Three Dog Night


Long before Three Dog Night became one of our favorite bands, the term had an entirely different meaning: On a cold night, you might let one of your dogs sleep at your feet to keep your toes warm. If the night was unusually cold, you might let two dogs sleep at your feet, and (as you've likely guessed by now) a "three dog night" was bitterly cold. We believe natural solutions like this should be our first choice. In many cases, the natural way might be all you need, so you can save the equipment for the most extreme days of the year.


2017


Why We Code


Andrés Duany Guest Post

This post was written by Andrés Duany, who many readers would know as one of the founders of the New Urbanism. Andrés was one of the primary authors of the SmartCode, which is the leading form-based code in the world today. This post has been very lightly edited by permission based on an online conversation with Andrés and several other participants. Thanks, Andrés!

Within the last half-century, some 30 million buildings have degraded cities and reduced landscapes. Must we tolerate this comprehensive disaster in exchange for the (perhaps) three thousand great buildings that great architects have produced? Such a win-loss ratio is as unacceptable in architecture as it would be in any other field. We are compelled to intervene and have found that codes are the most effective instruments of reform.

We must code because the default setting in contemporary design is mediocrity and worse. Those who object to codes imagine that they constrain architectural masterpieces (their own, usually). But great buildings are few and the more likely outcome is kitsch. Codes can assure a minimum level of urban and architectural competence, even if in so doing they constrain certain possibilities.

•••••••

We use codes because those who are charged with designing, supervising and building communities tend to ignore education and avoid exhortation, but they are accustomed to following codes. It was the achievement to the mid-century generation of planners to have embedded codes in the political and legal process. We must take advantage of this. And so we code.

We code because ours is a nation founded on law. We prefer to work within known rules rather than be subject to the opinion of boards, politicians and bureaucrats. And so we code.

We code because bureaucracies cannot be (have never been) dismantled. They will however, willingly administer whatever codes are in hand. This has a potential for reform more efficient than education. And so we code.

Codes are currently pervasive. Replacing them with a void is legally unsustainable. It is for us to re-conceive the codes so that they result in better places to live. And so we code.

We must code so that the various professions that affect urbanism will act with unity of purpose. Without integrated codes, architects, civil engineers and landscape architects can undermine each others’ intentions. Without integrated codes, the result of development is never more than the unassembled collection of urban potential. And so we code.

We code because when architects do not control the codes, buildings are shaped by fire marshals, civil engineers, poverty advocates, market experts, accessibility standards, materials suppliers and liability attorneys. Codes written by architects clear a field of action for typological and syntactic concerns. And so we code.

We code because unguided towns and cities tend, not to vitality, but to socioeconomic monocultures. The wealthy gather in their enclaves, the middle-class in their neighborhoods, and the poor in the residue. Shops and restaurants cluster around certain price-points, offices find their prestige addresses and sweatshops their squalid ones. Some areas uniformly gentrify, while viable neighborhoods self-segregate and decay. This process occurs in historical cities no less than in new suburbs. Codes can secure that measure of diversity without which urbanism withers. And so we code.

We use codes because they allow us to redistribute building design to others. Authentic urbanism requires the intervention of many. Those who would design all the buildings themselves produce architectural projects – monocultures of design – but they are not involved in the practice of urbanism. And so we code.

We must code so that buildings cooperate towards a spatially defined public realm. This no longer occurs as a matter of course unless coded to be so. The demands of parking and the arbitrary singularity of architects tend to create vague, sociofugal places that undermine the possibility of community. And so we code.

We must code so that private buildings achieve the modicum of visual silence which is a requisite of an urban fabric. Conversely, codes must also protect the prerogative of civic buildings to express the aspirations of the institutions they accommodate and also the inspiration of their architects. This is the dialectic or urbanism. And so we code.

We code to protect the character of specific locales from the universalizing tendencies of modern real estate development. And so we code.

We code because the location of the urban and the rural is of a fundamental importance that cannot be left to the vicissitudes of ownership. Codes and their associated maps address the where as well as the what. And so we code.

We must code to assure that urban places can be truly urban and that rural places remain truly rural. Otherwise, misconceived environmentalism tends to the partial greening of all places; the result being neither one nor the other, but the ambiguous garden city of sprawl. And so we code.

We must code so that buildings incorporate a higher degree of environmental response than is otherwise warranted by conventional economic analysis. And so we code.

We must code so that buildings are durable, and also mutable, in proper measure. This is crucial at the long-range time-scale of urbanism. And so we code.

We code because without codes, older urban areas tend to suffer from disinvestment, as the market seeks stable environments. The competing private codes of the homeowners associations, the guidelines of office parks, and the rules of shopping centers create predictable outcomes that lure investment away from existing cities and towns. Codes level the playing field for the inevitable competition. And so we code.

We must prepare the new private association codes of developers because it is they who have built our cities and continue to do so. The profit motive was once capable of building the best places that we still have. Codes can assist in the restoration of this standard. And so we code.

We code in defiance of an avant-garde culture that prizes the alternating extremes of unfettered genius and servility to the zeitgeist. There are positions between. Urbanism intrinsically transcends the limits set by our time. We know that it is possible to affect the current reality and we accept the responsibility. And so we code.

We code because we are not relativists. We observe certain urbanisms that support the self-defined pursuit of happiness (the stated right of Americans). We also observe other urbanisms that tend to undermine that pursuit. Through codes we attempt to make the first a reality. And so we code.

We code because it is the most abstract, rigorous and intellectually refined practice available to a designer. And because it is also verifiable: by being projected into the world, codes engage a reality that can lead to resounding failure. In comparison, theoretical writing is a delicacy that survives only under the protection of the academy. And so we code.

We code because codes can compensate for deficient professional training. We will continue to code, so long as the schools continue to educate architects towards self-expression rather than towards context, to theory rather than practice, to individual building rather than to the whole. And so we code.

We look forward to the day when we will no longer need to code.

~Andrés Duany


2016


Cool New Stuff


I haven’t blogged in what seems like forever, but have built a lot of cool new things elsewhere on the site… Check them out!

The Lotus Mission

Here’s the story of a place type I’ve been trying to get built since 1991… and I believe it may actually happen this time! The Lotus Mission is an assisted living center for people with autism. But instead of being designed as an institution, it’s built as an extension of an existing town so that it’s completely indiscernible from the rest of the town. The story takes you through the whole process of building it out from beginning to maturity.

Single-Crew Workplaces

I blogged about single-crew workplaces earlier. Here’s a page that lays out four of the most common types, with sub-pages that detail those types.

SmartDwelling Techniques

This page not only lays out what it means to build a SmartDwelling in greater detail than we have ever posted before, but it’s positively loaded with useful SmartDwelling techniques.

SmartDwelling I

If that’s not enough, here’s another page full of techniques from SmartDwelling I, which was published in the Wall Street Journal in April, 2009...

SmartDwelling II

…and here’s a page loaded with SmartDwelling II techniques not found on the other pages.

Urban Outdoor Rooms

Wanda and I just finished a book on outdoor room design. This page takes you through a set of outdoor rooms around a house in a traditional neighborhood setting that’s fairly urban. Ever heard of a Coffee Cove? It’s one of eight room types shown. Together, they occupy the entire lot, so there’s no lawn left to mow… just one room with a sod floor that you could trim with a string trimmer if you like.

Agricultural Outdoor Rooms

Here’s a page that illustrates agricultural outdoor rooms in a more rural setting, like maybe on the edge of a neighborhood. This example pairs two cottages on a single lot, with one cottage owned by the urban farmer and the other rented out to a tenant.

Culinary Agriculture

But how do you find people today who want to be farmers? How many kids today do you hear saying “I want to grow up and be a farmer?” The culinary world, on the other hand, is glamorous, complete with its own TV shows. This page lays out an idea: frame craft agriculture as part of the culinary process.

Walk Appeal & Maker Spaces

Walk Appeal is one of the foundations of Sprawl Recovery. The Maker Space is a building type that arguably depends on Walk Appeal to fuel its innovation more than any other type; the makers just don’t yet realize it. Here’s what they’re missing.

The Sky Method Illustrated

The Sky Method is another Sprawl Recovery foundation. Here’s a page we’ve just built describing how the Sky Method works in detail.

See anything useful here? We’d love to hear what you think!

~Steve Mouzon


2015


Caribbean Rim Architecture from Schooner Bay to Mahogany Bay


I had the distinct honor of presenting the sustainability of Caribbean Rim Architecture to the World Congress of the International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture, and Urbanism (INTBAU) in London recently. Later, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales hosted the speakers and other select attendees at St. James Palace where we reported on the Congress. I never speak from a script, so what follows is my best recollection of the presentation:

The ideas presented here today spring from the Original Green which I wrote five years ago, at the culmination of a quarter-century spent trying to figure out how we once built so sustainably, and how we can do so again. Simply put, sustainability should mean “keeping things going in a healthy way, long into an uncertain future.” If we cannot do that, it does not matter how many industry accolades or green points we receive; our work is not truly sustainable.

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This work saw a major advance a decade or so ago when Julia Sanford proposed the idea of Caribbean Rim Architecture while returning from a design charrette at Schooner Bay in the Bahamas. The North, East, and West sides of the Caribbean Sea share similar climate, conditions, and culture that are best characterized as “heat, humidity, and hurricanes.” The Southern shore shares all but the hurricanes. Northwest of the Caribbean, the Bahamas and the US and Mexican coasts are so similar to the Caribbean Rim that we consider it to be an “echo rim” and treat it accordingly. Schooner Bay is the best living laboratory of Caribbean Rim architecture, and its spotless performance in Hurricane Irene’s highest fury of 125-130 mile per hour winds borders on the miraculous. Today, the first SmartDwellings are being built at Mahogany Bay in Belize, using many principles developed at Schooner Bay. This presentation is illustrated primarily with images from these two places, and also Alys Beach and Habersham in the US.

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So what is the Original Green? It is the sustainability our ancestors knew by heart. It is what kept humanity alive for almost all of human history, until the dawn of the Thermostat Age when we began to believe that we could flip a switch and make everything OK. Now, we’re beginning to realize the errors of that assumption. But originally, people who didn’t build sustainably would freeze to death, die of heat strokes, or other really bad things would happen to them. So being green was about staying alive.

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To achieve sustainability, we must first build sustainable places so that it is meaningful to construct green buildings within them. Those sustainable places must first be nourishable. Next, they must be accessible, serviceable, and securable. Sustainable buildings must first be lovable. Once they are, they must then be durable, adaptable, and frugal. I’ll give a few examples of the patterns of sustainable places, but spend most of our time illustrating characteristics of sustainable buildings.


Nourishable Places

Places must be nourishable because if we can’t eat there, we can’t live there. When I first started talking about this years ago, people said “Steve, you’re an idiot because I can eat whatever I want wherever I want. Today, it’s good to see people valuing local food more highly. A nourishable place is one where you can look out onto the fields and the waters from which much of your food comes, and where edible things are welcomed into town as well. We will always be able to get spices from afar because we don’t eat so much of them, but main ingredients really ought to be grown or raised nearby.

Edible Hidden Gardens

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Today, people hold edible gardens in about the same regard as utility rooms: something that meets a need, but doesn’t need to be beautiful. This must change. And there is no culture better equipped to change that than the British because of their long and illustrious history of ornamental gardening. I believe edible gardens can be every bit as lovable as ornamental gardens because the only difference is the palette of materials. In the meantime, however, we should begin by planting edible gardens in the more private parts of properties until the day comes that we have learned to design lovable edible gardens, and can put them anywhere for all to see.


Green Wall

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Walls of the garden, whether a building wall or a landscape wall or fence, should be planted to a harvestable height, which is approximately eight feet for most people. Because beans, peas, and other annuals only grow so far in a growing season, they should occupy the bottom half of the green wall. Espaliered fruit trees and vines which grow for many years should occupy the top half.





