Archive for the ‘Design’ Tag

Video on New Urbanism Neighborhoods

Take a bit of time to watch this video made by the Congress for New Urbanism. It explains why America has become so suburbanized and car obsessed. Building codes generally forbid building mixed used development as a way to avoid “the hassles of city life.” Having building codes where only one type of zone (such as commercial or residential) separates these different types of areas from being integrated together. In my mind the stratification caused by consistent one-type zoning is similar to the Jim Crow laws- a regression and obstacle for integration and social equity.

This video puts a lot of emphasis on low carbon emission neighborhoods, and I believe they are targeting the wrong characteristics and benefits of New Urbanism. Yes, low carbon is good but it likely isn’t a primary deciding factor of most Americans. Americans would rather live in somewhere exciting- a place that is unique in its own right. Some people might like where they live because it’s a small town. Others might like where they live because they have little space to maintain, or a lot of space for a large house with a large backyard and pool. Economists have always said you cannot explain preferences of people, so urban planners need to account for the different living styles some prefer. This is the greatest challenge for planners. At the same time very few Americans have lived in a planned New Urbanist/ Old Urbanist/ Traditional Neighborhood style environment, and have yet to decide if it is good or not, only the connotation formed by their previous experiences. Hopefully some of these videos will change some minds.

Max Stember-Young, Rutgers University Student Intern, VERTICES LLC

For additional information on New Urbanism, check out


Vision for Visioning

Nice 4 story houses overlooking a square near centre city London

Nice 4 story houses overlooking a square near centre city London

It’s hard to have to pull together a consensus on a whole community of people, if not impossible. Determining which public inputs and ideas are better may lead to compromising some other goals determined by the community. A community likely cannot be walkable and transit oriented if the goal of the community is for everyone to own a car. The trade offs between values like these are ones where community visioners must extract the most important details from.

Talking amongst the community members may eventually take shape into an idea of what the community wants to look like, but there are other tools that are much more effective and time efficient. In today’s world of globalization, there are many communities that feature more than one primary language. Talking might not just be an option to gather a fair public input. This brings me to the most important tool in visioning: visual representation. Visual representation can be anything from charts to blue prints to computer designed buildings and areas. Upon seeing these representations, people can choose whether or not they agree the mechanisms brought forth by the visioner has a place in their community. Visual representation of ideas is the best way to communicate because there is a clearer understanding of what is being presented with little room for self interpretation and there is no foreign language that needs interpreting.  There are many more case-specific reasons visual representations are great tools for community visioning, but this should tickle the mind of anyone seeking a community visioning process.

Max Stember-Young, Rutgers University Student Intern, Vertices LLC

Revisiting Community Visioning in Lexington, KY

A view of the rehabilitated area in Lexington, KY

A view of the rehabilitated area in Lexington, KY

Lexington, KY has been a city of earlier discussion on this site, so I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the city. One of the main sections of the city, the area surrounding Triangle Park, had been severely under utilized. Like a typical American city, disinvestment in the downtown areas in favor of suburban areas left this area of Lexington in need of a make over. But residents did not want to scrap the old architecture that had stood for many years and was part of the culture of the city. Instead, buildings in Victoria Square were allowed to stay even amongst new building codes thanks to the willingness of a few local preservation and revitalization advocates.

What had been a haven for rats, pigeons, graffiti, and the homeless, has now been transformed into an enjoyable square with restaurants and studio apartments overlooking Triangle Park.

The revitalization of this area of Lexington is a great example of how planning a community with the involvement of local residents can be a great tool for a successful rehabilitation project.

Take a moment to look at the picture (from above. Notice how nearly all the buildings are 3 stories, each building has a small relatively small building street fronts, and the buildings are real close together (in fact they are touching). This is typical of older style urban design and is very desirable for people. The streetscape of small banners, lights, and trees also contributes to this being a desirable area, and is an sample for good urban design.

Max Stember-Young, Rutgers University Student Inter, Vertices, LLC

Sustainable design

Today’s topic comes on more sustainable design and implementing it into everyday life. Probably the two biggest obstacles in incorporating sustainable design are cost and sacrifices in comfort. However, it appears that these two obstacles are just myths, and in fact building sustainable “green” buildings may actually be cheaper to both build and maintain, as well as maintain a high level of comfort.

