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Opinion: The point of view

Eleanor Young

The bigger the window the better the outlook... Eleanor Young looks at how our attitudes to prospect and refuge are changing

A home with view, as extended and opened up by Mitchell Eley Gould.
A home with view, as extended and opened up by Mitchell Eley Gould. Credit: Cate Donnegold

I slip outside the kitchen, sitting on the back yard bench looking to the views beyond as I nurse my tea. In this borrowed house the view is through the top of a stable door to the swelling mass of the muddy tide. I have sat in this way in many places – from the bright light of Spanish mountains (a memorable holiday) to the warmth of the sun falling on tangles of Welsh brambles (student life as much as the library ever was). Landscape thinker Jay Appleton explained this place of comfort with his ‘prospect and refuge’ theory; a safe place for the hunted with views out for the hunter. 

Driving through soft hills, the commanding position along the ridge line is taken up by houses determined to make the most of their site. Architects reworking cottages inevitably bring in more light and more views compared to historic, hunkered down forms, those bungalows lining the road out of town spread into the garden and open themselves up to whatever is beyond. Even Victorian terrace houses are extended on this basis: ‘I am the master of all I survey; my entire back garden.’

Is it the modernist belief in light and air? Surely not, most homeowners haven’t read Le Corbusier. Is it that there is more leisure time to sit and stare out of large windows? It doesn’t seem so. Is it that glass technology is better and cheaper? Perhaps, though they seem pricey enough. Is it central heating that has enabled this opening up? Is it because our indoor lives leave us with a hunger for the sunshine?

Our cultural relationship with the outdoors has changed as more people have shifted to professional jobs

It is certain that our cultural relationship with the outdoors has changed as large parts of the workforce have shifted to ‘professional’ jobs. In 2021 they made up a quarter of UK workers, and probably a higher percentage of the better off, who could afford to employ architects to improve their homes. Technology, from TV to the internet and phones, allows us to be amused inside for longer, the run or an afternoon gardening are set against the box set or Facetiming friends (we are with the well off classes here). There are excuses. Nearly half our days include some rain. And those favourite shoes let in water (why do they sell them in the UK?). 

While prospect and refuge was never only a landscape theory, it has been truly domesticated in this age. Of course our refuge is our home. And the prospect? If that can be seen through wide-screen windows and compete better with our other screens, then so be it.