Chickens & Compost

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Chickens are beneficial on several counts, so you might consider having them in your kitchen garden. If you do, consider placing their coop above your compost drums so it’s easy to clean the manure out of the coop and directly into the compost. In this example from SmartDwelling I, they are both tucked under the stair to the apartment over the garage.





Kitchen Garden

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The kitchen garden is the most intensely edible of all the garden rooms, but it should also be designed to be lovable. The lovability test for gardens is this: do you want to sit in the garden in admiration? This illustration shows a “morning pavilion” to the right, where one can sit with the sunrise streaming over their shoulder, watching the mist rise off the garden, and an “evening pavilion” to the left where one can sit to admire their handiwork at the end of the day.




Orchard Run

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Required side yard setbacks are often wasted, so why not plant them with fruit trees and let your dog run there?









Accessible Places

An accessible place is one where you have a choice of modes of transport to access the place, especially the self-propelled modes of walking and biking. It doesn’t matter how far the cost of fuel rises if you’re living in an accessible place because you’ll always be able to get around.

Sidewalk-Friendly Porches

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Accessible places aren’t created solely by the means of access (like sidewalks and streets) but by the things around them as well. If porches are properly designed, people spend more time there. And streets inhabited by people are more interesting places to walk than those that are deserted.






Gifts to the Street

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If every building gave a gift to the street, that street would be a much more welcoming place to walk. SmartDwelling II’s gift to the street, shown here, is a simple porch inset with a bench where someone can sit to rest and a few terra cotta pots for plants. Other gifts to the street can be things that shelter people (like an awning or gallery), things that refresh them (like a street fountain or sidewalk cafe), things that delight them (like a beautiful frontage garden), things that direct them (like a goal in the middle distance, or “terminated vista”), things that entertain them (like a great storefront), things that inform them (like a clock or sundial), things that help them remember (like a memorial), or things that give them a place to rest.


Serviceable Places

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Sustainable places should be serviceable, so you can get the basic services of daily life within walking distance in your neighborhood, and the people serving you those services can afford to live nearby as well. The New Urbanism has figured out the first half of this equation; there is work left to do on the second half.

Tiny Cottages

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A 1,500 square foot house is unlikely to be used for anything except a residence, but tiny cottages can be used for many things. Populate neighborhoods with more tiny cottages, and all sorts of new businesses are likely to spring up.






Desks & Shelves

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A rental unit furnished with only a desk and chair will feel forever like a hotel room. But units designed with built-in desks and shelves leave more opportunities for unpacking and setting up shop so that one may feel comfortable working for weeks on end there. True, such work does not constitute a permanent place of business, but it’s one more way of building a place where work takes place.





Single-Crew Workplaces

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A single-crew workplace is a major game-changer that is as close as we can get to a silver bullet for urbanism. All sorts of things become possible today when we build workplaces small enough to be manned by a single crew. This is the Rum & Bean at Mahogany Bay, which is a coffee shop by morning and a rum bar (that also serves light fare) at night, and can be run by one person. It was the first building built, and the Rum & Bean was turning a profit months before a single residential unit was delivered… something considered completely impossible by the retail experts. It did the impossible both because the overhead was very low, and because nearby locals consider it the coolest place around.


Securable Places

Sustainable places should be securable so that at those inevitably less secure times in every city’s future, the most vulnerable parts of the urbanism (such as the interior of blocks) can be secured, leaving the streets open and free for anyone to travel there. And securable places make those streets more secure as well, by designing them so that many people inhabit them and keep order there.

Lining the Streets

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Old European urbanism lined streets with buildings as their default setting, but we space them out more in the US. A block of loosely-spaced buildings cannot be secured on the interior, whereas securing the block interior when buildings form a wall at the perimeter, like in this Alys Beach street, comes quite naturally.






Civic Space

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If a place is serviceable, people get out to walk to their daily services. It is important, however, that they get out for more than just chores and necessities. Civic space scattered frequently through the urbanism draws people out to hang out in the square or on the green, and populated streets are usually secure streets.






Lovable Buildings

If a building cannot be loved, it will not last. The carbon footprint of a building is meaningless once its parts have been carted off to the landfill. My classicist colleagues plead for a high standard of beauty. But while beautiful things move us to admiration, the things we love move us to action… so lovability is the higher standard.

The Teddy Bear Principle

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Katrina Cottages proved to be more lovable than any of us anticipated, for reasons we could not at first explain. I finally realized that the secret was in the proportions. Infants of all species (human babies, kittens, puppies, etc.) tend to be more endearing than the adults. Look at your baby pictures and then look in the mirror. The proportions are different. Your eyes were larger on your infant face than on your adult face, for example. The same is true with buildings. On a very small cottage (like these at Mahogany Bay) we can only shrink windows to a certain point, otherwise they would no longer meet code. This makes the windows larger on the face of a building, just like an infant’s eyes are larger on its face. I believe that the lovability of babies is actually one of nature’s ways of preserving species. If our infant selves were no more lovable than our adult selves, our parents might have thrown us out in the yard when we were screaming at three in the morning. Nowhere is the lovability of the infant more obvious than in bears. A bear cub is so endearing that every American child gets their teddy bear by the time they’re a few weeks old. But the mother bear is so terrifying that nobody wants to get within a mile of her. For this reason, I use the term “Teddy Bear Principle” to describe this unexpected lovability of the very small.


Head to Foot

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We tend to love things that reflect us… including those things that reflect our physical form. Lovable buildings usually reflect the vertical arrangement of the human body, but in many ways. We have a top (head), middle (body) and bottom (feet). This house at Schooner Bay has a visible roof, walls, and subtle base, for example.






Reflecting the Face

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Lovable buildings reflect our horizontal arrangement as well, especially the bilateral symmetry of the human face. Some are explicit about it such as the way this building’s gable reflects the forehead, while the chimney becomes a nose and the windows are two eyes.







Reflecting the Face Indoors

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We can reflect the face indoors as well, such as this bathroom where the windows (again) are the eyes, the mirror is the nose, the sink is the mouth.








Local Craft

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We can reflect the region in which buildings are located in many ways, including by reflecting regional craft skills. This steel fish is found in a town by a river populated by several skilled metal-workers. And yes, that is Cor-Ten steel, so it is meant to rust.







Curtains

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Curtains do several tasks to make a building more frugal by modulating daylight and heat flow. But they also drape beautifully, can be colored and patterned in countless ways, and move softly in a breeze, so they help make an interior (or a porch) lovable as well.







Small Sparkling Lights

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I have included the previous pattern and especially this one to make an important point: not every pattern of sustainability need be complex and high-minded. We should not need for a pattern to be attached to reams of rigorous theory in order to accept it. Some patterns such as this are simple delights upon which almost everyone agrees, and which need little explanation.





Shower With a Breeze

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If you have never had a shower with a tropical breeze, you have missed one of the great pleasures the Caribbean Rim has to offer.








Simpler Construction

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Simplicity is a delight that has become more valued since the Great Recession. For too long, we have built buildings increasingly gunked up with layers of materials and assemblies, the ingredients of which we cannot even name. Building with sticks, stones, and other simple materials in ways where the construction is apparent is a welcome relief from over-complicated buildings.





Authentic Construction

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A close ally to the delight of simpler construction is that of authentic construction. This is not to say that veneers should never occur, but there is a pleasure associated with looking at something like this floor structure and realizing that it’s the real thing, not just some stuck-on decoration.







Durable Buildings

If a building is lovable, it needs to be durable enough to carry that lovability long into an uncertain future. The Caribbean Rim is an unusually good exhibition of durability patterns because of both the hurricanes and the extreme daily conditions of humidity and salt air that must be endured there.

Patchable & Repairable

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The myth of “no-maintenance” buildings is devouring huge swaths of the US. If a building component cannot be patched or repaired, then when it fails (as every building material must someday) it must all be ripped off and carted off to the landfill.






Stretching Carbon

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Some argue that we should never again build with masonry because of the carbon impact of the cement, but if a building is built lovably and durably enough, it can spread that carbon impact across several centuries. The life cycle carbon performance of such a building is almost certainly better than that of throwaway buildings built in other materials.





Timber & Masonry

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Buildings throughout the Caribbean Rim and also far beyond tend to be those constructed with structural systems of timber and masonry. The durability of these systems stems from the fact that they are bulky, and losing a chip here or a sliver there will not bring the building down.






Wall Base

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We discussed the lovability benefits of a wall base earlier, but there are durability benefits as well. A wall is most abused at its base by everything from children’s balls to string trimmers. A visible break some distance above the ground allows the base of the wall to be refinished as needed without being forced to refinish the entire wall.






Heavy Durable Roofing

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There are two types of hurricane roofing that weather the storm beautifully. Heavy durable roofing such as this at Alys Beach gets part of its strength from being heavy, making it hard for the wind to lift it off the roof. And unlike clay tiles (which tend to become missiles in a hurricane) Alys Beach’s concrete roofing panels sit smoothly side-by-side, giving the wind less to “grab."





Light Durable Roofing

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Mahogany Bay uses metal roofing, which is light and achieves its durability by being properly attached to the structure. Hurricane experts now say that of all the light roofing available, metal roofing clearly performs best.







Open Walls

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Every closed cavity in high-humidity environments is a candidate for hosting mold and mildew growth. We therefore open as many walls as possible so those spaces can breathe. The vertical boards here are the actual wall studs; the horizontals are shelves, so an open wall has the added benefit of being able to store things.






Boarded Walls

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Drywall remains a wall so long as you keep it dry. But let it get soaked, and it turns into a soggy mess. Because it is so extraordinarily poorly suited for a high-humidity environment where buildings need to open up and breathe, we finish one side of our open walls with wood boards. Our newest buildings have no drywall whatsoever.






Open-Frame Porch Floor

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We open upper-level porch floor framing for similar reasons. A porch floor likely faces more moisture intrusion than any other part of a building.








Insulation-Free Roofs

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It may seem unthinkable to discuss roofs without insulation, but in the tropics, the hottest days are rarely more than 20-25°F above the supposed high end of the human comfort range. Creating interior breezes with cross-ventilation and ceiling fans takes care of half of that difference, and if the roof is reflective like the two shown above, very little of the sun’s heat gets into the building. Unnecessary insulation in a humid environment is a bad thing because it can harbor moisture.




Rot-Resistant Local Woods

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The tropics are full of rot-resistant woods like mahogany. Combine their durability with sustainable forest farming practices for an unbeatable combination. The mahogany used at Mahogany Bay arrived from forests only a hundred miles away.







Durable Fixtures

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Moisture-laden salty air plays havoc with most building hardware and fixtures. Elements that can be wood should be wood rather than metal. When metal is required, it is best to use hardward and fixtures designed for ships, such as this vaporproof fixture.







Hipped Roofs

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Hipped roofs are prevalent on historic buildings in hurricane zones because they are stronger in a storm. Each roof panel lays back to help brace the adjacent panels, and there are no gables to take the blunt force of the wind.







Roof Pitch

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Long before there were hurricane experts, if someone was lucky enough to survive a hurricane but their house was unlucky enough not to, when they crawled out of its wreckage and saw a neighbor’s house still standing, they said “I’m going to rebuild like that!” One thing that emerged from this hard-won wisdom was a narrow range of roof pitches. Today, hurricane experts confirm the old wisdom, explaining that 8/12 to 9/12 pitched roofs are too steep to fail easily in uplift and too shallow to fail easily in overturning.



Eave Overhang

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Most eaves should have shorter overhangs than they would inland because the overhang is a projection the wind can grab, and if the roof decking peels off, that is usually the precursor to building collapse in a hurricane.







Sacrificial Eaves

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Sometimes, short eaves are not practical. This porch, for example, is for structural purposes a very large overhang. It is therefore designed to be able to blow off without imperiling the main roof because the two are not attached.







Brackets

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Other eaves cannot be either short or sacrificial. Those eaves should be secured with structural brackets.








