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Thursday, September 15, 2011

What to do with a Cul-de-sac?

One of our biggest challenges is to deal with the sheer amount of suburban repair work needed. 50+ years of suburban investment with the most world's most prolific economic engine means that there is much work to undo.

Post real estate melt-down, many of our commissions have been focused on this type of repair work. In many cases, it is much like the power went off and simply left half finished developments lying about. Our goal is to try to repair these areas as best we can and set them up to grow into a type of meaningful place. This begins by tackling the process of transformation of the ever common cul-de-sac.

Ironically, or perhaps not so much so, the word cul-de-sac means "bottom of the bag" in French. So the bottom of the bag in this case, gets you the residential equivalent of a fast food drive through, easy for cars but bad for humans.

Our case study example here looks much like a typical bottom of the bag below but with a slight "upgrade" of a green space in the middle as a feature. Also, as a more advanced version of the cul-de-sac, it actually has alley ways feeding some of the lots.

That little green circle is nicer than pure concrete or asphalt, but does little on its own. The lot structure is still driving the form of the house placement and you will still end up with something like the next photo, a nicer bottom of the bag.

What to do? Well, in many of these types of repair projects, we have many limitations of what we can do. Often, our project is already entitled or zoned and the client does not wish to go back into that arena. Other times, much of the actual infrastructure is already in as is the case here.

Our one solution was to begin to define the former bottom of the bag into a multi-use place. Cars use this place but also kids, bikes and humans in general. It becomes a place that social things happen in as well a a simply visually pleasing space.

Here we use three basic techniques:

1. Make a place beautiful. Places that are not visually appealing are not valued as highly as other places. Here we add a squared up center green with a large oak tree planting (and other small details such as lighting etc.)

2. Define the place (space): A place must be defined or enclosed in some manner. Here we focus moving the building form and mass around to create walls for our new space. Same number of houses, just moved them around to create something of value.

3. Approach of the space: This is the one that most designers overlook. Every interesting space has some type of approach to it. Here we use a row of palmetto trees to create a tighter street section and rhythm that then opens up to the main space.

Simple fix that costs very little in terms of actual costs. We also kept existing utility runs and really only changed some lot lines, house placement and a few ornamental design moves inside the right of way.

As an alternate, we also looked at another version here. This is a more involved approach as we moved the right of way a little and actually carved out a small block structure in the former cul-de-sac parcel. Our main goal here was to generate more value by fronting our homes on a more controlled common green vs. a less desirable suburban second tier arterial road.

We used the same basic principals as above but just modified the plan so that 8 of the 12 homes faced the value generating space vs. 4 in the other example. Since this is a real world project, our client and design team will now have to weigh out the extra value generated in sales of our approach vs. the extra design and engineering needed to convert to this scheme. Our earlier example, needed almost no additional engineering or approvals.

There is hope to punch out of the bottom of the bag. Breaking the cul-de-sac is easy to do from the point of view of a designer of real world solutions to this large problem. Here, remember that our three main principals; Beautiful Places, Defined Places and Anticipation of a Place were used to build extra value out of typical suburban post melt down wreckage.

Monday, April 18, 2011

CNU Beaufort Article Series: “Res Privata”

What makes up the Private Realm? In short, it is composed of the everyday common things in people’s daily life. These things include our homes, our garages, our yards, and the basic places we get our daily needs from, our stores and typical places of employment. All of these things form the backdrop of our lives and provide the basic urban fabric that we inhabit. A great Private Realm provides the largest single defining attribute to a region’s built character, more so than the architecture of monuments. It is easy to tell if you are in Charleston’s peninsula, the French Quarter in New Orleans or Old Town Alexandria. The common buildings there all share the same vocabulary of vernacular architecture. They also form a pallet of background fabric that reinforces the notion of a place while also allowing the place’s Res Publica or monuments/landmarks to clearly standout. The vernacular architecture of the Res Privata, has certain characteristics that allow it to be a great sense-of-place builder. It must have a modest beauty, an economical sense, an honest use of local materials and adaptation to local conditions, and a clarity of form & typology. Beauty, in modest domestic architecture, comes from simple mass, proportion and rhythm. These three principals are typically driven by proportions found in nature or the “golden section”. These proportions are common to our human bodies and thus we (unknowingly) find them comforting.

