Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Narrow Lot Urban Housing

These are some preliminary design drawings of elevations for a narrow lot urban housing project in Denver, CO. An interesting yet frustrating design problem in several ways, primarily because of an obtuse and unnecessary zoning plane envelope and very restrictive maximum floor elevation, ridge, eave and exterior wall bearing plate heights. The restrictions are very unevenly applied and seem more designed to protect the  rights and needs of the adjoining properties. While some of those needs are definitely legitimate and need some oversight, many of the restrictions are unduly prohibitive and are definitely not in the interests of generating good urban design. I'm a veteran of the Chicago zoning wars regarding urban infill housing, so for me to call these zoning ordinances and overlays obtuse and arbitrary means they are exactly that.

All that being said, these are narrow housing designs that had some of the following restrictions: A maximum ridge height of 27.5 feet; a maximum roof pitch of 9 over 12; a maximum exterior wall bearing plate elevation of 20'; a maximum ceiling height of 9' at the first floor and 8' and the second floor; and, finally a very restrictive FAR on site coverage. In other words, a building designed to max out the zoning envelope just to make a financially viable project.
Exterior Design Option using copper and cedar shake roofs, high density composite
material trim, 5-1/2" exposure cedar shake siding with mitered corners and a tuscan
red brick "plinth" base. See image below for description of drawing media. This is 
the most straightforward and simple of the schemes studied so far and the zoning
departments favorite. That should tell you a lot, right?
The buildings are approximately 22' wide by 55', excluding the first floor sun room extensions and bay windows at the 2nd floors. Note that by extending the bay windows as window seats only they are excluded from the gross floor area and keep the project at the threshold of the allowable FAR. The remaining portion of the design study focused on the materiality and fenestration issues and a working contextual vocabulary in a neighborhood of late 19th / early 20th century houses dominated by the iconoclastic American "Four Square" house type.
Exterior Design Option using copper and metal shingle "checker board" roof, high density
composite material trim and wide exposure mitered corner lap siding and Tuscan red brick
plinth base. All of the drawings presented in this post are hand drawn at 1/4" scale on Bien-
fang yellow tracing paper in pencil and ink and rendered with Prismacolor pencils on the back,
Chartpak AD markers on the front and back and light pastel washes on the back . The draw-
ings took 5 to 7 hours each to complete, excluding pencil setup. 
Different material options were studied for a variety reasons, the foremost being that the houses will often be built as pairs or in groups on adjoining lots with minimal side yards and detached rear yard garages. Ultimately, only these houses built as pairs will absolutely share common material vocabularies. The opportunities presented in varying the materiality  of houses in larger groups will be studied on a case by case basis. A full masonry version is currently being studied that eliminates the sidewall bay windows in favor of more privacy oriented fenestration.
Of all the schemes presented here this is my personal favorite. Copper and slate or wood shingle roofing with stained exterior wood trim, wide exposure wood lap siding with mitered outside corners and a deep red brick "plinth" base are the major materials here. Very simple as a form but still requiring a high level of craftsmanship to pull off. Those outside mitered corners can be a bitch to pull off in lap wood siding so the smart move would be to us a high density composite material like Azec which could also be used for the trim to create a truly maintenance free exterior with no sacrifice in terms of design quality. 
This is the rear yard elevation in terms of roof and fenestration design. The rear yard elevation was developed in response to assumed narrow lot width constraints including front entry and a detached rear yard garage with alley access. Different entry, sun room and porch options are possible with each design options shown here, including a covered roof connection between the house and garage.
Exterior Design Option for Corner Lot showing Transverse (non-entry) street front elev-
ation. Note the use of alternating shingle exposure coursing (two/one/two). The classic
shingle detail with its implied rustication is very effective here. Otherwise, the same ex-
terior materials and roofing as the image at the top of this post.
Okay, if you've stuck around this long I can already hear you asking, "where are the damn floor plans?" Not to worry but we do have a slight problem. They're too big to scan as a single image. So until I get to Staples later this week, elevations are going to have to do. That being said, these un-rendered elevations are part of the final design iteration of a proposed corner lot scheme using the same design footprint, basic composition and massing. I really pleased with this scheme for a lot of reasons but since the longitudinal elevations also won't fit on my scanner, I'll have to wait a day or two to post those images along with plans.

Hand drawn at 1/4" scale on Bienfang yellow tracing paper with 3H / 4H pencils, Micron
ink pens and Sharpie fine point markers. Render the windows on the back of the paper
to create the filtered effect shown here.
Proposed rear elevation for corner lot scheme. As for all schemes, note the deep (36") roof overhangs and the use of simple paired roof brackets. That's all for the day. Plans, site and side elevations coming soon.

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