The Town Architect, continued

Building community—both social and physical—requires considerable refinement of large-scale master plans.  It also requires that individual buildings be woven into the plan in a manner that creates an urban fabric that supports community.

If every building was designed by a well-trained architect, sympathetic to the built context, working hand-in-hand with their client, there would be little need for a “town architect,” design codes, design review boards and the like.  However, many buildings are not designed such an architect but by someone trained only in drafting software -- not design.  Furthermore, the “franchise” architecture of many commercial establishments, while reflecting a clear “brand,” typically ignores regional architectural tradition, response to local climate or urban responsibilities suggested by the context of the building.  Most homes built in this country, whether single-family detached, townhouse or multi-family buildings are built by production builders who consider them simply “product” or “units”.  Single-family housing in particular has become a commodity that is mass-produced and sold to consumers rather than designed and built for clients.

In many new communities, consumers simply say “I’ll have this model on that lot” and the builder or
developer salutes, builds it and moves on.  To be fair, in new communities architects and designers may have little information about the context of their building, so it often matters little which house sits on which lot anyway.  As a result, the design of the whole place suffers.  With an understanding of the goals of a publicly-traded builder or the “branded box” of a franchise tenant, MWA refines the architecture to not only meet the demands of the developer, builder, and/or client but to contribute and enhance the quality of the public realm as well.  In doing so, they raise banal, commoditized “architecture” to a higher standard.  High standards aren’t enough—they must work for developers, builders and designers, too.

A degree of finesse is required to gauge and implement the appropriate level of guidance and control when building a community.  Too little can yield sloppy, ineffective and disappointing results; too much can strangle the very community one seeks to facilitate.  Navigating the desired course is the Town Architect’s challenge.

Refining the Master Plan

  • Design development of the master plan (whether prepared by MWA or by others) to:
    • verify a correct interpretation of the original design by the civil engineers
    • identify and address issues that may arise when building a compact place
    • comment on the “buildability” of each lot with regard to size, shape, slope, etc.
    • refine the plan to respond to new issues such as changes in the market, program, site conditions (loss of a previously saved tree, revised wetland mapping, etc.), as well as successes and failures of prior phases
  • Review of infrastructure construction documents for thoroughfare details, grading, drainage and infrastructure elements, and the selection and placement of such elements as: utility equipment (transformers, telephone pedestals, cable boxes, etc.), storm drains, fire hydrants, crosswalk detailing, lane striping and signage, bike racks, street lights, street trees and street furniture.  The mindless placement of a fire hydrant mid-block on Main Street can knock-out two or three parking spaces removing the protection parked cars offer pedestrians, frustrating customers who think they’ve found a parking place, and eliminating easily accessible parking -- a crucial contribution to the success of the adjacent business.
  • Review and/or direct the conceptual design of civic spaces, including grading, hardscaping, landscaping and furnishings.

Integrating the Architecture with the Master Plan

  • Preparation of Detailed Regulating Plans to provide lot-specific urban design recommendations.
  • Preparation of Design Standards or a Pattern Book.  These are prepared in widely varying degrees of detail depending largely on the Founder’s vision of the place.  Design Standards tend to specify only the tectonic principles, which form the basis of the architectural designs, while Pattern Books frequently include explanation, illustrative diagrams and photographs, and, at times, even styles.
  • Introduction of builders and buyers to the design requirements and the design review process.
  • Coach the designers and Builders Guild on compliance with design standards
  • Recommend designers, architects and/or builders as needed.

Refining the Architecture

  • As Town Architect we serve as the keeper of the architectural vision of the place.  In this capacity, we review the proposed designs and provide direction and inspiration to owners, architects and designers, landscape architects and builders.
  • Participate in the design of commercial and civic buildings with an emphasis on a building's contribution to the public realm.

Additional Responsibilities

  • Review and inform the work of related consultants, such as branding consultants, marketing consultants, ad agencies, sales staff, etc., to help them understand and appreciate the differences, merits and values of a new traditional neighborhood.
  • Review property owners’ association documents, not from a legal perspective, but that of one who has lived and/or worked in new traditional neighborhoods for nearly 30 years.  Time on the front lines and front porches has sharpened our appreciation for what matters and what doesn’t.
  • Field review of infrastructure, civic spaces and buildings for conformance to the design intentions expressed in the Regulating Plan and Design Code.
  • Education and marketing through lectures, field trips, tours and the like.
  • Construction materials and techniques research.