Presentations given at CNU 31 on June 2, 2023
1. Payton Chung, Westover Green – introduction (Google Slides)
2. Monte Anderson, Options Real Estate
3. Susana Dancy, Rockwood Development
4. Abbey Oklak, Kimco Realty
Presentations given at CNU 31 on June 2, 2023
1. Payton Chung, Westover Green – introduction (Google Slides)
2. Monte Anderson, Options Real Estate
3. Susana Dancy, Rockwood Development
4. Abbey Oklak, Kimco Realty
NCDOT recently reactivated plans to rebuild Raleigh’s busiest interchange, between I-40, I-440, and US 1/64 on the border of Raleigh and Cary. Much of the plan revolves around trying to fix the troublesome road arrangement that exists around Cary’s largest retail center, Crossroads Plaza. But how did this emerge?
Crossroads Mall was originally proposed in the late 1980s, just a few years after I-40 was constructed around the west/south of Raleigh, by the Australian developer L.J. Hooker. Hooker proposed the Triangle’s largest enclosed shopping mall, just one of many they planned across America. (They only ever completed one, which did not do well.) The site had been assembled by NCNB (now Bank of America) and an Ohio pension fund, who also planned an office park to the south.
Crossroads Mall was to have been surrounded by a bean-shaped ring road; the outline of its southern half exists today as Caitboo Ave. (Imagine if it arced around the north edge of the shopping center.) Four access roads would connect to the ring road: the largest would align with the existing 1/64-Walnut interchange, and three more access roads would connect the ring road to the west, south, and southwest. Offices, hotels, and more shops would fill in the land south to Dillard Rd.
Crucially, plans filed in 1986 showed Crossroads Blvd. extending east across Jones Franklin, then curving north and ending at its own dedicated Beltline/I-40 trumpet interchange, west of Avent Ferry Rd. This would have balanced access to the mall such that shoppers could approach it from freeways in four directions: US1/64 from the southwest (via Walnut), I-40 from the northwest and southeast (via Crossroads), and the I-440 Beltline from the northeast (via Jones Franklin to Crossroads).
Things went awry quickly. The Beltline interchange would require purchasing land from Raleigh’s Lake Johnson Park, and Raleigh hardly wanted to facilitate such a huge economic boon for Cary. The flyover ramp from US1/64 to Crossroads Blvd. was concocted as a hasty replacement way to get direct freeway access from Raleigh to the mall.
Hooker’s business empire — weighed down not only by boatloads of debt but also the fantastically stupid purchase of several fading luxury department store chains — rapidly collapsed in the early 1990s real estate bust, but not until after the Crossroads site was cleared and roads like Meeting St. and the 1/64 flyover were built.
A new developer bought the site at a bargain price and, recognizing the shift underway from enclosed, full-price malls to “power center” strip malls filled with off-price discounters, redesigned the site for what was at the time the world’s largest power center. Instead of shops surrounded by parking and roads, the new layout required roads and parking in front of shops. But Caitboo and Crossroads had already been built south of the site, and a power line corridor meant that a good chunk of the site’s northern half was unbuildable. The solution was a ring of shops pierced by Crossroads Blvd, with Caitboo treated like a forgotten back alley. Even the vast power center didn’t fill the entire mall site; the cinema site was left undeveloped at first. (Note that what’s now Target and Home Depot was also owned by Hooker at the time.)
The reconfigured Crossroads Plaza was indeed a great financial success and spawned copycat developments all around it, adding to the strain on Walnut St. The road system there was cobbled together from various bits that were originally intended to serve a very different function. The original plan had access from the west and the east; instead, most mall access ended up coming from the west, which overloaded Walnut St. (Traffic volumes on Walnut are >3X higher than on Jones Franklin or Dillard, and ~30% higher right in front of Crossroads than on either side.) Once inside the mall, traffic was to have split up in both directions to flow onto a ring road; instead, cars are mostly funneled onto one route (Meeting to Crossroads).
What’s ultimately needed is to rebalance Crossroads traffic from the west to the south or east approaches, and that’s something that NCDOT’s plans make some progress towards by removing several Walnut St. exit ramps and aligning them with Dillard Dr. instead. Improved street network connectivity and improved wayfinding would also disperse vehicles away from just Walnut St.
(Originally posted to City-Data; images via Cary’s site plan archive)
Since takedowns of Euclid are thankfully all the rage these days…
The most obnoxious question I got during oral defense at UChicago was from a genuine-article “provocative libertarian” economist, who launched a broad attack on zoning as a severe impingement upon “freedom” (i.e., his treasured consumer choices). My stammering defense of zoning then amounted to, pretty much, “because we can.” (Zoning and preservation are, seemingly by historical accident, two of the few broad regulatory tools the US Supreme Court has granted to local governments.) Zoning is what planners do because it’s what we’re taught to do, and what we’re used to doing — but planners rarely question whether it’s the right tool.
In a planning law class back in 2011, we were asked to make oral arguments for or against a theoretical municipality adapting, or tossing out, its existing zoning laws. Having checked that said assignment is no longer being assigned, here are the notes I wrote up for my broadside against the institution of Euclidean zoning.
Coming up with this was pretty revelatory, honestly. I already had ten years of experience with zoning codes and knew that its structure was kludgy — but had also once (at my BA oral defense) mounted a spirited defense of zoning and its Constitutional basis against a purely theoretical attack by a genuine-article Chicago economist.
I’m a little less sold on FBCs these days, having learned a bit more about their limitations and administration — but the anti-Euclid arguments have only been bolstered by what I’ve learned of zoning’s history since.
For too long, our city has struggled to regulate land use under the rubric of a conventional zoning ordinance. This ordinance, although revised within the past generation — unlike in many other major cities — still has its roots in a fundamentally flawed legal framework that derives its authority from the landmark 1926 Euclid vs. Ambler Realty ruling by the Supreme Court.
The zoning code that the city currently labors under suffers from an outdated, inflexible structure that fundamentally cannot address or implement the lofty goals embodied in the city’s ambitious new Comprehensive Plan. If it is to implement that plan—as it is legally obliged to do, under state law—the city must therefore discard its current zoning ordinance and replace it with one organized around form instead of use and density.
1. The zoning code is organized first and foremost around the outmoded paradigm of regulating use.
2. The zoning code’s “cumulative” structure inherently valorizes single-family housing above all else, which has insidious effects throughout the system
3. Yet use and density regulation is powerless to affect urban design
4. Further amendments will only worsen matters.
5. The future: a form-based code
 For example, New York City’s current code dates to 1961; several other cities with codes of similar age (Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia) have only recently rewritten their codes.
 Village of Euclid, Ohio vs. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U.S. 365, 47 S.Ct. 114, 71 L.Ed. 303 (1926)
 Hadachek vs. Sebastian, 239 U.S. 394, 36 S.Ct. 143, 60 L.Ed. 348 (1915)
 In the Washington, D.C. region, the primary air pollutant is ozone, of which a plurality (40%) comes from autos. “Ozone Pollution,” Clean Air Partners, accessed 5 October 2011, http://cleanairpartners.net/ozoneinfo.cfm
 In particular, state environmental protection agency
 “Stage 4 Aircraft Noise Standards,” Federal Aviation Administration, 14 CFR Part 36
 Dan Mihalopoulos and Michael Lipkin, “In Tough Times, Fire Department Untouched,” Chicago News Cooperative 13 May 2011
 “Country Comparison: Life Expectancy at Birth,” CIA World Factbook, accessed 6 October 2011, http://cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2102rank.html
 City of Ladue vs. Horn, 720 S.W.2d 745 (Mo.App. E.D.1986)
 McMinn vs. Town of Oyster Bay, 498 N.Y.S.2d 128, 488 N.E.2d 1240 (N.Y. 1985)
 Jonathan Barnett in Congress for the New Urbanism, Codifying New Urbanism, Planning Advisory Service 526 (Chicago: American Planning Association, 2004), p. 5
 Total “shelter” costs rose from 23.3% of consumer expenditure in 1918 to 32.8% in 2002, a 41% increase. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “100 Years of U.S. Consumer Spending” (BLS Report 991), pg. 10, 58.