Shutters

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One of the most amazing things about the way Schooner Bay weathered the eye of Hurricane Irene was the fact that not a single pane of glass was broken, even thought the windows were not Miami-Dade rated. This happened because each window was protected with shutters and the people there did what Bahamians have always done: shut the shutters in advance of the storm.





Adaptable Buildings

Buildings that are both lovable and durable should be adaptable enough to be used for many things over time. This building, for example, began as a savings & loan institution. Today, it’s a Banana Republic. But as you can see from the holes in the wall where other signs have been attached, it has been other things in between.

Home to Many Generations

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This Idea House was designed to house three generations of one family, and to allow each generation to move from one set of bedrooms to the next, keeping the house in the family long into the future.







Shelf Walls

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We talked earlier about the durability benefits of opening walls for storage, but they also help the building adapt to other uses because workspaces of all sorts benefits from the ability to store useful things close at hand.







Tiny Buildings

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Earlier, we discussed the fact that small buildings enhance the serviceability of a place. They do so because they are so adaptable for many uses.








Frugal Buildings

If a building is lovable, durable, and adaptable, then it really must be frugal because there’s nothing worse than a lovable, durable, and adaptable energy hog because people won’t let you tear them down.

Conditioning People First

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This is me, working in my side garden. When we entice people into great outdoor realms, be they public or private, they get acclimated to the local environment and can often throw the windows open when they return indoors instead of cranking up the equipment. There is nothing more frugal we can do than conditioning people because the most efficient equipment is that which is off.





Cool Dip

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Here’s another way of conditioning people. When we designed the first houses at Alys Beach, we used tiny pools like this in most of the courtyards for the psychological cooling effects of water nearby. But when speaking with homeowners a few years later, one told me “Oh, no! That’s not the whole story. Because the courtyards are private enough, when I get uncomfortably warm, I simply take all my clothes off and jump in!"




Starting Small

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Most people are burdened with expectations of what they think they might need in a home, shop, or office in the future when in reality they need far less today. Buildings designed to grow easily in obvious ways allow their owners to unburden themselves from future needs that might not ever happen. And building smaller and smarter starts several virtuous cycles of frugality.





Small is the New Luxury

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I built my own home shortly after graduation and could barely afford to put drywall on the walls. That house was 3,000 square feet. Our condo in Miami is one-fourth that size, allowing me to use much better materials. Today, everyone has a budget, so small is the new luxury. Build it bigger, and what you build is impoverished. Build smaller, and it can be better.





Capturing Tiny Spaces

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This is a Night Nook just off a couple’s bedroom where one can read or work while the other one sleeps. It occupies a tiny space under the landing of a stairwell that would normally be closed up and lost.







Expanding the View

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Smaller spaces can work beautifully if they don’t make us feel like we’re boxed in. There are several ways to expand the view, including looking through one opening and then another to get a view to the outdoors. Another, shown here, is to use mirrors to double the apparent size of a room.






Using Every Inch

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Why waste any space? Even the space under a bed? This storage basket slides out when you need what’s inside.








Storage on Boarded Walls

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Those boarded walls we’ve been discussing have a frugality benefit as well: they allow shelves, pegs, hooks, and other storage devices to be attached securely at any point without needing to find hidden studs, allowing you to store more stuff in less space.







Double Duty

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Design things that serve more than one purpose, or that serve more than one group of people whenever possible. This outdoor restroom serves both of the shops in those first two live/work units built at Mahogany Bay so that their tiny footprints aren’t burdened with restrooms. The restroom also acts as an edge to the courtyard in between the two shops.





Reflective Roofing

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Roofing in warm climates should be reflective to bounce the sun’s heat back up to the sky. Mill-finish metal roofing is best, reflecting over 90% of the heat. A white (or slightly off-white) roof is almost as good.







Courtyard Trees

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Courtyards carry many benefits, but they really must be shady to be comfortable in the tropics. Trees are the best way of achieving that shade in most cases.








Ventilate Yourself

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Cross-ventilation is good; windows placed right where you’re working, standing, sitting, or lying down are better because the breeze gets directly to you.








Ceiling Fans

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Sometimes, the breeze isn’t blowing. On still days, a ceiling fan creates an interior breeze that’s just as cooling. The “wind chill factor” of a typical ceiling fan makes you feel 10-12°F cooler than dead air.







Naturally Ventilating Windows

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Even on still days, true double-hung windows can still ventilate. In the cool of the day, in the early evening, just raise the bottom sash, lower the top sash, and cool air will come in at the bottom while warm air escapes at the top.







Windows That Breathe

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Double-hung windows aren’t the only type of windows useful for ventilation; these louvered hardwood windows ventialte beautifully as well. But regardless of what type of window you use in the tropics, be sure it can breathe freely.






Insulated Roofline

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The Northern reaches of the “Echo Rim” along the US Gulf Coast gets cold enough in winter to require insulation above the ceiling. Using closed-cell insulation in the roofline instead of the conventional ceiling batt insulation allows the ceiling to be opened to the floor decking above, opening the space between the rafters to air circulation and increasing the apparent height of the top-level rooms.





Insulated Bed Alcove

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In those Northern reaches with cold nights, beds that are surrounded by curtains that can be closed at night preserve body heat within the bed alcove, allowing the heat to be turned down to otherwise unthinkably low levels.







Breeze Chimney

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These last three items don’t exist yet, but should. Any living tradition should continue to grow, solving problems in better ways over time. The Breeze Chimneys on SmartDwelling I pivot to turn into the wind, using the Venturi Effect to pull air out of the house using no electricity. Its hood is built from sailcloth on spars to respect the nautical heritage of the region.





Tower of Wind & Water

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The top element of SmartDwelling I’s Tower of Wind & Water is an axial wind generator. Most such generators today look a bit like egg-beaters in the sky. This is my first take on a more lovable way of designing such a generator. Below that is a rainwater cistern. All rainwater from the roof drains to the rain pond, then is pumped up into the cistern.





Sideyard Sail

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A side yard that doesn’t catch a prevailing breeze can be really hot in the tropics. So why not have a sail that pivots out above head height on the sidewalk, catching prevailing breezes to direct them across the garden rooms beside the house?






The Big Picture

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Let’s finish by revisiting this image, which is now filled out with the things we know how to do. In the lower right corner, you’ll see that part of frugality can be accomplished using something I call “Gizmo Green,” which is made up of better materials and more efficient equipment. Unfortunately, almost all of the big conversations on sustainability are all about Gizmo Green. It is abundantly clear that focusing only on Gizmo Green means that we’re missing the big picture of what real sustainability is all about.

So that’s it… or at least what I can remember of it. And I finished it in just under 20 minutes. It was quite a sprint! What glaring things have I missed, especially on the Caribbean Rim?

~Steve Mouzon


2014


Hurricane Design


There is no such thing as “hurricane-proof” design because experience has shown that the things we have not yet seen are greater than what we have seen, but there are ways to build that dramatically improve our prospects. Originally, before there were hurricane experts, if someone was lucky enough to survive a hurricane but their house was not, when they crawled out of its wreckage and saw a neighbor’s house still standing, they said “I’m going to rebuild like that.” Europeans brought European ways of building to the Americas, but it didn’t take too many decades of acquiring the hard-won wisdom of survival to adapt their buildings to a region frequented by heat, humidity, and hurricanes. Today, it seems that the engineers have relieved us of the burden of building wisely, because with enough concrete and steel, a building can survive a storm of shocking strength… but who wants to live in a bunker?

Today’s hurricane experts can explain why lovable Caribbean Rim Architecture is so durable in a storm. And in every pattern of that resistance, we can see that it’s done more with wisdom than with brute structural force. Let’s look at some of those patterns:

Roof Shape

hipped silver roofs gleam against clear tropical blue sky at midday as they top white-painted shops at Mahogany Bay Village on Belize's Ambergris Caye
Tweet: Build hip roofs on all but the smallest or strongest buildings to be wind-strong so each side supports its neighbors. http://ctt.ec/ea10y+

Build hip roofs on all but the smallest or strongest buildings to be wind-strong so each side supports its neighbors.

Triangles are keys to structural strength because a three-sided shape is not easily broken. The short sides of hip roofs are usually perfect triangles, and in any case, each side of a hip roof leans back against and supports the neighboring sides of the roof. Because of this, you might call the hip a “good-neighbor roof.”

The smallest of roofs don’t need to be hipped because their roof areas are so small that they are naturally strong. And the heaviest of buildings are built so strong that their roofs need not be hipped either, but if you look around the tropics, you’ll see that the majority of the middle-size roofs tend to be hipped.

Roof Pitch

Ambergris Caye moonrise over Mahogany Bay Village with twin cottage windows glowing orange from the second level as the rest of the village street sleeps in Belize
Tweet: Pitch wind-strong roofs 8/12 to 9/12 - steep enough to resist uplift but shallow enough to resist overturning. http://ctt.ec/t25Ye+

Pitch wind-strong roofs 8/12 to 9/12 because this is steep enough to resist uplift but shallow enough to resist overturning.

Flat and low-slope roofs normally fail in high winds due to a force known as “uplift.” Simply put, the wind sucks the roof up off the building. A really steep roof, on the other hand, is so tall that the horizontal force of the wind simply turns the roof (and the building, if it’s well-attached) over on its side. There is one common exception to this rule of thumb: buildings with half-stories built into the roof can be steeper, up to 12/12, because the interior walls that are normally built in such a half-story reinforce the roof, as do the dormer walls built to bring light and air into the upper rooms.

Eave Overhang

evening sun paints scroll-cut rafter tails golden at Mahogany Bay Village, rising from the sands of Ambergris Caye in Belize
Tweet: Overhang wind-strong eaves less than you would inland eaves so there’s less for hurricane winds to grab. http://ctt.ec/aexrh+

Overhang wind-strong eaves less than you would inland eaves so there’s less for hurricane winds to grab.

Most structural collapses in a hurricane begin at the roof, I’m told. If the winds take hold of the eaves and begin to peel them back, the roof decking can be lost quickly. That roof decking acts with the rafters as a giant beam, supporting the top of the wall. With the decking gone, the top-story walls succumb quickly to the winds and complete structural collapse often follows. This is why shorter overhangs are so common in the tropics. Open rafter tails like these are OK, so long as they’re unusually short (as these are) and even closed classical eaves should overhang less than they would far from the coast.

Sacrificial Eaves

front porch of newly-built whitewashed cottage sits against balmy blue tropical sky at Mahogany Bay Village
Tweet: When long eaves are necessary in the tropics, design them to blow off, leaving the main roof intact. http://ctt.ec/cieTC+

When long eaves are necessary in the tropics, design them to blow off, leaving the main roof intact.

The largest sacrificial eaves are porch roofs like this one, because even if the porch is entirely destroyed, the main building can remain intact so long as the roof decking is not continuous from the sacrificial eave to the main roof. The more common sacrificial eaves of the Caribbean Rim, however, are those that project out two to four feet from the face of the building and that are supported by brackets designed to let the roof go when the storm gets too strong for the brackets to hold it secure.

Brackets

enormous white wood brackets reach up to hold deep sheltering eaves firmly in their embrace against cotton puff-ball clouds set against the blue sky of Rosemary Beach on Florida's Design Coast
Tweet: Long eaves on wind-strong buildings can be supported by heavy brackets. http://ctt.ec/8WKlc+

Long eaves on wind-strong buildings can be supported by heavy brackets.

There’s another option to designing long eaves to be sacrificial: they can also be supported by ultra-strong brackets such as the ones shown here. Heavy brackets work best when they support a heavy cross-beam that in turn supports the rafters, like the one shown here. Because spans are short and most of the structural stresses are pure tension or compression, square sections often work best for components of the brackets. Again, this building is an ideal example.

Roofing Material

corrugated metal roofs of Mahogany Bay Village glow white as they bounce the sun's heat back to the tropical sky on Ambergris Caye in Belize
Tweet: Properly-attached metal roofing is the best material for a hurricane zone. http://ctt.ec/Deuqb+

Properly-attached metal roofing is the best material for a hurricane zone.

