February 20, 2015

Compatibility of Building Form

These two buildings across the street from each other in San Francisco were constructed nearly a century apart, but they both have the same form. Seven story mixed-use built to the sidewalk. The new building may look very different, architecturally speaking, from the old one, but it is identical in form. Often when people argue about compatibility of design in new construction they obsess about architectural style and ignore the form of the buildings. This is something many community "design review boards" miss; especially when it comes to single family homes. It doesn't have to look like a replica of existing buildings to be compatible with the character of the neighborhood.

February 7, 2015

Integrating multi-family housing into single-family neighborhoods.

The photos in this post show how to integrate multi-family housing into single-family neighborhoods. The two-story duplexes fit in easily and look like two-story single family homes. These buildings fit here partly because they are well-designed and consistent with the architectural character of the neighborhood. They also have the same front yard and side yard setbacks as the single family homes as well as detached garages. It's possible that a four plex of a similar size would also fit in easily, but that would depend on the neighborhood.  There's no good reason to start inserting too much density into a single-family neighborhood when there are other parts of the city that can more easily accommodate it. The images here just show that, if the community supports it, adding some modest density in single family neighborhoods can be done well. 

Cities planning new subdivisions should consider this sort of mixed density as a way of integrating different economic and social groups into neighborhoods. Definitely a better idea than large apartment complexes cordoned off from single-family by arterial streets and better than plopping a large apartment building right next to a single family home.  



February 6, 2015

You can learn a lot from a shopping center.

These are a few shots from Riverside Plaza in Riverside, CA. This small stretch of the Plaza is an example of how cities should build neighborhoods.  (The street could be narrower though.) Plenty of public space for people to sit and eat or just linger. The single ownership makes it easier to maintain and police these quasi public spaces than an public sidewalk, but the same sort of amenities could easily be provided on city sidewalks and paid for and maintain by a business improvement district.



It's unfortunate they didn't go all the way and better connect this shopping center to the streets around it. There's a mid century shopping district right across the street that could benefit from the connection. Oddly, they placed the traffic signal north of the street that could have easily connected with Riverside Plaza and made it easy for pedestrian to cross directly into that shopping center.

The intersection of Sunnyside Drive and Riverside Plaza is shown below. 

January 22, 2015

Supermarkets and large chain stores in an urban context

The images below are of grocery stores and a sporting goods store on Wilshire Boulevard in West Los Angeles and Santa Monica. The Ralphs is in LA and the other three are in Santa Monica. Each of these buildings presents itself to the public realm differently. The three Santa Monica examples, Whole Foods, Bristol Farms, and Big 5, have varying degrees of transparency from the sidewalk. My assumption is that Santa Monica requires this. Bristol Farms has a few windows and provides a sign directing customers to the entrance behind the building. Big 5 Sporting Goods at least has an entrance on the street. The Whole Foods is the best example of how to do a large format chain store that emphasizes connection to the sidewalk. The primary entrance faces Wilshire and they've placed patio dining and their florist department at the sidewalk. Excellent job. Ad kudos to the planner and residents who likely fought for this.

The Ralph's grocery store in LA is an example of how not  to do it. No entrance on the street. Not even windows. Ok, there are windows. They've got them covered with images of food, but when those images were not there the windows looked into a nothing space with blank walls. The Ralphs and Bristol Farms stores say to the many customers on foot that they would prefer they arrive by car. They say, walking along the driveway and enter from the back. The Whole Foods example proves it can be done well. It's a shame these busineses don't take advantage of the dense population nearby. Many of whom walk, or would walk, to the store if it were more hospitable to people on foot.  (See the final image below from Google maps.)



January 11, 2015

Finding room for more housing in West LA

If this Nordstrom department store at Westside Pavilion mall closes in 2017 to be relocated to an expanded Westfield Century City as planned, the location would be ideal for a mixed-use residential/commercial development. The site is a 5-6 minute walk from the future Westwood Expo Line station that will open in 2016. That station is surrounded by single family homes and the Nordstrom site is an opportunity to place additional housing near the station without affecting single family properties. Additionally, the homes behind the mall have long ago acclimated to the mass of this building so a similarly sized mixed-use project could face less resistance than if this building were not already here; provided that adequate separation between the building and the single family neighborhood is maintained. This would also be consistent with the zone changes being proposed by the City of LA.

Nordstrom on the corner of Pico Boulevard and Westwood. A mixed-use project would also be an opportunity to open up this corner and eliminate the fortress like appearance of the mall.

An easy six minute walk from Nordstrom to Westwood station.

January 4, 2015

Decent Urban Form

You might not like the color. You might not like the architecture and you might not like the chain stores, but this is a pretty good project. 

This commercial development on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles has a Ross Dress for Less, CVS Pharmacy, and several chain restaurants. Nothing to get too excited about and no "game changing" tenants. The positives of the project are its height and the placement of the building at the sidewalk and the fact that all the stores have entrances that face the street. I can take or leave the architecture. I'm sure there's lots to criticize, but at least the facade is broken up a little and it doesn't look like one massive building (which it is). You can imagine how different this project would look were it built in a traditional suburban style behind a sea of asphalt parking.

The entrance to the parking is aligned with the cross street so although it's not a real street it is placed in a location that drivers and pedestrians would expect cars to be entering and exiting.  

This is the project looking east. There are awnings and patio dining. My biggest complaint is the lack of shade trees.