Spacecoast Architects of Indialantic, Florida have set a good standard in building design that I will use as an example today.

Spacecoast’s president, Lawrence Maxwell’s “protype” school design is  The Odyssey Charter School. According to an article run by, Odyssey uses only 30% of the energy required for “typical schools.”

The building scored a 95 out of 100 for the Energy Star evaluation. Buildings only need 70 points to qualify as an Energy Star. Such a high score is a tribute to Spacecoast’s dedication to sustainable design.

I want to quote directly from the article because I think it describes perfectly the point I want to get across:

“The school demonstrates how to program high-energy performance into a building’s DNA using principles of building orientation, natural lighting, natural ventilation, advanced thermal envelope design, active and passive thermal storage, and demand management.”

Orientation and natural lighting are important to schools. School activities for the most part take place during the day, so it makes sense to use as much natural lighting as possible. But, in a climate like Florida’s, it’s important to not absorb too much heat into the building. It’s hot enough in Florida and making a school into a solar hot box would not be ideal. Instead, the building orientation had many windows facing the north end of the building, where light would still come through but it would be indirect as to avoid lots of the heating inside.

Again quoting directly from the site: “This aesthetically attractive, 47,000-square-foot school also cost half as much to build as a conventional school, $70 per square foot compared to $150 per square foot, without sacrificing comfort or facilities.”

Interesting, huh?

Max Stember-Young, Intern, Vertices LLC

The related article to this post can be found at:

Building Design and Visioning

Sjöstad, Sweden

Sjöstad, Sweden

Building design is becoming more integrated into modern visioning. Preferences and styles of everyone cannot be fully explained as economists say, but there are some aspects of building design that are in high demand. For instance, in urban culture it is now in style to design buildings that encourage human interaction. This may seem tough to translate building styles into human interaction, but let me explain.

As a case study, I present to you Sjöstad, a suburb of Stockholm, Sweden. Sjöstad was built in a previously brownfield area around Stockholm, but since 1996 it has experienced planning and growth as residents have started to move in town. There is already shops, parks, and transit available for all the newcomers. But Sjöstad is interesting because due to the planning specifications and outlines, Sjöstad was thought to attract more older couples with its medium sized balconies and 5 to 6 story buildings, but instead “young couples 25 to 35 predominate.” Maybe it is the nearby skiing.

But in all seriousness, according to there are a few aspects that make Sjöstad more desirable and hip. One of those was mentioned before- the balconies. Balconies encourage people to be outside while still at home. They also encourage people to be involved in street life activity. For example, if someone happened to be out on their porch and saw a friend walk by on the way to the shops, they would be able to see each other, talk about the kids, or make plans for the night. People would also inevitably talk to their neighbors if they were out having morning coffee on their balcony as well.

In addition to balconies, planners and architects used some other basic building design principals that I will quote straight from the Irish Times:

“Architecturally, a five-point programme was laid down. New buildings had to follow “traditional Stockholm inner-city character” but with larger apartments, greater variation between buildings in terms of emphasis on outdoor spaces, balconies and terraces, flat roofs and greater variation of materials.”

I wish to point out the variation between buildings. Here in New Jersey, not too far from Rutgers University, there are many communities where you cannot tell one neighborhood, let alone a block from another. There are entire communities made up of the exact same 3 or 4 “cookie cutter” houses. Every place ends up looking the same and as a result, places lose their individuality. The details of building design described above help create a special place- and Sjöstad has noted people enjoy it by entertaining 12,000 tourists a year (according to Irish Times), and its not even completed yet!

The last point I want to hit on is the newer planners and architects that went into executing the Sjöstad plan. Instead of highly experienced architects and planners, younger, fresh minds and ideas were employed that focused on these new concepts that buildings encourage interaction. There was also a good deal of focus on sustainability. I would argue that a large proportion of experienced architects and planners do not focus enough on the sustainability aspect. I will be sure to talk about more sustainable design in the future.

Max Stember-Young, Rutgers University Intern, Vertices LLC

The article from the Irish Times can be found here