Metal roofing does other good things as well, including being the most frugal roofing you can use in places where the summers get hot, but for now, let’s talk about its windstorm benefits. For decades, people thought that clay tile roofs were the most desirable in a storm, but quite the opposite is true. When a clay tile roof begins to fail, each clay tile becomes a potential missle hurled at over 100 miles per hour at its neighbors. But if you attach a metal roof properly, it endures a storm like no other.

Shutters

Mahogany Bay Village's tropical windows are built of sturdy mahogany louvers with glass transoms above
Tweet: Shutter windows in some way so that most if not all of the opening is protected with wood. http://ctt.ec/2a_0H+

Shutter windows in some way so that most if not all of the opening is protected with wood.

This window has a screened opening closed by strong hardwood shutters, and the small transom panes above are strong enough to endure substantial impacts. But windows in most places don’t meet either criteria, so they should be shuttered before a storm. We have worked for years with Schooner Bay in the Bahamas, which endured the worst of Hurricane Irene, yet sustained essentially no damage. As a matter of fact, not a single pane of glass was broken. This is because windows were protected with shutters which were shut in advance of the storm, and the shutters, not the glass, endured the impacts of wind-borne debris.

Wall Construction

rusted steel reinforcing bars hang grotesquely out of the crumbling remains of a highway bridge in the Bahamas that endured too much salt spray
Tweet: Choose carefully between wood walls and masonry walls in a hurricane zone; each has its strengths. http://ctt.ec/d1T5V+

Choose carefully between wood walls and masonry walls in a hurricane zone; each has its strengths.

Choosing concrete over wood seems like a no-brainer in a hurricane zone, but this isn’t necessarily true. Look around the Caribbean Rim. What you’ll see is a gumbo of architecture that is part masonry, part wood. The wealthiest citizens often built of masonry, but most buildings in town were wood-framed, or some combination of wood and masonry. This is because most people couldn’t afford a full masonry house. But because everyone wanted their home to survive the storm, measures evolved to allow both wood and masonry buildings to weather the storm. But things change. Today, we build the strongest buildings of reinforced concrete… but while it’s amazingly strong, reinforced concrete is not so durable in salty air, as the reinforcing bars rust and the concrete spalls away. Here’s a highway bridge that’s less than ten years old, yet it has already been condemned due to failure of the reinforced concrete in salt spray.

Building Elevation

whitewashed front porch with weathered mahogany trimmings sits in the tropical breeze at the edge of Mahogany Bay Village on Ambergris Caye in Belize
Tweet: Build above the floods in a hurricane zone so the storm surge does little or no damage. http://ctt.ec/0aN18+

Build above the floods in a hurricane zone so the storm surge does little or no damage.

Originally, people had no idea how high the floods would surge in a storm, so they either built tropical buildings several feet above the ground or they built the first floor so it could flood, dry out, and be OK. Science has given us a better idea what is most likely to flood today, allowing governing bodies to establish flood elevations above which habitable buildings must be built. So because of science and modern record-keeping, this building can sit with its main floor only three feet above grade, but that's still two feet higher than the highest storm surge ever recorded in this place. 

Strong Piers

field of mahogany piers sit ready to accept cottage foundations at Mahogany Bay Village on Ambergris Caye in Belize
Tweet: If piers are masonry build them thick, or if wood, drive them deep so that they resist storm surges. http://ctt.ec/nFeu5+

If piers are masonry build them thick, or if wood, drive them deep so that they resist storm surges.

This is a field of piers driven deep into the earth for building foundations. Each can take quite a lick from water-borne debris in a storm surge, because wood resists bending really well, especially when you’re trying to bend a short, thick section like the tops of these piers. And the wood species here is Cabbage Bark, one of the hardest woods on the planet. Masonry is different. It’s strong against vertical loads, but very weak in bending, so if you’re building with masonry foundations, they need to be unusually thick in order to resist the impacts during a storm surge.

Wall Base

white masonry walls of Alys Beach on Florida's Design Coast sit on subtle masonry base, trimmed with palms sitting in tall terra cotta pots
Tweet: Express the base of a masonry wall differently from the rest so it can be refinished more frequently. http://ctt.ec/bef33+

Express the base of a masonry wall differently from the rest so it can be refinished more frequently.

See the break in the wall a foot or so above the ground in this image? It’s not there just for style. Instead, it’s a common feature that occurs on masonry walls because the bottom of the wall takes more abuse than higher on the wall. Think everything from lawnmowers to kids kicking balls. If you have to refinish the entire wall every time the base gets scuffed up, that gets really expensive, so masonry buildings have traditionally been built with a base anywhere between one and six feet tall that can be refinished on a different schedule than the rest of the wall.

Most of these images are sourced from our work at Mahogany Bay Village on Ambergris Caye in Belize, which is doing beautiful wood work, as you can see. The Brackets image is from Rosemary Beach, whereas the Wall Base image is from Alys Beach, two places that are building unusually good masonry buildings today in the tropics.

~Steve Mouzon



The Dream Suite

two dream suites sit atop two keeping suites at the first light of morning

Every neighborhood should provide at least a few quirky unit types because if everything is just “bread-and-butter” homes, the place quickly gets boring. And if the place is a vacation destination, it’s even more important to have a lot of rentable places that are decidedly not like home. We’ve gone over the top at Mahogany Bay Village on Ambergris Caye in Belize, where every unit is strikingly unlike everyday houses. I’m starting with one I call the “Dream Suite” because the design came to me in a dream one night. Here are some of the cool things it does:

work space surrounded by open wood shelving carved into the walls of the Dream Suite at Mahogany Bay Village on Ambergris Caye, Belize
Tweet: Provide a desk, and you’re renting a hotel room. Build shelves, and people can set up and work for weeks. http://ctt.ec/d6atN+

Provide a desk, and you’re renting a hotel room. Build shelves, and people can set up and work for weeks.

This seems like an unimportant distinction, but it’s huge. Unless you travel extremely light, a small desktop leaves you working mostly out of your gear bag because everything doesn’t fit on the desk. But it’s deeper than just fitting stuff on a desk, I believe.

The act of setting up and working is an act of inhabitation, and is a big part of the transformation of a cottage from just a vacation place to a home away from home. I travel a lot, working many nights (or early mornings) each year in hotel rooms, and during the three days last spring that I was processing photos from this shoot, it felt remarkably different from a hotel. For a while, I couldn’t figure out why, but then I realized that it’s the shelves that pull it off because they let me fully set up my workspace. As a result, I can easily imagine coming to Mahogany Bay Village and working several weeks finishing a book or some other project. There’s no way I could imagine doing that in a hotel room somewhere.

vapor-proof ship's light glowing softly against the open walls of the Dream Suite in Mahogany Bay Village, with diagonal wind sheathing providing both strength and visual interest
Tweet: Build tropical buildings that know where in the world they are - a hot and humid place with salty air. http://ctt.ec/t6Z_G+

Build tropical buildings that know where in the world they are - a hot and humid place with salty air.

Salty air might feel good if you’ve been cooped up in a cubicle too long, but things like light fixtures don’t appreciate it as much as you do, so vaporproof fixtures like this one aren’t just about nautical style… they last longer as well. And drywall in a coastal area is a horrible idea because the air is always moist, and drywall is usually the first thing to grow mold or mildew. Because of this, there’s not one stitch of drywall at Mahogany Bay Village.

Dream Suite kitchen shelving filled with simple glasses and white ceramic cups and shakers is carved into the boarded walls at Mahogany Bay Village on Ambergris Caye in Belize
Tweet: They call it “drywall” because you only have a wall so long as you keep it dry. Let it get wet, and it turns to mush. http://ctt.ec/8c8dj+

They call it “drywall” because you only have a wall so long as you keep it dry. Let it get wet, and it turns to mush.

Mold and mildew isn’t the only threat to coastal buildings. It’s such a pleasure to get to the beach and throw all the windows open, but if a summer shower blows some rain in a window, most laminated and fabricated components of modern construction are in danger of failing… and none so quickly as drywall. Because windows left open during an afternoon thunderstorm can cause so much damage, most people keep them closed and crank up the air conditioner. But then, are you sure you’re even on vacation?

Walls like this are left open from one side, closed on the other with simple wood boards, and filled with shelves for storing your stuff in what would otherwise have been a dark and useless wall cavity. But it’s not just useful. We can all agree it’s more charming than a blank piece of drywall, can’t we?

mahogany roof decking glows softly above the rafters of the Dream Suite because you don't need insulation in a place that never gets very cold, especially when the roof is sheathed with corrugated metal, which reflects the sun's heat back up into the sky
Tweet: Dare to ask this question: do we really need insulation in warm coastal places? http://ctt.ec/X6Ez4+

Dare to ask this question: do we really need insulation in warm coastal places?

This is what you see when you look upwards in the Dream Suite: mahogany rafters and joists and the underside of the roof decking. There is nothing between the roof decking and the metal roofing except a layer of roofing felt.

When I was there for three days, it got up as hot as 98° outside, but I never cut on the air conditioner. How is this possible? The metal roofing reflects about 90% of the sun’s heat back up to the sky before it ever gets into the roof. So there’s never that much difference between the outside temperature and a comfortable indoor temperature. I opened the windows at night and up until mid-morning, then closed them to preserve the cool morning air and cut on the ceiling fans through the heat of the day. Insulation in moist air acts like a huge moldy sponge, soaking up the moisture. Why have it if you don’t need it?

louvered mahogany window lets you shower in a tropical breeze - one of life's simple pleasures
Tweet: If you haven’t showered in a tropical breeze, you’re missing one of life’s great pleasures. http://ctt.ec/6yNZq+

If you haven’t showered in a tropical breeze, you’re missing one of life’s great pleasures.

I have for years been an advocate for windows in showers for their natural light, but I’ve never designed one like this. This louvered window in the Dream Suite’s shower can be opened while you’re showering if you like. And you will like. Adjust the louvers for privacy, of course… but the sensation of a tropical breeze across wet skin is simply delicious.

These louvered windows are built of local mahogany (more on that in a minute) so they are completely unaffected by water from the shower. After all, they weather many storms from the outside; why not a bit of spray from the inside? People sometimes object to windows in showers, but even if the window isn’t mahogany, a properly painted window will not be harmed, especially if it’s covered with a translucent shower curtain for privacy.

ceiling fan suspended from the mahogany roof framing of the Dream Suite at Mahogany Bay Village on Ambergris Caye in Belize keeps you cool in the heat of the day, after you've closed the louvered windows to preserve the cool of the morning
Tweet: Ceiling fans make you feel 10° cooler, so use them in every room where you spend much time in a warm climate. http://ctt.ec/tbCpi+

Ceiling fans make you feel 10° cooler, so use them in every room where you spend much time in a warm climate.

Think about that for a minute… a ceiling fan blowing 85° air across your body leaves you feeling just as comfortable as sitting in dead air that’s 75°. And the cost of moving that air with a ceiling fan is a small fraction of the cost of cooling that air from 85° to 75° with an air conditioner. Ceiling fans should really be considered essential equipment for every room in which you spend significant time.

mahogany doors glow softly as they frame the view past an arched palm frond to the open shelving column that separates the keeping room from the bedroom of the Dream Suite at Mahogany Bay Village on Ambergris Caye in Belize
Tweet: Research local craft skills and local materials. You never know what treasures you might find. http://ctt.ec/bcnjp+

Research local craft skills and local materials. You never know what treasures you might find.

Mahogany Bay’s Town Founder did, and she discovered two important things: First, Belize is a big producer of sustainably harvested mahogany. There’s an amazing number of variety of the species there, because that’s its native territory. And there’s also a woodworking craft community there that can produce pretty much anything you want. Their core group is a community of Mennonites that moved down from Canada a century ago, and take both their stewardship of the forests they farm for wood very seriously, and also the maintenance of their craft.

