I’m not really sure why views are so important to people. My favorite things to look at are open bodies of water and mountains. When I am gazing at these landscapes I ask myself, “Why am I looking at this?” The answer “it’s beautiful” doesn’t satisfy me. I can sit by a lake for hours staring out at the water, doing nothing and feeling great. Sometimes I think I am captivated by the mystery of what is happening out on the water. What is the temperature? How deep is it? What’s on the bottom? What fish are swimming out there? I don’t know why views are important to people, but I do know that they can greatly influence the design of a building.
I was recently talking to a friend who told me that she and her husband had some tree work done on their property. The person taking the trees down insisted on taking down a little more than they wanted removed. When he was done my friends discovered they had a wonderful view of the rolling hills in the Hudson Valley. They had lived in their house for years and never realized the potential for a great view. The discovery of the view changed their entire perspective of their house.
Similarly when my wife and I bought our house we had no idea that we had a significant seasonal view. We bought our house in summer and after the leaves came down in the fall, the view to Mt. Beacon and the Fishkill Ridge opened up. That winter I found myself brushing my teeth every morning looking out towards the mountains. We realized that this seasonal view was nice enough that it was worth altering our house and landscape to maximize it.
Recently I visited a residence with a tremendous view of the Hudson River that captures Bannerman’s Island and Storm King Mountain. I told the owner during our meeting that the view alone could sustain my existence. If there was no house on the property, I would be content living on that land in a tent.
Views aren’t the spaces or the physical structures architects design. A view can greatly influence a design. A good architect can create a form and spatial configuration that would maximize the end user’s experience. A hierarchical organization of spaces can be made that can maximize views. Views don’t always exist, but can be created. Plantings and landscaping designed for the outside can be organized for viewing from the inside of building. At Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright created a sunken corridor where the user’s eye level was meant to be at ground level. He did this because most of the plant and animal life in the dessert is at ground level and he wanted people to see that. The view he created zoomed in on the landscape. Views don’t always have to be magnificent vistas.
I think considering views is a great way to connect the interior of a building to the exterior-drawing nature or the larger world in. Perhaps the reason people love views so much is because they somehow ground us. They begin to help us understand our relationship to the larger world and bring us some inner peace.