Narrow sites bring with them a number of complex constraints, but can also lend themselves to some very exciting and unique design outcomes. To get the most out of your narrow block, given its complexities, you really need the expertise of a skilled architect.
Site orientation & surrounds
With any site it is important to consider the orientation and surrounding context, with a narrow site this is even more important. Land that runs east-west will provide the most opportunity to bring in sunlight and will allow you to maximise natural daylight throughout the day.
Of course the surrounding buildings can have an impact on what light your property will actually get, so have a look at the neighbouring building heights, setbacks and areas of overlooking into your property. It is recommended that you visit the property at different times of the day to get a good idea of the sun tracking and areas of shadow.
Ideally you want to leave some land for outdoor entertaining, a play area for the children or just have a nice vegetable planter to look at. What joy to be able to slide open your beautiful glass doors and connect with the outside world, feel the breeze, smell the creepers on your boundary fence and listen to the birds sing. You don’t want to feel like you’re stuck in a box with nowhere to stretch your legs.
Designing the façade of a building is important on every site and with a narrow site, because you have less width to play with, you really want to make what you do count. One option to consider if you want onsite parking, instead of using up valuable real estate with a fully enclosed garage, is building the first floor out over the driveway to create a carport. Use transparency of materials and varying planes to create an interesting façade that will engage people visiting or just walking by. Be playful with scale. An oversized front door can look great or you could hide the front door by blending it into the façade.
Drawing light into the house with courtyards allows natural light into more shaded areas while also creating some lovely entertaining spaces or more of a private retreat if adjacent to a master bedroom.
Skylights are great for narrow houses, integrating a narrow void down one side of the house can create some lovely shadow trails and add atmosphere. Another option to consider is using floor lights directly under if you want to walk over while still getting the light transfer. Open tread stairs will also let light spread to lower levels of the house. Atria can also be a great way to utilise light in circulation space and make more confined areas seem larger.
Glazed curtain walls or large windows are a good solution to light concerns. Preferably, you want to locate them somewhere you can still maintain your own privacy while not creating overlooking issues with neighbours. Using an internal courtyard with large double height windows is a perfect combination, creating something visually stunning and flooding your interior space with light.
When considering building materials it is important to realise that what you see is often just the surface. Some materials have a significantly larger depth in order to provide the required structure and insulation. On a narrow site you want to make the most of the space you have, so getting the structural support with the least impact on size is vital.
Steel structure is generally more expensive than masonry walls, but steel can offer more slender structure and provide larger openings for windows and doors that block or brick walls cannot, and in this instance it would be worth investing in more steel to gain extra floor space and light. Exposed steel can be an interesting and lovely design feature in a contemporary house. With evolutions in material and engineering concrete is another option that can provide some thin walls either in pre-cast panels or poured on site. Glass technology has become a science in itself, allowing for better heat control, larger panels, and the ability to use it under foot or even in swimming pools.
Levels & Zones
Split levels are a great way to maximise volume and create zones for your house. Using mezzanines to maximise height and function within a single space will let light filter through and you can use either clear glass or electric glass that turns opaque for privacy when required.
Use of space
Consider locating bedrooms and utilities downstairs with the kitchen and living areas upstairs with a balcony or roof garden. This will utilise the daylight in the areas used throughout the day and in the evening you can enjoy the views while entertaining.