Because these assets were already in place, it was possible to fine-tune them to produce the work you see here. And while this may look like some really high-end construction, it’s amazingly affordable because it’s based on resources and base skill sets that already existed.

I’ll be mixing posts on building types over the next several weeks. Some will be exotic types from Mahogany Bay Village, while the others will be main-ingredient types for traditional neighborhoods in the US. Are there any specific types you’re interested in seeing? Let me know, and I’ll post those first if I have them… thanks!

~Steve Mouzon

PS: This post is part of a large series I’m doing on various building types. Here are the other building types I’ve blogged about so far: the Edge Yard Dwellings (Cottage, House, Large House, and Mansion), the Rear Lane Cottage, the Carriage House, and the Sideyard. I’m also blogging about some really rare but inventive types as I find them. The first is the Mayfair Lane type I found in Buffalo. Finally, this is the first of several posts I’ll be doing about some types we’re developing as well, beginning at Mahogany Bay Village. And here are more pictures of the Dream Suite.


The Lean Silver Bullet - Single-Crew Workplaces like the Rum & Bean


The Rum & Bean is doing what all the experts consider impossible: it’s a business in a new neighborhood that hasn’t yet closed on a single house, yet it’s already turning a positive cash flow. Mahogany Bay Village on Ambergris Caye in Belize does plan to close on several dozen units we’ve designed before the end of the year, but as of now, there are exactly zero residents. Meanwhile, the experts say you need a thousand homes to justify just a simple corner store. How is the Rum & Bean even possible?

Rum & Bean front porch frames the setting sun at Mahogany Bay Village on Ambergris Caye in Belize
Tweet: A Single-Crew Workplace is the closest thing there is to a silver bullet for business. http://ctt.ec/JKyDX+

A Single-Crew Workplace is the closest thing there is to a silver bullet for business.

This is a workplace that can be run by one crew. In the case of the Rum & Bean, which serves coffee (the bean part) by day and rum by night, that crew is just one person. In the case of a restaurant, it’s one person to cook and a second person to serve. A workplace with only a single crew can be incredibly small… the Rum & Bean is 14 feet by 24 feet, or 336 square feet. This reduces the overhead to unthinkably low levels, and makes all sorts of things possible that would be impossible for businesses burdened with all the normal assumptions.

mahogany steps leading up to the tiny apartment above the Rum & Bean at Mahogany Bay Village in Belize
Tweet: Want to be Lean? Do business with a single crew. http://ctt.ec/dLgc3+

Want to be Lean? Do business with a single crew.

Some really smart people are working right now on an initiative known as Lean Urbanism. I’d suggest that a Single-Crew Workplace is about as lean as you can get. Here’s my take on what Lean means. I believe that Lean is the new green.

Tweet: Single-Crew Workplaces are predisposed to be the coolest places in town. http://ctt.ec/6_YdW+

Single-Crew Workplaces are predisposed to be the coolest places in town.

This is because of the Teddy Bear Principle, which basically states that the smaller something gets, the more charming and lovable it becomes. Test it this way: ask your friends what’s the coolest shop in town. Most likely, it’ll be quite narrow. It is never, ever, ever the 400-foot-wide WalMart. And it’s this inherent charm that has helped the Rum & Bean attract customers from the surrounding town and neighborhoods. It’s simply the coolest place around, and so people come and hang out all day.

Rum & Bean and Mahogany Bay Village sales office share an inner courtyard under the blue Belizean sky
Tweet: You can jump-start neighborhood centers years before it’s thought possible with Single-Crew Workplaces. http://ctt.ec/yr0YA+

You can jump-start neighborhood centers years before it’s thought possible with Single-Crew Workplaces.

The Rum & Bean actually does two things heretofore thought to be impossible. I mentioned turning a positive cash flow with zero residents. But there’s something else: it, and the sales office next door, both live/work units, were the first two buildings we built at Mahogany Bay. Have you ever heard of a new neighborhood in a fairly remote place leading with two live/work units? That’s just unthinkable. Most neighborhoods wait years for basic services. But that’s what happened, thanks to the Lean silver bullet that is the Single-Crew Workplace.

Want to know more? Leave a comment, and let’s discuss.

~Steve Mouzon

PS: Here are more pictures of the Rum & Bean.


The Sideyard [Courtyard]


The house type in this installment of our building types catalog is one of the most useful, and traces its American origins back to Charleston, where they still call it the “single house.” There, it’s one room wide so it ventilates easily, and opens across a broad verandah into the side garden. The classic Charleston sideyard garden pictured above sits beside a mansion, but sideyard dwellings can be as small as cottages, or anywhere in between.

The sideyard didn’t spread very much for a couple centuries, staying in its native Carolina lowcountry until DPZ took it to Seaside in the 1980s. There, people from all over were able to see it and appraise its virtues: its long East-West shape captures Southeast summer breezes on its verandahs, while the solid North face shields the garden from cold winter winds. Its Eastern and Western walls are shortest, which is great when the hot summer sun hangs low in the Western sky, or even on a scorching summer morning. And the gardens… whether a wide garden like the one above, or a string of cozier garden rooms, the greenery beckoning you outdoors is one of the highlights of any sideyard dwelling.

And so people all over the Southeast began taking the sideyard home with them, calling for the planners to design them into new neighborhoods. Recently, people in more distant regions as far away as the Great Lakes have realized that the virtues of the sideyard serve them well, too. And so the sideyard has become a favorite building type all the way to the foothills of the Rockies.

Sideyard Tips

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this garden’s edge is where the
building design changes

Garden Rooms

Tweet: Read Outdoor Room Secrets. The basics of garden room design can all be found there. http://ctt.ec/ae8m7+

Read Outdoor Room Secrets. The basics of garden room design can all be found there.

Tweet: Gardens should take hints from their houses so windows can gracefully connect outdoors and in. http://ctt.ec/IEa9N+

Gardens should take hints from their houses so windows can gracefully connect outdoors and in.

If an outdoor room ends where an indoor room ends, then windows or doors that are well-composed in the indoor room are usually well-placed in the outdoor room as well. If the design doesn’t fall in place so easily, just remember that outdoor room walls are often made of things like hedges. This allows you to make a wall on one end of a garden room several feet thick if that’s what it takes to make the design work cleanly.

Tweet: Beware bands of shadow. Even on hot days, it’s the sparkle of sunlight that entices us outdoors.
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Beware bands of shadow. Even on hot days, it’s the sparkle of sunlight that entices us outdoors.

Yes, you usually sit in the shade when it’s warm, but people don’t go outdoors nearly so often if they have to cross a wide band of shadow to get there. That’s why the best place for a door to a garden room is on the South wall of a house.

Tweet: Outdoor rooms are more delightful and more useful than lawns. Grass isn’t really so green.
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Outdoor rooms are more delightful and more useful than lawns. Grass isn’t really so green.

A lawn full of grass is a poor substitute for a landscape filled with garden rooms. A Breakfast Terrace, Hearth Garden, Sport Court, Dinner Garden, Kitchen Garden, Coffee Terrace, Pool Court, Meditation Garden, and Secret Garden can form a delightful necklace of living spaces around a home where you can eat, entertain, play, contemplate, relax, and love, whereas most of your time spent with grass is sweating to mow it, poison it, and spray it with various other chemicals. Don’t do that. Spend your time outdoors enjoying your garden rooms instead.

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garden rooms are behind the private yard fence

Privacy

Tweet: Enclose your garden rooms enough that you’ll feel comfortable spending time there.
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Enclose your garden rooms enough that you’ll feel comfortable spending time there.

Outdoor places without enough enclosure to make you feel comfortable when you’re sitting there aren’t garden rooms at all; they’re just yards. They can still be beautifully landscaped, but you’ll enjoy that landscaping only for the few seconds that you’re passing by, not for hours at a time. The space in front of your house likely will never be anything more than a front yard because, without a garden wall at the sidewalk, it’s just too public a place for you to feel comfortable sitting there. But for every other part of your lot, don’t limit yourself to enjoying it just a few moments at a time: get enough privacy to spend quality time there.

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these sideyards have entirely blank North walls

North Side Manners

Tweet: Don’t peer into your neighbor’s garden; let them be private there. Keep side windows to the South.
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Don’t peer into your neighbor’s garden; let them be private there. Keep side windows to the South.

“North Side Manners” is an ancient Charleston term. It means “if you have any manners, you don’t look out the North side of your house into your neighbor’s side garden.” There is one exception: it’s important to have a window somewhere near the front of each side wall. It makes the street much friendlier because you’re looking at windows instead of blank side walls as you’re walking down the sidewalk. Imagine how much friendlier these houses would look with those windows. And those side windows let light in from a second direction, making everything in the room more beautiful. But if you want windows anywhere else in the North wall of a sideyard house, make sure the window is either a small square window set high in the wall, or glazed with obscure glass that lets in light but not a view.

Garden Verandah

Tweet: Flank as much of the garden wall of your house as possible with a porch or verandah.
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Flank as much of the garden wall of your house as possible with a porch or verandah.

The gardens of a sideyard dwelling should lie generally to the South. The porch or verandah roof does several good things on the South side of a dwelling. The summer sun is high in the sky at mid-day, leaving the porch mostly in shade, with only a narrow band of sunlight at the edge to entice you outdoors. But during the wintertime the sun hangs low, penetrating deep under the porch roof and through the windows, warming the interior of your home.

Sideyard Easement

Tweet: Lay out side yard lots so neighbors can use the Northernmost edge of the neighboring lot as part of their garden.
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Lay out sideyard lots so neighbors can use the Northernmost edge of the neighboring lot as part of their garden.

If you’re a homeowner, look for neighborhoods laid out this way; if you’re a planner, make sure to include a sideyard easement in your plan. Technically, a sideyard dwelling should be built right on the property line, but this causes building code issues with the building inspector. You’ll have to fire-rate the North wall of your house, driving the price up. But if every house sets back 5’ from the property line, there is no fire rating requirement. Just make sure to put an easement on that 5’ setback so the neighbor to the North can use it as part of their garden. Everyone gives up their Northernmost 5’, but gets 5’ back from their neighbor to the South. Is that clear, or do I need to explain it better?

Isola-Bella-Catalog-Image-08MAY26-8306

ancient garden wall adorned with
gently espaliered fruit trees

Edible Gardens

Tweet: Side yards are the perfect place for an edible garden. But be sure to make them lovable, too.
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Side yards are the perfect place for an edible garden. But be sure to make them lovable, too.

There are still some towns or neighborhoods that don’t allow vegetable gardens in visible locations, like a front yard. This is in large part because most people haven’t yet learned how to design a lovable edible garden. So don’t make your neighbors nervous; practice your craft of lovable edible gardening in your side gardens first, until you get really good. Then invite them over for dinner, and when they see how beautiful your edible gardens are, they’ll probably ask you to do the same thing in your front yard as well!

~Steve Mouzon

PS: Here are the other building types I’ve blogged about so far: the Edge Yard Dwellings (Cottage, House, Large House, and Mansion), the Rear Lane Cottage, and the Carriage House. I’m also blogging about some really rare but inventive types as I find them. The first is the Mayfair Lane type I found in Buffalo. Finally, I’m blogging about some types we’re developing as well, including the Dream Suite at Mahogany Bay Village.


The Mayfair Lane


Probably the best thing I saw at CNU this year (out of many great things) happened after the Congress was over. Sunday night, I was treated to a fascinating night tour of Buffalo by Tim Tielman and friends, and the highlight was the last stop. Mayfair Lane is a type of place I’ve never seen before; a highly inventive place type invented in the 1920s by architect  E. B. Green that inexplicably did not spread. But maybe it still can; it certainly should.

Mayfair Lane from above, glowing softly late in the evening with Buffalo's sky-glow beyond

As you’ll remember, I’ve started a catalog of building types, having already posted the Edge Yard Dwellings, the Rear Lane Cottage, and the Carriage House. This will be the first of the special types I’ve found just in one place, but that merit use in other places. I’m really excited to be going to Boston later this summer to speak at the Traditional Building Conference, where I’ll be able to photograph the Beacon Hill Court, a type I’ve loved for years, but found only in Boston.