Common background architecture must, by definition, must be economical and reproducible by the common people of the region that it originates from. Patterns and principals are the method by which all these goals are accomplished. Stylistic choices give individual touches to each building but each house on a street should have more in common with its neighbor than different. Vernacular architecture is necessarily very much linked to local climate and local materials. Here in Beaufort, the common materials are wood framing & siding typically on a raised foundation. The raised foundation helps to cool the building along with a taller ceiling height. Porches shade the hot summer sun while protecting large tall windows from rain. A house built in New England, would look very much different
Clarity of form and typology means that buildings read as they are. Houses look like houses, stores look like stores very much like how a cat looks like a cat and a horse looks like a horse. Confusion comes from buildings which look like a cat but function like a horse. Or worse yet, are a Frankenstein like creation. The background fabric of a place should be predictable, not nervous or confusing. Great Cities, Towns and Places have Great Public Realms. These are the collection of background fabric buildings that we may not notice as individual pieces, but that we do notice on a collective level. Ideally, this background architecture, has its own distinctive vocabulary derived from the local region. This architecture is not static, it can and should adapt as time moves on. Beaufort has a distinctive vernacular style as does the Lowcountry as a whole. Having our new growth use this DNA as a starting point is the key to growing from what we are, not growing away from what we are.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Carlton Landing, Oklahoma Progress

More exciting progress on the construction of our first five units at Carlton Landing. The first four are a cluster of courtyard, rear yard and duplex units that operate over a common semi-public space. See here
for an earlier post and site plan. Very advanced block and unit design.

Rearyard unit on right that terminates public courtyard space. Our belief is that the creation of these publci realm spaces is a great economic value builder that costs is the perfect case of advanced block design building value.

Street frontage on primary street. Context is a transition zone of T-4 into there Village Square area (T5).

Small affordable rearyard unit looks and loves grand with its double porch fronting the public space. Its a tiny unit area wise.

Materials are local sources timber and brick masonry. Again we are a transition to the most urban part of the project and we wanted to begin the change in vocabulary from the more common T3 single family to the more Territorial Masonry Village Square.

This is a first glimpse at Carlton Landing's first flex buidling. This unit was designed as a great multi-use buidling in a house form for its T3 context. We are incorporated design tools that allow it to be a retail or serivce space, a single family unit, a mulit-family unit and a bed and breakfast. All with only minor interior changes. This is sustainable building at its core...there will never be a need to scrap off this building no matter what its best use becomes.

Great work by Grant Humpreys and the Carlton Landing Team.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Updating a Historic Building for a New Use
or why Historical Preservation and Adaptive Reuse is the most Sustainable things we can do.

Below is a photo of Beaufort, South Carolina's Carnegie Library. This building was built via the Carnegie Foundation as a gift to Beaufort with the Building opening in 1918. This is one of a handful of Carnegie Buildings built in South Carolina.

We have assisted the Great Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce in up fitting the building to allow them to occupy the building. The above interior photo shows a nice clean up of the formal Foyer space with historic trim and doorways remaining. We were unable to return the entire building to its full grand reading room configuration but are hopeful that funding can be secured in the near future.

Reusing this type of building is very sustainable for many reasons. First, it simply makes sense to not fill up a landfill with the building while having to build an entirely new building. That point makes some sense to most on the surface level, but fully consider that much of what a new building is going to be built with, is going to be very expensive in terms of energy. How much energy is a new foundation with all its steel going to cost? How about raw transportation costs? It really adds up quickly.

