Design snapshot: Alley gateway

Passersby simply can’t help but glimpse down this alley. It’s human nature to scan our environment to note differentiation. It’s how we orient ourselves, and in an evolutionary sense, it’s probably one way we seek to protect ourselves. Walk along a streetscape of densely sited buildings, which suggest a wall of sorts fronting a sidewalk, and you’ll find yourself noticing the spaces in between, becoming curious about them, in part because they’re different.

The treatment of this alley elegantly feeds and thwarts such curiosity. The wrought-iron gateway defines a visually permeable and gracious threshold. A potted plant in front of the left-hand gate adds a touch of domesticity, its leaves playing off the scrolling, swirling patterns of the ironwork. Its placement also conveys that the right-hand gate is the operable one, should we gain permission to enter. The elliptical moon gate design sharpens our focus on what lies yonder, temptingly close, but off limits to the uninvited. Sunlight beyond the adjacent building’s shadow beckons. What appears to be an elegant parking court, edged by a fence brimming with blossoming flowers, and a brick residence perhaps adapted from a utilitarian use teases our natural inquisitiveness. Yet we stand in the public realm while the gate marks the transition to the private realm beyond. 

This alley gateway brilliantly tempts and denies. Read more about “Transitioning with exterior gateways” in my Drawing Board column for Fine Homebuilding here. Issue #218, April/May 2011. Reprinted with permission copyright 2011, The Taunton Press, Inc.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast