Home design is critical to advance civil engineering. Increased density compacts space, which sacrifices livability, efficiency, curb appeal, views, and environment. Arguing that the environment is not harmed by increased density ignores the fact that while the lot and home sizes are reduced, other infrastructure elements such as streets, walks, and garages remain the same size. Thus, the ratio of housing footprint to paved areas is likely to increase, and “organic” (landscaped) space is sacrificed.
Figure 1 shows “coving” for urban redevelopment. Note the varied setbacks forcing individual lot shapes. In this plan, the homes are redesigned to fit within the lot. Homes along an inside of arc have garages that extend to the side, increasing the front width of the home, thus providing more curb appeal. Homes that arc to the outside are wider at their rear, offering better views from within the home to their larger rear yards.
Coving lot width begins at the narrowest regulation-allowed distance along the home and then widens without a density loss. With past coved design, every lot was unique. Each lot had a different angle from one side to the next.
During the recession, research allowed discovery of a solution: If the angle of one side lot line to the opposite is held to a minimum, then a home would be wider at the front or rear without requiring excessive floor plans. The 700-lot Transona at Addison Village, Viera, Fla., is the first neighborhood using this more advanced design form.
What makes Transona in VIERA revolutionary is that designers started from scratch. Every lot and every home harnesses Architectural Shaping — there are no rectangular-based floor plans! This higher level of design geometry requires a tight collaboration between architects, the planner, the engineer, and the surveyor, who must stake out an organic, free-flowing site layout with homes properly placed on each of the 700 lots.
The architect was provided a predetermined maximum, non-rectangular building envelope for each of the home series (lot widths). The floor plan was not designed in a void, instead coordinating with spac-es in the proposed site plan to create the best views from within living spaces. This higher level of design mandates an intimate communication and collaboration between design professionals at the beginning stages of the design; no detail is an afterthought.
In other words, to advance the neighborhoods in which we dwell, which make up the cities we live in, we need to reinvent and disrupt the consulting industry as well as reteach professors who will produce the next generation of designers.
Reducing architectural waste coincides with reducing land development design waste — the geometrics are similar. LandMentor technology was used to compare the original floor plan to an interior and exterior shaped floor plan (see Figure 2). An original 35-foot-wide floor plan is on the left. The interior lot in the middle has no hallway space. Stairs consume 2.5 percent of the area compared with 8.1 percent hallway of the rectangular plan. Shifting the garage gains significant front views from within living spaces and provides width for the full front porch. The exterior-lot home on the right is 35 feet wide at its front and 41 feet wide at the rear. With no hallway (waste), it provides more quality views from within its living spaces compared with the rectangular plan.
For higher-density single-family homes, Architectural Shaping provides more room to increase efficiency and deliver quality views. Architectural Blending coordinates interior and exterior spaces. Thus, space management becomes a primary function of site planning, civil engineering, and the all-important surveying stakeout process (see Figure 3).
Homes set at angles to each other provide views out corner windows to the surrounding space. The open great room space demonstrates the huge difference architectural blending can make on a 33-footwide living area (see Figure 4). Limiting the number of windows compresses the “feel” of space (left panel in Figure 4). The middle panel shows how space increases if windows extend to a corner. If windows wrap around a corner, the perception of space increases significantly. The room remains the exact same size.
Compare the above to a similar high-density grid neighborhood as seen in Figure 5. Few homes have side windows because there is nothing to see. Compare Figure 5 to the similar-density Transona (Figure 6). Homes in red are 35 feet wide. Higher-density housing has the same feel and perception of space along the streetscape as lower-density (yellow and brown). The angled relationship between homes provides coordinated view corridors, which expand space far beyond the minimum front yard setbacks while eliminating monotony. Wide (usable) meandering walks set in easements as they leave the right-of-way invite a stroll rather than a drive and enhance the sense of space through scale even more!
This “free” space did not reduce any required widths or setbacks as you would assume. The more efficient coved design reduced public infrastructure (street length) by 38 percent compared to the previous grid layout. Again, by reporting and recognizing waste, you can learn methods to eliminate it. Less wasted right-of-way allows more space for lots. This reduces environmental and economic impacts as well as maintenance burden to the municipality — forever. However, for consultants who charge a percentage of construction costs, this is bad news indeed. The new era of design mandates a different billing model, perhaps per lot or a flat fee.
The consumer purchases a home by how large it seems, thus, if it simply feels much larger it should sell faster, justifying increased density without sacrificing desirability. A home-buying public made aware of these new products will foster change with their purchase decisions, the same way other industries progress. This is as dramatic as comparing a dial phone of the 1960s to the I-Phone (see Figure 7).
More than any other profession involved with land development, civil engineers will have the greatest influence in making this change in the way the world grows. Will the next 276+ square miles of growth continue to use methods rooted in your grandfather’s day, or are you willing to retool, re-educate, and collaborate with other design professionals?
Will your new skills and knowledge be given without reservation for the public good to give the utmost to enhance the living standards, safety, function, beauty, value, and environmental impact of the world’s growth? It really is up to you.
RICK HARRISON is founder of Rick Harrison Site Design Studio (www.rhsdplanning. com).