Apart from its role as a benchmark and starting point for this guide the significance of this type is its malleability. There are elements which appear and disappear, others which are stretched, emphasised or downplayed, yet the whole remains recognisable as a type. Each variation could be understood as a specific example with particular effects on how the home and street (and by extension the city) are related. The area bridged by a stair and landing to reach the front door establishes a particular kind of threshold – distant and proximate at the same time depending on how you read (and experience) it. The second access point at lower level is significant, especially as it now normally leads to a separate unit rather than the original service area. We might say that the form has remained but that the meaning has changed. Nevertheless the relationship the configuration has on the home-city relationship remains the same. The type itself has been subject to reinterpretation at various historical moments as has elements of the architecture (railings, double entry, porch, sequential organisation). In terms of identity there is a balance between the individual front door – ‘I can always see the door to my house from the street’ – and the terrace block as an urban element. It is in each individual’s hands as to whether they see themselves as living ‘in that house’ or ‘on that street’.
It is difficult to generalise about a type that is both widespread and capable of so many variations. However, it is often the case that the threshold space is taken to be quite formal and as ‘belonging’ more to the street than the house. This is inferred from the way in which it is rare to find this space inhabited either with people or with possessions. When pots and plants are put out they tend towards the formal and understated. This suggests that though the model is important in terms of its spatiality and practiced ritual it is also heavily a symbolic threshold.
- street (city) ⇒ railing (boundary) ⇒ steps (over area) ⇒ landing ⇒ door
- street (city) ⇒ railing (boundary) ⇒ steps (descending into area) ⇒ area (threshold) ⇒ door
- street (city) ⇒ railing (boundary) ⇒ garden (threshold) ⇒ steps ⇒ landing ⇒ door
- Street to door to unit identity is strong; however, houses that have been split into multiple dwellings make this this more ambiguous. The differing treatments around doors accentuate or plays down unit identity.
- Title image courtesy of the London Metropolitan Archive (https://collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk).
- Axonometric by Alan Baxter & Associates and Keith Garner.
- Black & white area photographs from London, The unique city, Steen Eiler Rasmussen, Pelican, 1960.
- Street View images courtesy of Google Maps.