Here’s Mayfair Lane in a bird’s-eye view. It’s a simple idea, really. The vehicular lane is at ground level, and a pedestrian lane is built above. You pull in and park under your unit. Guests parking on the street walk up two stairways either side of the vehicular entry to the pedestrian lane. The whole thing sits on a lot that is 100’ wide and 300’ deep, not counting E. B. Green’s house at the end.

Each unit sits on a footprint that is roughly 900 square feet, so they are really compact. If I’m reading the bird’s-eye correctly, there are about 28 units on Mayfair Lane. Not counting E. B. Green’s house, the entire property on which Mayfair Lane sits is just under ⅔ of an acre, making the density just over 42 units per acre. And the assessed value of all of the units works out to a stunning $12.5 million per acre, I’m told… by far the most valuable real estate in the entire city of Buffalo.

Mayfair Lane in Buffalo glows softly in the evening light

The cool thing is that the Mayfair Lane place type could be used pretty much anywhere. When I showed the photos to Lizz Plater-Zyberk yesterday, she said Liz Moule and Stefanos Polyzoides have done similar things in California, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this. Isn’t it about time someone takes E. B. Green’s great idea on the road after all these years?

~Steve Mouzon

PS: Here are the other building types I’ve blogged about so far: the Edge Yard Dwellings (Cottage, House, Large House, and Mansion), the Rear Lane Cottage, the Carriage House, and the Sideyard. I’m also blogging about some really rare but inventive types as I find them… this is the first of those posts. Finally, I’m blogging about some types we’re developing as well, including the Dream Suite at Mahogany Bay Village.


White House Village - Where Poetry and Efficiency Meet


Sometimes, the worlds of poetry and efficiency collide in a really good way… such is the case when you build a village of white houses in the tropics.

Poetic things are usually considered nearly opposite to efficient things, as different from one another as an artist is from an engineer. But Leonardo da Vinci was both… and a white house in a tropical climate can be both poetic and efficient as well.

There are no silver bullets to sustainability, but one thing comes close: a light-colored roof. If all the dark roofs in parts of the world where people use air conditioners were simply painted white, unimaginable energy would be saved.

You could literally power several small nations with the savings. So building a tropical village of white houses is a highly efficient thing because all those light roofs and walls reflect most of the sun’s heat before it ever reaches the interiors of the buildings.

A village of white houses can be a highly poetic place, as you can see from these images of Mahogany Bay Village, which is now being built on Belize’s Ambergris Caye. Some of that poetry is harbored in the past, nestling in our romantic images of the ancient tropical escapes of our childhood books and dreams. But more of it is firmly ensconced in the present moment, as the village cloaks itself over and over with the ever-changing light of the day.

You can see snapshots of that fleeting attire in the images of this post, taken in moments over just a three-day span recently.

~Steve Mouzon

PS: Here are more pictures of Mahogany Bay Village.


The Timber Tent

three Timber Tents at Mahogany Bay Village

There’s a way of building we call the “Timber Tent” that we hope might change construction in tropical and sub-tropical climates. While the term is new, some of the techniques are quite old, dating back past the beginning of the Thermostat Age… they’ve just been forgotten in the rush to build drywall-slathered boxes everywhere around the world, irrespective of regional conditions, climate, or culture. We’ve just returned from Mahogany Bay Village, just a stone’s throw from the shores of Ambergris Caye in Belize with lots of great images of the SmartDwellings now being completed there. But before getting into all the details, let’s have a look at the Timber Tent principles behind it all.

Mahogany-Bay-14APR14-1990

reflective roofing, high ceilings, and
ceiling fans are three essentials of
tropical design

Tropical design is hard to understand for most American architects who have been trained to think of the exterior wall as a barrier between exterior and interior conditions, and where most systems are designed to slow the flow of outside conditions to the inside so the equipment can keep us comfortable indoors. Northern buildings might be surrounded by air that is seventy degrees colder (or more) than indoor air, which gets very dry in winter. Tropical air is hardly ever more than twenty degrees warmer than our comfort range, but it’s usually loaded with humidity.

Buildings in or near the tropics therefore need to open up and breathe. The prime function of the tropical building envelope isn’t to isolate conditions inside from conditions outside, but rather to channel conditions in order to make it most comfortable inside. In short, it’s a completely different way of thinking about the building envelope, and designing this way creates buildings built more like a durable tent than a multi-layered box.

Tents are pitched with thin panels stretched across a rigid frame. Tents can open up in several ways. Their sidewalls can be rolled up to let the breeze blow through, or dropped to conserve heat on a cool evening. Tent flaps can open in isolated places to catch breezes or views. We do similar things with the Timber Tent. We first build a post-and-beam structure for much of the building, then we fill in between the posts, largely with louvers, doors, windows, and shutters that allow us to either steer or exclude the flow of breezes to create the greatest comfort. Louvers can be operable or fixed as needed. Doors can be swinging or rolling. Windows that aren’t louvered can be swinging or double-hung, and shutters can be side-hinged, top-hinged, or rolling. In short, there are lots of options.

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mahogany louvers glow in early evening sun,
after being shut against the heat of the day

I spent three nights last week in the “Dream Suite” at Mahogany Bay Village. I call it this because the design of the suite came to me in a dream one night several years ago… the only time that has ever happened to me in my career. But regardless of its origins, it was my chance to see firsthand whether our ideas actually work at Mahogany Bay.

The short answer is a resounding “yes”. I slept with all the louvers open, and drifted off to sleep with the soft windsong moaning through the louvers. Between photo shoots, I worked furiously in the Dream Suite to get as many photos processed as I possibly could. The first day featured a blazing sun in a glorious clear blue sky, but the sea breeze kept me deliciously cool all day, sheltered under the reflective metal roof that bounced most of the sun’s heat back up into the sky without ever getting inside the cottage. And the heat that did get in was free to rise into the rafters, several feet above my head.

The breeze died down on the last day, and the heat rose into the upper nineties by noontime. While I spend a lot of time outdoors when I’m home and am therefore comfortable in the shade on many subtropical days, the upper nineties are simply too hot for me. But no problem… when I felt the warmth rising beyond my comfort range, I merely closed the louvered windows and cut on the ceiling fan. And because a ceiling fan’s breeze lets you feel comfortable ten degrees warmer than in still air, I felt great all through that sweltering afternoon. And while every unit in Mahogany Bay Village has a small air conditioner, I never needed to cut it on during my entire time in the Dream Suite.

Lots more to come over the next several weeks… what would you like to talk about next?

~Steve Mouzon

Snippets to Share

Tweet: Ceiling fans keep you comfortable ten degrees warmer than still air & are 1/40 the cost of running central air.
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Ceiling fans keep you comfortable ten degrees warmer than still air and are 1/40 the cost of running central air.

Tweet: Few things are as pleasant as falling asleep to wind song, which only happens if your house can breathe.
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Few things are as pleasant as falling asleep to wind song, which only happens if your house can breathe.

Tweet: Drywall is just wrong in the tropics, where air is moisture-laden. With drywall, not dry = no wall. http://ctt.ec/86cO2+

Drywall is just wrong in the tropics, where air is moisture-laden. With drywall, not dry = no wall.

PS: Here are more pictures of Mahogany Bay Village, a post on why it’s all white, another on the Rum & Bean, and another on the Dream Suite.


The Carriage House [Edge Yard Special]


I worked for years to persuade a developer to build standalone carriage houses in a place where I served as town planner and town architect. When he finally built a few, they quickly became the fastest-selling homes in the neighborhood… they were so hot, in fact, that I had to draw more carriage house lots into the neighborhood plan!

A carriage house is like the Rear Lane Cottage: built not on the street, but on the rear lane. It has a garage on the first level and living quarters above. The carriage house pictured above might sit on the same lot with the larger house you see in the background, or it might be sitting on its own piece of property… you can’t tell for sure. In this case, the only clue is the paint color, which makes it a safe bet that both are on the same lot. But sometimes, they can sit entirely on their own with no house nearby, like this larger carriage house:

The smallest models sit on a 20 foot x 20 foot lot, while the one above sits on a lot that’s more like 30 feet by 40 feet… so they aren’t all just alike. But in any case, the charm of living over the garage on a back lane of a cool neighborhood makes the carriage house one of the best-selling home types you’ve never built yet… but should.

~Steve Mouzon

PS: Here are the other building types I’ve blogged about so far: the Edge Yard Dwellings (Cottage, House, Large House, and Mansion), the Rear Lane Cottage, and the Sideyard. I’m also blogging about some really rare but inventive types as I find them. The first is the Mayfair Lane type I found in Buffalo. Finally, I’m blogging about some types we’re developing as well, including the Dream Suite at Mahogany Bay Village.


The Rear Lane Cottage [Edge Yard Special]


Some of the most charming homes in Key West are the tiny cottages that you only find if you venture off the streets and onto the rear lanes that make their ways through the middles of the blocks. While Key West is famous for them, you’ll find rear lane cottages if you look long enough in most of the historic parts of town in America.

Rear lane cottages are a great way of getting a big range of affordability in a small area, because they usually sit back-to-back with much larger homes that front the streets that surround them. Sometimes, they sit on the same lot with the bigger house, and were originally built as maybe a guest suite or possibly a granny cottage. Other times, they have been carved off onto their own tiny lots that can be bought free and clear. Think of a rear lane cottage as a place your son or daughter can afford to buy in your neighborhood when they graduate from college.

~Steve Mouzon

PS: Here are the other building types I’ve blogged about so far: the Edge Yard Dwellings (Cottage, House, Large House, and Mansion), the Carriage House, and the Sideyard. I’m also blogging about some really rare but inventive types as I find them. The first is the Mayfair Lane type I found in Buffalo. Finally, I’m blogging about some types we’re developing as well, including the Dream Suite at Mahogany Bay Village.


Teaching Big Boxes & Drive-Throughs to Behave Properly In Town


Great cities are built mostly of big boxes… it’s not the size of the box that matters, but rather how it behaves on the street. One of the obstacles New Urbanists face is the accusation that “You’re really good at creating cute little boutique places with ice cream parlors and coffee shops, but you can’t design buildings for real American uses like WalMart, Home Depot, car dealers and drive-through restaurants and banks.” It is true that some New Urbanists are vigorously opposed to these uses, and it’s also true that nearly every New Urbanist is against pervasive implementation of these uses in their current forms because those current forms are only useful in auto-dominated districts, not in places people walk. So the accusation has a ring of truth… but let’s dig deeper, where we’ll find that it’s actually not true at all.

New Yorkers sitting astride red folding chairs in Times Square, on a plaza recently reclaimed by the Tactical Urbanists

What you’re about to see is how to do exactly what the sprawl-promoting nay-sayers say cannot be done: fit those common uses into a traditional block structure in appropriate Transect zones. This might seem at first glance like we’re just decorating the big box, but we’re actually doing is civilizing the big box… a crucial difference. Here are the essential questions of the civilizing process:

• How do you park it with nothing more than diagonal parking on the street that is visible from the street? In other words, how do you eliminate the parking lot in front? Or on the side but still visible?

• How do you fit it into the normal block structure of the place where it is being built? Until the block structure is maintained rigorously correct, you’ve created nothing more than another sprawl project, not a part of the fabric of the town.

• After that, how do you get the massing and rhythm of the architecture right? This still has nothing to do with style. It should be obvious that a blank concrete box inserted into a town center is still destructive. Bays consistent with those of the town should be articulated, and appropriate shopfront glazing at the first level should be provided.

Greenwich Village street crossing bathed in the late afternoon Manhattan sun of springtime

Only after these things have been accomplished is it proper to even think about the style of the building. And the style obviously should be something that communicates with and resonates with the average citizen of the place it is built.