 Joel Rast, Remaking Chicago (DeKalb, Ill.: Northern Illinois U.P., 2002)
 Jonathan Levine, Zoned Out (New York: RFF, 2005), pg. X.
 Ellen Greenberg in Congress for the New Urbanism, Codifying New Urbanism, Planning Advisory Service 526 (Chicago: American Planning Association, 2004), p. 39
 Jonathan Barnett in Congress for the New Urbanism, Codifying New Urbanism, Planning Advisory Service 526 (Chicago: American Planning Association, 2004), p. 3.
 David Rouse and Nancy Zobl, “Practice Form-Based Zoning,” Zoning Practice, May 2004, p. 1.
 John Punter, The Vancouver Achievement (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2003), p. 118.
 Norman Marcus, “A Brief History of the Zoning Resolution,” in Marcus, ed., Zoning for the New Century (New York: Real Estate Board of New York, 2000), p. 15.
 Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Random House, 1961), p. 235
 Nate Berg, “Brave New Codes,” Architect July 2010, p. X.
 Goldman vs. Crowther, 147 Md. 282, 128 A. 50 (Md.1925)
 Robert Steuteville, Philip Langdon, et al, New Urbanism Best Practices Guide (Ithaca: New Urban News Publications, 2009), p. 188
 Steuteville et al, 186-187
Ikea is in the midst of a complete rethink of their US store strategy, rapidly announcing the cancellation of multiple superstores that were due to open in 2020: in my hometown of Cary, N.C., outside Nashville, west of Phoenix, and Fort Worth. Other stores set to open in 2020 could also be canceled, affecting plans in northwest Denver, the East Bay, and northwest of Atlanta. Stores already under construction, like one in Norfolk, are proceeding as planned.
As Ikea branched out from America’s top-20 metro areas (median population ~5 million) to the top-40 metro areas (reaching some with populations below 1.5 million), it doubled its store footprint — but now each new-build store addressed fewer than half as many potential customers. Some of the mid-sized cities draw from large hinterlands and can easily support full-sized stores, like Salt Lake City or Jacksonville… but many blur into Ikea-served regions nearby: Hartford, Providence, Tulsa, Richmond, Raleigh, or Buffalo and Rochester (near Toronto). Even within the megacities, customers on the far side of town, or downtown, don’t want to carve out an entire day to drive all the way across town to wait in long lines and stress-eat meatballs.
Much has been written, albeit with few details, about Ikea opening shops in city centers. A look at their small shops in the UK and Canada indicate that they’re primarily using these new compact store formats to reach smaller metro areas, not necessarily “alpha” global cities, and to fit into strip malls where people are already shopping.
A quick review of the five US-drugstore-sized “IKEA order and collection points” in the UK & Ireland turns up:
Canada’s six “IKEA Pick-up and order points” are up to twice as large — about the size of a small supermarket, from a Fresh Market on the small end (20,000 sq ft) to a Whole Foods Market on the large end (40,000 sq ft). They are all located in suburban locations, outside smaller cities in Ontario and Quebec. Around Toronto, for instance, are a series of smaller satellite cities — close enough that people could drive to the city for Ikea, but in practice rarely do. The biggest city, Hamilton, has a full Ikea, but what do with the smaller ones? Now that the PUP exists, every city can have a conveniently sited Ikea. For instance, Ontario’s Tri-Cities, a collection of college towns (Kitchener, Cambridge, Waterloo) about 60 miles outside Toronto, with a regional population of about 500,000. There, IKEA located in a Costco-anchored strip mall in the center of the region — well away from the area’s universities. All of the six PUPs are adjacent to either Costco, Home Depot, or the like; five are in power centers, and one in an enclosed mall (although untraditionally anchored by Walmart).
The “Pick-up and order points” (PUPs) address many of the potential customer segments that its previous superstore strategy missed. Since they’re 90% smaller than full-sized stores, they can easily branch out into smaller metro areas, or fill in around megacities. As a bonus, they can go into existing spaces, for faster and cheaper build-outs, and can go into first-tier locations rather than being shunted to second-tier sites which happen to have room. Several have even backfilled existing dark big boxes — e.g., Birmingham was a Toys ‘R’ Us.
Two of the cancelled locations, in Cary and Nashville, were being planned as part of turnaround plans for dying malls. Those locations contrast sharply with the first wave of Ikea USA locations, which were often right outside fortress malls. Future PUPs will likely be in well-trafficked power centers, close to fortress malls, and are a terrific opportunity for landlords like Kimco or DDR.
2020 update: IKEA Canada has closed all PUPs; it’s replaced those with outsourced “collection points” where trucks drop off the day’s orders at a 3PL‘s warehouse, with no on-site shopping. It’s continuing to open mini-stores in central cities. In an interesting twist, Ikea’s captive shopping center developer (a la Sears & Homart) Ingka Centres has announced it’s shopping for adaptive-reuse opportunities in US gateway market CBDs, beginning with repositioning a newly built, but already failed vertical mall in SF’s Mid-Market.
Comment submitted to HPO, regarding its Preservation Plan.
I am a homeowner, in a historic landmark building. I have been a National Trust member for my entire adult life, and have spent almost all of that time living in National Register-listed buildings. I consider myself an ardent preservationist.
It therefore pains me to say that the historic preservation process in DC is broken — as I have recently documented in Greater Greater Washington. The District has designated almost as many historic structures as New York City, which has 6.4 times as many total structures. Thousands of unremarkable buildings such as production-built rowhouses and strip mall parking lots, almost identical to thousands or even millions of others around the country, have been deemed by HPO and HPRB to be “locally significant” for seemingly no other reason than the fact that they exist.
I became a preservationist because I am pro-urbanism, and want to maintain the rich urban fabric of small-scale buildings, evolved over generations, that was common in pre-WW2 America. It is dispiriting to see that NIMBYs have hijacked the historic preservation process to stop that very process of urban evolution that created the places they claim to admire.
Instead of pouring all of its resources into finding more and more mediocre buildings to designate as “locally significant historic resources,” HPO should instead halt the process of reviewing outside nominations and focus its efforts on a comprehensive, District-wide survey of structures to identify those of high historic and aesthetic merit. Los Angeles has eight times the land area of DC and six times as many buildings, and completed a full survey of its structures within eight years. Meanwhile, DC HPO is now 40 years old, and has not completed a District-wide survey — ignoring many potential treasures in overlooked neighborhoods, while lavishing time and attention to ensure that no detail is overlooked for every single building in the District’s prosperous quarters.
Historic preservation also should not triumph over other aspects of the Office of Planning’s remit. The District has other planning priorities besides preservation, including creating affordable housing, allowing more people to live and work near transit and the regional core, and increasing renewable energy production. HPO and the HPRB must find ways to balance their own mandates with others’.
As of 2015, the IBC now permits multi-story concrete podiums. At first, this was mostly of interest because it permitted even taller “double podium” apartment buildings, with up to eight stories framed mostly in wood.
This diagram (by Nadel, Inc. for Multifamily Executive) shows the effect between The Podium and The (Double) Podium: you can squeeze an additional floor in above grade, and because it’s concrete (heavy line) it can be used for residential, retail, or parking.
Yet using that magical concrete-framed second floor for residential (which could just as easily be wood-framed) seems like a bit of a missed opportunity. Instead, the second floor could be a mezzanine parking level for the wood-framed residential above — as was done in the mixed-use Grey House at River Oaks District pictured above, or in this mixed-use development on LA’s Olympic Blvd.
The real breakthrough possibility for the parking mezzanine isn’t atop retail, though: it’s atop yet more parking.
It just so happens that a 65-75′ wide module fits either a double-loaded apartment building or a double-loaded parking aisle. Therefore, a four-story building (three floors of Type V residential, one level of parking) can be stacked atop an existing aisle of parking — without diminishing the existing parking lot, and without excavating any parking.
It’s the suburban infill version of “have your cake and eat it, too”: keep your parking and add infill housing, too.
Developing these air-rights infill parcels used to require some pretty tremendous trade-offs. The first such projects that I saw were designed by Gary Reddick, a Portland architect who won a CNU Charter Award in 2004 for two such projects. Jury chair Ellen Dunham-Jones subsequently wrote about these in HDM:
In Seattle and Portland, where there are very good markets for residential development, Sienna convinced a variety of non-residential building owners to sell the air rights over their parking lots or roofs for housing. In Portland’s desirable and compact Northwest neighborhood, Sienna saw the parking lot of a specialized medical center as a potential housing site. After producing a pro forma, the firm approached the owners and showed that it could provide them with a covered, forty-three-space parking lot (with only three fewer spaces than before) and a million-dollar profit in exchange for stacking an additional layer of parking (with a separate entry) and two stories of condominiums. The built project, Northrup Commons, screens the parking with duplexes entered from the streets and adds two floors of apartments.
This turns out to be tough to replicate elsewhere. Because the residential comes with its own parking requirement, fully replacing the on-site parking requires adding parking somewhere else — either building a new parking lot elsewhere, or digging underground, at super-high cost ($11 million at one Seattle project). Most of the Sienna projects, including Northrup, used sloping sites (common in the Northwest) to tuck one parking level partially or fully underground.
Since the resulting buildings would block visibility and doesn’t result in an active ground-floor frontage, this particular infill seems best for infilling around Class B offices that currently sit adrift in a moat of parking — such as the above complex on Old Courthouse Road, at the southern fringe of Tysons Corner (image from Bing Maps). Or, many properties along this stretch of the infamous Executive Boulevard near White Flint (image from Google Earth):
* A rough assumption here is that each 1,000 sq. ft. apartment would have one parking space, which works out to about 3:1 residential:parking floor space. The ratio seems to work for the Houston example, which promises its residents the ability to park in-building rather than having to venture outdoors. Sufficient parking for rich Houstonians is probably enough for anyone.
I’ve recently published several articles over at GGWash.
Last week, I published a ULI Case Study about One North in Portland, an architecturally inventive response to my previous speculation that “new-build loft offices could be popular in similar downtown-adjacent submarkets, and transformative for Sunbelt cities where sparse ‘warehouse districts’ have little competing product.”
Indeed, the anchor tenant at One North is a mid-sized tech company that had outgrown its space in Portland’s Central Eastside. As in many other growing cities, there just wasn’t a cool old loft big enough, so instead they found a cool new loft.
I also had a chance last week to check in on T3, Hines’ new cross-laminated timber office building in Minneapolis. Less than a year after groundbreaking, the structure is complete and the facade is almost completely hung — almost a year faster than a comparably sized concrete building takes to build. The superstructure took less than 10 weeks to build.
The model is so successful that Hines is now replicating the T3 building at another location that’s even hungrier for lofts: Atlantic Station in Midtown Atlanta.
