Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Architecture & Neighborhoods: TND or Not TND

Truman Burbank (Jim Carey) strolls through
Sea Haven (Seaside) in The Truman Show

The movie director Peter Weir was looking for an idealistic and dreamlike community in which to set his characters for his acclaimed 1998 movie The Truman Show.  He found that community in Seaside, a TND (explained later) located on the white sands of the Florida panhandle. I would speculate that no other planned community has been more discussed, and no other planned community has had its merits more hotly debated. 

Are Seaside and other similar TNDs really  idealistic and dreamlike? What is the appropriate role of the architecture? How can the architecture be integrated into the fabric of the community? Do the assets of TNDs outweigh their liabilities?

Seaside ushered in a movement to combat the deficiencies of the typical suburb with a "rediscovered" way of planning.  The resulting communities are called TNDs.  Following is a great description, found on The Town Paper website:

"The acronym TND stands for Traditional Neighborhood Development, a comprehensive planning system that includes a variety of housing types and land uses in a defined area. The variety of uses permits educational facilities, civic buildings and commercial establishments to be located within walking distance of private homes. A TND is served by a network of paths, streets and lanes suitable for pedestrians as well as vehicles. This provides residents the option of walking, biking or driving to places within their neighborhood. Present and future modes of transit are also considered during the planning stages.

Public and private spaces have equal importance, creating a balanced community that serves a wide range of home and business owners. The inclusion of civic buildings and civic space -- in the form of plazas, greens, parks and squares -- enhances community identity and value."

TNDs are a subject of particular interest to me. I have visited many such developments and monitored the development of a few. I am an architect and a LEED Accredited Professional with specialties in Homes and Neighborhood Development.  My wife and I (and our dog) currently live in a TND.  We were present (my wife and I, not the dog) when Andres Duany, the planner of Seaside, gave his pitch to the public at a local high school. As an architect then in the process of designing an adjacent private school, I was involved in the initial planning charettes.  I worked through the pattern book and submitted (then re-submitted) my design.  We have even received the dreaded letter from the HOA informing me of a violation! In short, I have skin in this game!  Please allow me to share my insights and attempt to address the questions posed earlier.

TNDs generally do a good job of increasing residential density and introducing a diversity of uses.  The communities are planned using "transects" which increase density as one moves from rural areas to the urban core.  The communities do not comply with typical zoning requirements which separate buildings by uses.  Rather, they are based on model codes which allow for a mix of residential and commercial building types. This is the way many communities were planned prior to the middle of the 20th century. Unfortunately, many TNDs never develop the residential density to support an urban core, but when they do, TNDs really do fulfill their promises related to planning.

Ironically some TNDs suffer from one of the primary criticisms levied at Levitown and its imitators - lack of diversity in the architecture.  Many TNDs limit the builders and architects/designers to such an extent that the development starts to look monolithic. Some even allow the same plans to be repeated with only minor changes in materials or attachments such as porches.

Celebration, FL by Disney
For me, the primary shortcoming of many TNDs is in the connection to their individual works of architecture.  The planner typically gives the developer a lot of discretion in the way the architecture should be handled. The developer then formulates a pattern book which establishes the look and feel of the architecture.  While I understand the desire to maintain some degree of control over the architecture, I do not understand why developers choose to force talented architects and designers to design the architecture to mimic styles of the past.  Present-day plan requirements and the durable and efficient materials used are much different than on the buildings they are attempting to mimic. The results are necessarily a compromised version of the original,  clad with thinner hardiplank siding rather than chunky board siding, composition shingles rather than wood shakes, fixed shutters in the closed position concealing where a window should be placed, and an impossible attempt to hide a three car garage.

Why not adopt the virtues of TND planning and allow the architecture to be of its time, if the owner and architect desire?  The mix can be quite satisfactory because of the diversity it introduces, the kind of diversity that is apparent in all of the most satisfying town and cities. To some extent this mix is evident at Seaside.  This mix has been more fully adapted and proven quite successful in TNDs such as  Prospect, CO.  It is my hope that TNDs for of the future will be more stimulating and diverse and less dull and monolithic.  That would tip the scales in favor of "To TND".

Prospect, CO
Houses, like neighborhoods, tend to evolve slowly, but every so often something enters the scene that introduces changes too significant to be ignored.  The automobile is such a thing. In the next post we'll look at the connection of the automobile to architecture in Go Further.