At this point, it’s fair to ask: “How is this any better than a lifestyle center?” Anyone who has offered more than a passing glance at "lifestyle centers" knows that while they may spend excruciating amounts of effort (and money) getting massing, rhythm, and style right, they fail miserably with the first two priorities. Matter of fact, they ignore them entirely. Their block structure usually has nothing to do with (and no connection to) the block structure of the town, and they continue to have massive parking in front, just like suburban malls.

white-clad woman strides across striped crossing, set against backdrop of quirky flatiron building and Manhattan avenue beyond, all guarded by reluctant cobra-head street light

They may say “But wait, that’s really the back! The Main Street we’ve created is the front; the parking is in back.” That illusion may hold when you’re walking down the Main Street, but the truth of the matter is that the front of a place is what you see when you arrive, not what you see when you get into the innards of the project. So the parking lots are without question the front of the project.

So if decorating the big box is not the answer and the Lifestyle Center is not the answer, then what is the answer? There are several, actually. The answers vary by Transect zone and by use. Please note that there are no superficial solutions here, like trying to come up with a model for a rural (Transect zone T-2) big box. Simply put, there should be no big boxes in the countryside, or in suburban neighborhoods (T-3), for that matter. Tools are only shown for the zones where they should occur. All tools are based on appropriate mixed-use parking ratios as per the SmartCode.

T-6 Downtown Streets

reclaimed Times Square street in all its neon splendor, with avenue stretching away beyond

Transect experts know zone T-6 as the "Urban Core," but you might know it better as simply “downtown.” It’s the most intense part of cities, and doesn’t normally occur in towns, rarely in villages, and never in hamlets. Downtown usually extends several blocks in each direction.

Downtown Big Box

This building type should not need an illustration because it is so familiar. This is the downtown department store that has been built for over a century in cities across America. Some downtowns don’t require much parking because of transit, but when one does, it is provided in structured parking in the basement. Floors are stacked up as high as necessary at roughly 90,000 square feet per floor (because the building occupies the entire block) to achieve the desired floor area. Other uses, including residential, typically occupy higher floors.

Downtown Auto Dealership

Downtown real estate is often too expensive for a typical auto dealership that requires a sea of parking on-site. Nonetheless, dealerships may still occur there. At a minimum, the dealership occupies a first level showroom with all other functions handled off-site. Look carefully: Dealerships occupy small urban center showrooms like this in the most cities in the world.

Where real estate values (and construction costs) allow, car storage and service functions can be accommodated in the basement parking structure. In such cases, cars are usually brought up for a test drive by employees, although it is technically possible for the salesperson and the customer to walk through the parking deck looking for a car. It is also possible to handle all other functions on-site if real estate values are low enough to allow on-site car storage. The physical form of the building in such cases may be virtually identical to that of the downtown big box: a large full-block building mass with showrooms on the street level, offices above, and parking garage in the basement. As before, other uses may occupy higher floors.

Downtown Building Supply Stores

Downtown real estate is almost always too expensive for a building supply store. The required lumber yards simply do not generate enough revenue to justify the real estate cost. Because the real estate prices require buildings to occupy the entire site except for very special functions, the Garden Center would have to be placed on the roof of the building, which is usually not feasible. It is true that some hardware stores or other building supply specialties such as plumbing or lighting showrooms certainly do occupy street-level retail spaces in downtown mixed-use buildings, but the building supply superstores such as Home Depot simply cannot afford to locate downtown in their common form.

T-5 Main Streets

street corner where Bleeker Street peels away from the avenue into Manhattan's Greenwich Village

Transect zone T-5 is termed “Urban Center” by Transect aficianados, but in the US, T-5 is essentially Main Street. T-5 zones sometimes extend several blocks in each direction, but they may also be one block wide and several blocks long along a Main Street. Two illustrations are given here where appropriate: one for the full block and the other for the half-block with primarily residential uses occupying the other half. I’ve used blocks that are 400’ from center of thoroughfare to center of thoroughfare for all of the diagrams in this post because this is a very common size of block for town center areas in much of the eastern United States.

Main Street Big Box

This type is one of the most important types to solve. There is obviously a range of box sizes to be solved, from the 40,000 square foot grocery store to the 180,000 square foot super center. Both extremes are illustrated, along with two intermediate conditions.

T5-1-40K-grocery

40,000 Square Foot Grocery

This box can be solved on a half-block with all surface parking, and therefore works along Main Streets that are one block deep from alley to alley with townhouses behind fronting the outer streets. Loft apartments are assumed above the grocery. This illustration includes 104 parking spaces on the street, 48 spaces on the alley and 28 garage spaces in the townhouses behind. In addition to the 40,000 square foot grocery store, 14 townhouse units are shown and 40 loft apartment units are located above the grocery.



80,000 Square Foot Mini-Anchor

T5-2-80K-mini-anchor

This is pretty much the largest box that can be solved on a half-block with all surface parking, although it does require pairing with another block of liner buildings and internal parking to do so. It therefore works along Main Streets that are one block deep from alley to alley with townhouses behind fronting the outer streets. The mini-anchor building is two floors tall, but the first level is double-height and is detailed on the exterior as two levels. There are two levels of loft apartments above the retail liners.

150,000 Square Foot Building Supply

T5-3-150K-building-supply

The building supply box requires two levels of an entire block, and must be paired with another block of structured parking bounded by liner buildings. The big box is assumed to have high ceilings on at least the street level because of the clear span size, and to be expressed as a three- or four-level building on the exterior as a result. Liner buildings are assumed to be oriented away from the Main Street, and are therefore offices on the first level and lofts on the second and third. Please note that some functions of the building supply that require cashiers at all times for security or other reasons (such as the garden center, which is shown here as an interior courtyard) could be expressed as separate storefronts on the exterior of the box. This and the 180,000 square foot super center that follows are the only two types that require structured parking, which is a four-level deck in both cases. Clearly, decks cost more than surface parking if land cost is not considered. This is one of the few solutions presented that costs more than the conventional suburban model. Several of the other solutions I’ve illustrated actually save large amounts of money.

180,000 Square Foot Super Center

T5-4-180K-super-center

The super center box requires two levels of an entire block, and must be paired with another block of structured parking bounded by liner buildings. The big box is assumed to have high ceilings on at least the street level because of the clear span size, and to be expressed as a three- or four-level building on the exterior as a result. Liner buildings are assumed to be oriented away from the Main Street, and are therefore offices on the first level and lofts on the second and third. Please note that some functions of the super center that require cashiers at all times for security or other reasons (such as the pharmacy or the jewelry department) could be pulled out into the liner buildings if desired as separate shops.

Main Street Automobile Dealership

T5-5-auto-dealership

The full-featured automobile dealership requires two blocks divided according to the natural divisions of the business. New car sales and general administration occupies one block, while used car sales and service occupy the other. Buildings are essentially all liner buildings, with lofts (or possibly offices) on the upper levels. All office and residential parking requirements are met through the use of on-street parking, reserving the 328 spaces within the two blocks for the dealership’s stock of new and used cars. The auto dealership may also be done in a single block through the use of structured parking.

T5-6-Main-Street-block

Typical Main Street Block

This block is patterned closely after commercial buildings used on countless Main Streets across the United States. Diagonal parking rings the block, which is composed of buildings ranging between 20’ and 30’ in width. Building depths are typically 75’ except at each end of the alley, where the end building extends back tight to the alley in order to screen the interior of the block. This liner building is assumed to be office occupancy since it is on the side street rather than the front street. This layout provides a total of 48,000 square feet of retail and 8,400 square feet of offices per block plus 28 loft apartments on the second level. Units may be sold as live/works, where the purchaser buys both the retail unit on the first level and the living unit on the second. Such arrangements allow very inexpensive incubation of a new business. The interior of the block is composed of a two-lane alley flanked by a bay of parking on each side. Enough width is available to insert parallel parking on the alley if desired.

Main Street Drive-Through Retail

Drive-through retail requires automobile stack space. This clearly is a problem if the stacking occurs on a Main Street. Stacking cannot occur between the fronts of buildings and the street without unacceptably serious damage to the integrity of the street. Stacking also is a nuisance if it occurs in an alley, blocking the alley from use by other businesses. A close visual connection between the business and the vehicular entry to the drive-through is very important. The shop fronts of the Main Street should not be punctured by a drive-through exit. Drive-through traffic should exit the site where it enters the site, rather than being routed to another side of the block, so customers are not disoriented. The drive-through scheme should work whether the block is a full block, as in the case of contiguous Main Street blocks in both directions, or whether the block is a half-block, as in the case of a single block of Main Street.

The proposed system includes a central alley with a bay of parking to either side as described above. Drive-through establishments are allowed only on the corners of the block in order to be visually tied to the alley entries that serve them. The drive-through is both entered and exited via the alley entrance adjacent to them. An end bay of roughly 50’ of parking is reserved for the drive-through facility, which is one of three types:

T5-7-drive-thru-gas

Semi-Detached Multi-Lane (Gas Stations)

Gas stations are a bit of a hybrid between detached and attached drive-throughs. The product is piped to a remote location like a bank, but the point of delivery must have a closer connection to the cashier to avoid fuel thefts. Gas stations also try to make additional sales by bringing people into the convenience store where the cashier works. Gas stations require a somewhat larger end bay on the alley than the other two types. The European pull-by model is an option that allows the gas station to occur on the street. This model only works on side streets, but should be considered as an option.


T5-8-drive-thru-bank

Remote Multi-Lane (Banks or Pharmacies)

Remote drive-throughs may be used for uses such as banks or pharmacies, where objects may be placed in a capsule and shot out to the drive-through via a tube. New remote drive-through technology allows the drive-throughs to be located several hundred feet from the primary place of business. In this case, the drive-throughs are stacked diagonally beside the alley and exit back out onto the alley. Note that the remote drive-through must be placed on the right side as the customer is exiting the alley. If the bank or pharmacy is located on the left, this will preclude a restaurant occurring on the right because the drive-through for the bank or pharmacy occurs in the slot that would be needed for the restaurant drive-through.. The scheme, then, will accommodate between two and four drive-through businesses per block, depending on type.

T5-9-drive-thru-restaurant

Attached Single-Lane (Restaurants)

Attached drive-throughs are required for items such as food that cannot be turned upside down or dramatically accelerated during transit. These must be attached to the primary place of business at a location appropriate for the interior function of the business. Both right-hand and left-hand options are shown, since the building layout changes significantly depending on which orientation is used.

T5-10-drive-thru-restaurant

Here’s the other type of restaurant, where traffic circulates in the opposite direction from the option above. This one is for when the restaurant is on your left as you enter the rear lane; with the one above, the restaurant is on your right.









T-4 Neighborhood Streets

Greenwich Village neighborhood street drizzled in late afternoon sun filtering through the canopy of the leaves of springtime

Transect zone T-4 is known in Transect circles as “general urban,” but if you think of good in-town neighborhood streets, you get the picture: a mix of single-family detached homes, townhomes, shops, and restaurants, especially at street-corners. Neighborhood streets are easier to deal with in two primary respects: First, the biggest boxes simply are not allowed there. The SmartCode limits retail to one corner building per block, and the parking requirements are higher. Second, because the buildings may be detached, it is possible to bring a driveway out to the front street.

T4-1-neighborhood-grocery

Neighborhood Grocery

This 20,000 square foot neighborhood grocery store is the most typical general neighborhood retail use. Because only one such retail building is allowed per block and it must be located on a corner, this illustration shows it at the largest possible size, which is a quarter block. Big box retail significantly larger than this simply is not appropriate for neighborhood streets.






Neighborhood Drive-Through Retail

T4-2-drive-thru-gas

Semi-Detached Multi-Lane (Gas Stations)

Gas stations also occur at neighborhood street corners. James Wassell did a particularly good model for this idea recently. He calls it the Inverted Gas Station. Others call it Gas Backwards, although I’m not sure who to credit for this name. This particular option, by aligning the pumps from front to back, allows a total of 10 pumps within a surprisingly conservative area.