Second point is that historic buildings are in many ways just plain built better. This building is relatively new by 300 year old Beaufort Standards but, it has withstood many bad storms and a few minor seismic events as well. Most of the windows are original wood and the core building is a full masonry shell. With proper maintenance (which has to factored into any building) this building really can be maintained for almost ever. How many buildings built in Beaufort in the last few years can be expected to last even 30 years?

Lastly, as a civic building, this Library has become a landmark of Beaufort. It contributes to the Street scape of the Old Commons area and forms a great ensemble with the Arsenal and Firehouse Buildings. Not using and maintaining your landmarks and civic buildings & spaces is a path of decline for communities.

Monday, January 24, 2011

CNU Beaufort Article Series: January 2011

“Res Publica”

Res Publica or the Public Realm is the heart of our communities and civic presence. It, along with Res Economica, the Private Realm, form the Complete City or Civitas. These two Realms describe the physical built form and fabric or the “Hardware” of a city. One with out the other is not complete and each realm will contribute to the true nature of a community or place.

What makes up the Public Realm? In short, it is composed of the shared things in people’s daily life. These things include Public Monuments, Landmarks and Buildings, Public Squares, Parks and Spaces, Public Streets and Spaces between Buildings and lastly, it includes Open Spaces and Access to Natural Resources.

Monuments, Landmarks and Public Buildings are some of the most iconic elements of a place. These are the items typically on post cards and things that tourists photograph. These items often work at several layers and will provide a Citywide Landmark while also serving to anchor a neighborhood or square. Examples of these include churches (of which Beaufort is so blessed with), higher learning campuses (USCB Downtown buildings), schools (Port Royal Elementary), Libraries (Downtown building), Hospitals, and Government Buildings (New City Hall). Institutions bear the burden to provide these well-executed buildings and spaces as a matter of duty.

Public Squares, Parks and Spaces are the great public spaces in our communities. These spaces are vital at several scales of a community. Communities need spaces on a City or Region level and also down to a Neighborhood level. Indeed, even Blocks should have some type of small Public Realm space when ever possible, even if its just a small bench carved out of a fence. These spaces will have a range of sizes and should accommodate a community’s civic functions as well as serve as primary

Public Streets and Alleys are also a huge part of the Public Realm. They are in fact some of the most used portions of the Res Publica and we need to remember that as we design Streets. Streets are used for transportation of course but they also (or should) serve as meeting places and areas of interaction between the Public and Private Realm. This is a critical area as bad streets or streets with out civic value will limit the type of private investment. Great streets should be one of the highest priorities of Public Investment in order to recoup or encourage great Private Investment.

Open Space and Natural Resources are the last major physical components to the Public Realm.
Agricultural space and preserved open space are both great ways to maintain long unspoiled vistas which are very important to the overall nature of Beaufort County, which is rural in nature. Also, promoting connection to the natural environment, via preserved street terminations or public docks or boat landings all help us maintain our collective connection to our marshes and river.

Great Cities, Towns and Places have Great Public Realms. These are the collection of Landmarks and Spaces that lead to all of us remembering that place as special. Beaufort is blessed to have a good Public Realm and making it great should be the collective priority of the Public Government so as to encourage solid private investment. Placemaking starts with Civic Building.

Eric Brown,
Architect, CNU-A

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Carlton Landing


Great to see progress on some of our work out at Carlton Landing. We have five buildings going up there right now. Carlton Landing is a fantastic new community being built on Lake Eufaula in Oklahoma and is another great DPZ plan.

This is part of what is underway. We are very pleased that we were able to not only provide great buildings but also help with the urban design. This is part of the sequence we call block or micro design. We were able to get an extra unit in and also weave / layer the public realm deep into the block with added connectivity also.

These are two rowhouses and a stand alone single house also with a seperate cottage unit located in the rear on the alley frontage. (Its behind the forklift).
Very excited with the progess so far and the Carlton Landing Team is a pleasure to work with.