a place that rescued them from isolation.
The super porch builds on this idea. It is a place to carry out household activities, as well as to meet and greet and stay connected. You can work in it during the day and, because of the glass walls, you can still say hello to neighbors passing on the street. During leisure hours, you can simply hang out with your family and interact with the outside at the same time.
Your children could use the space as a ready-made lemonade stand or party area, where guests could mingle in the open air to ease the fears of Covid. Over the course of the year, it can change from birthday pavilion to haunted house to fruit stand to a performance stage—sharing the fun with the neighborhood.
The super porch also serves as an intermediate space between the public realm and the spaces in our homes. Those functions are now served by entry vestibules and mud rooms, but many homes lack them. We all need a place to safely transition people, pets or packages from the outside world into the safety of our home. The super porch will do just that—and continue to add to our daily lives long after the pandemic is over.
Outside and in
If the idea of the super porch spreads, it has the potential to transform our neighborhoods. Instead of a series of manicured lawns, the street will become a lively landscape of activity. As neighbors engage each other more readily, we will create stronger and safer communities.
Our underused front yards will become bastions of wellness, community and even the economy. Whether someone is growing food, conducting yoga classes or using it as a home office, the super porch makes the neighborhood streetscape more lively, adding color and diversity while connecting the neighbors to each other. Adoption of the super porch could potentially support a faster shift away from an auto-oriented lifestyle, and nurture a community-based, entrepreneurial, small-town culture.
We don’t know the limits to this idea yet, but the biggest changes to all of our living conditions will take place on the porch and the front yard. It is the next domestic frontier.
Mr. Salvadó is the creative director, architecture, for the design firm RIOS. He can be reached at [email protected].
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