T4-3-drive-thru-bank

Attached Multi-Lane (Banks & Pharmacies)

Banks and pharmacies typically change to attached drive-throughs on neighborhood streets because there is no imperative for detaching the drive-through function like there is on Main Street. If detailed properly, a four-lane drive-through can look like a large but believable porte cochere by running one lane between the porte cochere and the building, two lanes through the porte cochere and the last lane (which serves the ATM) to the outside.




T4-4-drive-thru-restaurant

Attached Single-Lane (Restaurants)

Restaurants remain attached like they are on Main Street. Because retail is required to occur only on neighborhood street corners, drive-throughs either enter on the front street and exit through the alley or vice versa. By running the stacking lane the depth of the lot (including parking in front) 8 or more cars may be stacked without blocking traffic.





T4-5-drive-thru-restaurant

This is the other version of the drive-through… where you enter through the rear lane and exit through the front street, as opposed to above, where you do the opposite.










T4-6-school-building

Neighborhood School

Neighborhood streets should be the most common places for schools. This illustration shows the largest two-story high school that can easily be put on a single block. A high school is illustrated because it is the worst-case scenario on two counts: some of its students drive, and high school athletic field requirements are larger than those of middle schools or elementary schools. The school is assumed to be slid to one edge of the neighborhood. Playing fields occur within adjacent parklands. Two huge auto-related problems of schools are parking spaces and stack space for parents picking up and dropping off their children. When schools are embedded in neighborhoods, students within the pedestrian shed can walk. This illustration assumes an average density of 5 units per acre in the surrounding neighborhood, and assumes that 8% of those households have children of high school age. Of those, half are assumed to be legal drivers. Given these assumptions, and the assumption that the pedestrian shed for children walking to school is the ten-minute walk, there are a total of 250 acres in the half-shed (the other half is park). If 2.9% of the population are high school students of driving age and there are 1.8 children per household that has children, then there could be between 100 and 120 driving-age high school students within the pedestrian shed of the school. If 80% of them walk (once they rediscover that walking to school is a tremendously social thing to do when it’s possible) on any given day, then the student parking lot can be reduced by 80 to 100 spaces. The school parking requirement is therefore reduced to the teachers, staff and a few students.

Stack space for pick-up has an exceptionally simple solution for schools embedded into the fabric of the neighborhood: Cars are allowed to stack on neighborhood streets. Embedded schools actually need no drop-off lane at all in many cases where parents can drop off children on the school lawn and let them walk to the door. Because parents are sitting in the cars waiting to pick up children, anyone blocking a resident’s driveway can easily move because they are already sitting behind the wheel. And because most high schools end at 3 PM, most residents are still at work and should not need to use their driveways at this time of day.

This building is two stories and surrounds a central courtyard with double-loaded classroom wings. A two-story gymnasium and a single-story lunchroom are located to the rear of the building, which also includes the loading dock. The library is located over a portion of the lunchroom. There are a total of 56 classrooms plus administrative offices.

T4-7-church-building

Neighborhood Church Building

Neighborhood streets should also be the most common place for church buildings. Churches vary tremendously in schedules of services and other operational items, and also in the number of worshippers drawn from within walking distance since a church does not usually have the near-monopoly on residents that many public schools do, It is therefore not possible to make as many numerical assumptions as can be done with school buildings. It is clear, however, that church buildings embedded within a neighborhood fabric will draw some worshippers from walking distance. It is also clear that overflow parking can take place on surrounding streets as long as parking is allowed on the streets. Purely for the purpose of illustration, if most worship services occur with only 50% of the seats filled and if 20% of the worshippers walk to services, then the same number of dedicated parking spaces will allow 2.5 times as many seats in the auditorium of church buildings embedded in a walkable neighborhood. This is an amazing number. How else, with less land area (because surrounding streets double as aisles for on-street parking), could any institution get over double the conventional capacity of their building?

Neighborhood Building Supply

A full-scale building supply outlet cannot occur on neighborhood streets due to limitations previously discussed. A hardware store, plumbing supply store, lighting fixture store or other similar establishments, however could easily be a neighborhood corner store.

T-3 Suburban Neighborhood Streets

Suburban streets are limited in the SmartCode to essentially one corner store per neighborhood. One of the great errors of conventional postwar planning is the inclusion of pretty much every function within what should have been Suburban neighborhood areas. By making the suburban zone become everything, it became nothing. Because the Transect can be exceptionally fine-grained, it is certainly possible, and usually desirable, to have areas of neighborhood streets and Main Streets within close proximity to suburban streets, so there is more retail and other uses nearby. But on suburban streets, with the exception of the corner store, there should essentially be none of the typical sprawl commercial uses; they should all occur on nearby Main Streets or neighborhood streets.

two bikes stand waiting for their owners just outside blue-awninged Greenwich Village corner eatery

I did this piece for the New Urban Retail Council Report a decade ago, and have been getting requests to put it up ever since. I hope you find it useful. Please let me know if I’m missing something you’d like to see addressed. And like everything else on this site, please feel free to share links to this page with anyone who might find it helpful.

~Steve Mouzon


2013


The Secret Project

early September construction project photos (all by Eric Moser)


I can't give out all the details yet, but there's a project under construction now that will debut next month that finally does what we've hoped for since this day in January 2009, when the New Urban Guild came together to set out the principles of Project:SmartDwelling! Getting SmartDwellings built was one of the main reasons we founded studioSky, so I hope you understand why I'm giddy right now.

The project sits scarcely more than a stone's throw from the coast of the Caribbean Rim, and must therefore contend with the region's triple threat of heat, humidity, and hurricanes. The land began its life along the banks of seven parallel canals… "made land," in local parlance: parallel bars of sand pumped up a few years ago from the bottom of a coastal bay. The lots had all been laid out exactly the same size as far as the eye could see.

live/work unit at secret project

one of the live/work units where you can
live above the shop

We said "this won't do." We must have a transect from urban to rural, and we must help create walk appeal by building pedestrian cross-streets that pass over the canals along romantic arched bridges so you can get anywhere you want without the long trek back to the main street. On the rural end of each street, we might even let someone combine two lots to build a really big house, but at the urban end, we'll have several units on a single lot, and we'll have a mixed-use village center with shops you can live above.

Most developers don't have the stomach for building anything so un-ordinary, but the new Town Founder of this place is amazing in her commitment to getting stuff right. And we were just getting started. We decided that there would be no drywall anywhere on the job. Why would you want to have drywall by the sea side where it molds and mildews and eventually turns to mush? "Drywall" means "you have a wall only so long as you keep it dry." So we used the local sustainably-farmed tropical hardwoods instead… and they're far more beautiful than boring, featureless drywall as you can see.

hardwood louvered window

one of the hardwood
louvered windows

We designed the entire landscape around the buildings into a series of garden rooms. There is no lawn, except as a flooring material of a few of the rooms. The rooms are furnished, and designed to entice people outdoors where they become acclimated to the local environment so they can live in season, which means that when they return indoors, they can leave the louvered hardwood windows open and leave the air conditioner off because the houses breathe superbly.

And the indoors is unlike any you may have seen. Everywhere you look, everything is solid; there's no veneered anything. We've designed really cool tropical furniture that breathes as well. There are no closets; we use armoires instead of closets to store clothes. Our cabinets are built like furniture, with tropical hardwood sticks and boards instead of plywood that delaminates in the tropical humidity. We're even using pegs for fasteners in many places instead of nails because nails rust. And we're opening up all of the walls, boarding them on one side with tropical hardwood and leaving them open with shelves on the other side so that every wall becomes a shelving unit. All these things conspire to store a whole lot of stuff in a small amount of space, which is a hugely important principle in the design of SmartDwellings.

exposed ceiling structure

none of this gets covered up with some cheap veneer
instead, it's what you see when you look up

There's much more to come… I'll be going down in November for the photo shoot that precedes the opening, and promise to bring back lots of good images. What would you like to see? Please let me know, and I'll be sure to get some pics! And they're doing some other exceptionally cool things with the place that I can't wait to tell you about. And you'll be able to see for yourself, since the first couple dozen cottages to be built are all on the rental program, forming an "inn of cottages. So make plans to come down next year… I will, too.

~Steve Mouzon


Feeding Schooner Bay


There's a chicken-and-egg problem with chickens and eggs: Retail consultants usually tell you which retail fuctions your neighborhood will support. And unless their numbers are hopeful, neighborhood founders are discouraged from building anything other than houses… so you don't have a real neighborhood; just a subdivision. But you can look at it the other way as well. Instead of saying "what shops will my neighborhood support" why not build a business and ask "where am I going to find the customers to support my business?

That's exactly what they did at Schooner Bay, and it's working out great. Schooner Bay is a new town in the Bahamas designed by DPZ. I was there from the beginning, at the design charrette when Schooner Bay was first planned. Eric, Julia, and I have been on several charrettes to design the architecture of Schooner Bay, and Julia designed most of the houses now being completed on the island in the center of the harbour. But this story isn't about architecture; it's about food.

Orjan Lindroth, Schooner Bay's Town Founder, set out from the beginning to make Schooner Bay a nourishable place. He secured dozens of acres of crown land adjacent to Schooner Bay. Crown land is owned by the Queen of England, but available for agricultural lease. He then teamed up with organic agriculture experts to create Lightbourn Farm. I blogged recently not only about Lightbourne, but how Schooner Bay is becoming an authentic fishing village as well.

Had Orjan done the normal thing and asked "how big of a farm will my town support" there's no way he would have started the farm because there are only a couple dozen homes complete at this point. Instead, he asked "where do I sell all this fresh produce?" And so Lightbourn Farm isn't just feeding Schooner Bay; it's feeding many other people in South Abaco. This, in my opinion, is the way to make things work in a town's early years: don't worry so much about the rooftops. Worry about the customers. And the businesses you generate will be great assets in building the neighborhood.

~Steve Mouzon

PS: Here are more Schooner Bay pictures, and another post on why Schooner Bay’s architecture is lovable.


2012


Why a Booth is Better

booth-


Booths are some of the most delightful and hardworking square footage you can design into a home. The New Urban Guild’s Project:SmartDwelling initiative is all about building dramatically smaller and smarter. Nothing accomplishes this better than a booth. Here’s why:

If you want to seat 6 people comfortably in a conventional dining room, you need about 180 square feet. If you want to accomplish the same task using a booth, you need about 36 square feet, or 1/5 as much area. Yet ask yourself this: when you go to a restaurant, which tables do you notice filling up quicker? The booths, of course! They’re cozy and personal, whereas a table in the middle of the room is... just a table in the middle of the room. Not so special. So a booth delivers what most people prefer, but in only 1/5 the space... what’s not to love about that?

But there’s more. The booth pictured above is in the 2011 Coastal Living Idea House in East Beach Norfolk which was designed by Wanda and I. The booth is at the heart of the house; the wall of glass to the left looks into the Great Room, the Kitchen is just above, and the windows just below the booth look out into the Hearth Garden. As you can see, it’s an L-shaped booth, rather than the conventional booth with two benches facing each other. By itself, it can seat 4 people comfortably. Pull up chairs to the two open sides, and it can seat 8.

It’s not just a dining booth, either, as you can see. It doubles as the kids’ homework station, where they can spread out and work in the evening, just across from the kitchen so they can get help from Mom (or whoever the cook is in the family.) It also makes a great home office workstation as well, where you can set up with your laptop and work in an airy, light-filled environment with a view to the garden. Just below those windows, in a band of trim just above the top of the booth’s back, is a row of several plugs to accommodate whatever you or your kids might need to charge as you work.

And it doesn’t end there. SmartDwellings don’t waste space. There’s a little space in the seat back against the Great Room wall to the left, which can be carved into for some narrow shelves. Below that, under the seat, there’s much more room where you can slide some cool-looking wicker baskets under the seat from the Great Room side. You can also slide a long basket under the garden-side seat from the Garden Entry.

Like it? Keep checking back... there’s lots more where this came from.

~Steve Mouzon


© Studio Sky 2014