“I’m interested in housing not houses,” Edward M. Baum, FAIA, declares. The well-respected architect and professor backs up his statement with a growing cache of infill housing that is designed to fit suburban lots anywhere in the country. Baum was looking for a place to live while teaching in Dallas and found very few options that gave him a good location for a decent price. What he did find were two adjacent lots in a close suburb. Baum bought the lots and designed four one-story, single-family houses for his site that can also be duplicated in a variety of places.

The architect created a housing model to fit typical lots and work within existing codes that can be built using only components found at major home supply retailers. Using a duplex designation yields more flexible codes and allows for higher density without sacrificing single family amenities like ample outdoor space. It also drastically cuts costs because two houses share a single foundation and roofing system. In addition, Baum’s use of a courtyard plan offsets lack of daylight from the party wall.

The lots Baum purchased measure 50 feet wide by 150 feet deep and run from street to alley. Most people wouldn’t envision a courtyard house fitting such a linear site, but Baum feels the technique creates an infill prototype that can be built anywhere. “The idea of a courtyard house is so old both for privacy and security reasons,” he explains. “By making the outdoor space internal, it becomes the safest part of the house and you don’t have to depend on the surroundings for views.”

A central courtyard flanked by window walls, which are the only custom elements, floods interior spaces with natural light. Open living/dining spaces sit to on one side of the courtyard with a secondary bedroom/home office on the other. The same window wall system caps each end of a gallery-like plan, so the kitchen and master bedroom also enjoy copious sunlight. A continuous circulation spine runs along the party wall carrying daylight into every room. Built-in storage fills that entire shared wall further enhancing sound abatement.

Standard setbacks actually benefit the courtyard layout. The front setback of 20 feet provides enough space for a shallow driveway and a two-car garage that doubles as an entertainment court. A 10-foot-deep backyard setback yields a secluded outdoor space adjacent to the master suite. Five feet along each side makes room for French drains that catch runoff from the metal roof and direct water toward vines planted along 8-foot-tall chain link fences enclosing each property. “These side easements also connect outdoor spaces,” Baum adds, “so no one has to drag plants or a lawnmower through the house.”