Here in DC, one great location could be the PDR-2 zoned land (90′ height permitted with setback, no residential) on the west side of the Met Branch Trail along Eckington and Edgewood, one of the hottest corridors in town. Another could be around Union Market/Gallaudet, where JBG’s Andrew VanHorn says “we see the tenant base there evolving. The pre-lease opportunities we’re talking to for our office building are all private market, very young companies, as far as their employee demographics.” Or maybe this is what his firm has in mind for the “creative loft office” at RTC West.
An aside: this is another strike against “Investment Ready Places.” It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s easier to move buildings to people than to move people to buildings. The “good bones” that economically unviable places have can have “good enough” replicas in New Urbanist settings like Atlantic Station and Reston Town Center. Not to mention that building all of the new infrastructure to overcome IRPs’ deficient locations, and then rehabilitating their buildings to code, would be much more expensive than just building anew in prime locations. It’s cheaper and easier to build new lofts in Reston than to rehab lofts in West Baltimore, and to build the new rail connection that would make West Baltimore feasible for NoVA’s growing companies.
Cities are built around people, not the other way around.
2017 update: Construction has started on an 800,000 sq ft HT building on the Brooklyn waterfront.
Architect John Portman was fond of putting “balconies” around the edges of his hotels’ massive atria. Perhaps this was part of the concurrent “conversation pit” trend that afflicted malls of that era, maybe people really did just pause and gawk at the tremendous volumes while walking to/fro the elevators, or maybe he liked the “columns around the Forum” look that they lend to the interior. Yet… nobody quite knows what to do with them today.
Who, after all, has need to stop and gather in a hotel hallway, the very definition of a neither-public-nor-private space? Why not go to the lobby, if it’s a public conversation, or into a room?
At the faux-Portman Twinbrook Hilton in Rockville,* the management was sick of complaints from atrium-facing rooms (one-third of the total) about nighttime noise. One option was to replace the atrium-facing windows with airport-style noise-insulating glass, but ultimately it proved cheaper to just wall off the entire atrium with a curtain-wall system – including putting these silly aluminum doors to wall off the balconies. Maybe someday they’ll put furniture out there, which surely will just gather dust. Or maybe there really are people who use these spaces, like maybe gossipy 8th graders on school trips who don’t want to keep their roommates/chaperones awake. (Isn’t that what Snapchat is for?)
Of course, that particular solution is still better than the temporary option I once spotted at the true-Portman Bonaventure, apparently aimed at LA’s exhibitionist-fitness-enthusiast crowd:
* I remember once staying here as a child and getting evacuated from the building by an overnight fire alarm, in my first (but definitely not last) high-rise fire alarm experience.
Chicago’s zoning code has a built-in bias against smaller apartments – except in a few high-density zoning districts, which cover a vanishingly tiny slice of the city.
The zoning ordinance regulates building size and density in three ways: through floor area ratio (FAR), “minimum lot area per unit” (MLA, a backwards way of saying dwelling units per acre), and through various setback regulations. Yet these don’t follow a linear relationship at all; instead, the interaction between FAR maximums and MLA minimums encourages larger buildings with fewer apartments in lower-density districts, and more apartments per building in higher-density districts.
What this graph shows is: If I have a standard city lot in a given zoning district, and I build the biggest possible building with the most possible units, how large would those units be? The answer varies tremendously across the city, from a low of ~600 square feet in high-density districts like RM-6 and DR-7, to “impossible” in the lowest-density districts (note 1).
Most of the city’s neighborhoods, from the Bungalow Belt through the Zone of Two-Flats (mostly zoned RS-3) and into the Zone of Three-Flats (mostly RT-4), is zoned for the lowest-density (left-most) third of this graph. From RM-4.5 on down, the average apartment that can be built at the maximum density must be 1,250 square feet or larger (the size of a large two-bedroom apartment). Sure, you could build studio and one-bedroom apartments, but then you’d have to build huge three- and four-bedroom apartments, too.
Only for RM-5 and above, high-density zoning classifications pretty much only found in a narrow band along the lakefront, do the average apartment sizes permitted begin to dip into one-bedroom territory.
Someone who wishes to build new smaller apartments, like one-bedrooms or studios, in order to accommodate shrinking households can only do so in neighborhoods like Lakeview or Logan Square by either (a) under-building the FAR, at a considerable opportunity cost, or (b) getting rezoned to a denser category. Anyone who goes the latter route might as well build a lot bigger and higher, too.
No less an authority on great streets and great cities than Holly Whyte, guiding spirit of the Project for Public Spaces, wrote in City: “But the most fascinating of Tokyo’s streets are its ordinary ones. Mile after mile, they are consistently more interesting than ours. In the Shinjuku district there are more streets to savor than in most U.S. cities put together, and for sheer sensory impact there is nothing to match its back alleys…” (And Whyte’s comparison set was NYC in the 1980s, which hardly lacked for “interesting” streets that packed in “sensory impact.”)
Tokyo disabused me of any notion that classical architecture was integral to creating walkable, human-scaled places, or that newness per se is the problem. Japanese cities show that fascinating places can exist with mediocre 20th-century architecture. And because they’ve shown that it’s possible to build fantastic, prosperous, massive, and efficient cities in the 20th century, they’re much more powerful examples for city-builders in our time than European antiquities.
Tokyo was a megacity in the pre-industrial era: it boasted a million residents back when New York was a mere town of 50,000 cowering on the edge of a vast wilderness. But Tokyo was leveled by an earthquake in 1923, then firebombed in World War II. Unlike other societies, which would use those catastrophes as excuses to re-plat and re-organize, the Japanese rebuilt their cities with largely the same warren of narrow streets and the same itty-bitty lots, but modernized the architecture with the very latest in cement-block schlock. It’s as if Rome were rebuilt by Angelenos in the 1970s. And it’s fantastic.
Here’s just a random intersection I walked through near Fudomae station, southwest of the city center and outside the Yamanote Line “beltway,” where a friend of mine happened to let me stay in her inexpensive flat. Yet it’s quiet, livable, affordable, fascinating to walk around, and completely illegal in America due to its narrow streets, mixed uses, Byzantine street pattern, high lot coverage, and high density — in other words, its small scale.
Many smaller buildings will create a much more lively streetscape, and more opportunities for cool urban spaces, than fewer but larger buildings. The critical deficiency in American cities, by comparison, is not limited to fixing a single profession, like architecture or even engineering. Rather, our entire system is tilted towards gigantism: our suburban-era parcel sizes, our High Modern-era zoning (which almost require large buildings), our mortgages, our street design manuals, our nonsensically upside-down parking requirements.
If the stupendous urbanism yields such terrific results in the hands of ordinary architects, it becomes sublime in the hands of masters like Tadao Ando.
The ULI Case Study that I wrote about Sofia Lofts, a 17-apartment development in a neighborhood in eastern San Diego, was recently posted. I was particularly intrigued by how the developer/architects used shared space to maximize usable open space while meeting the letter of the law with regard to parking requirements:
For the balance of the 21 [parking] spaces planned, six more garages are accessed via the courtyard. The plans show seven more spaces within the courtyard itself, immediately in front of the garages — but to keep the space inviting, the spaces in the courtyard are off limits for tenant parking. It’s a small net loss for NDD, which discounts the rent for some tenants who forgo on-site parking, but results in a common area that looks like an expansive garden, rather than a parking lot.
The materials used within the courtyard were also chosen to make the garden feel like a place where cars just happen to be allowed. Part of the driveway near the alley is paved with concrete, but the center of the property is covered in pea-sized gravel. The texture of the gravel slows down cars to walking speed, adds visual and auditory interest, and permits rainwater to filter through. Its inspiration comes from a house in Italy that the Nakhshab family lived in; as Soheil recalls, “The courtyard we would always play in had that type of gravel, and we are seeing the tenants’ children doing the same thing.”