Tag Archives: Duany Plater-Zyberk

Today’s “Eco-Warriors”: Giving Them Something Worth Fighting For

This week I’d like to share a few thoughts on infill and sustainability that coalesced while preparing this week for another Pecha Kucha presentation on Retrofitting Suburbia.

I’ll begin with a little background. My daughter came home from her International Baccalaureate Elementary School with a new sticker in her daily planner proclaiming her an “Eco-Warrior!” Continue reading

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Fat-tastic! Can Small Thinking Solve Our Super-Sized Problems?

According to a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — more commonly known for crunching global budget and employment numbers  — the United States is on track to be 75% obese by 2020.

3 out of every 4. And if you check with researchers at Johns Hopkins University, they’ll tell you to expect 86% by 2030. Continue reading

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Brave New Codes Reach Tipping Point: When, Where, Why?

A year ago, Apple’s sales of its iPhone and iPod Touch eclipsed 40 million units, confirming their potential to fundamentally retool our future opportunities and patterns of daily life.

Today, a year later, form-based codes hit a similar milestone, with similar implications, as over 330 cities and towns around the worldrepresenting over 40 million people — have embraced the idea of form-based coding as an alternative to the sprawl-inducing zoning models of the past century.

We’ve hit the tipping point. Welcome to the other side. Continue reading

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Heaven Help Us: Ambitious Project Both Reaffirms, Tests Faith in Sustainable Future

I was a post-Vatican II, suburban Catholic.

For anyone of shared experience, that typically meant attending a church that was designed and built to serve the rapidly growing, happy motoring suburban leisure class. Equal parts woody earth tones and ample parking, it was a transient testament to our nation’s awkward adolescence: a monolithic UFO of contemporary styling.

But it was also testament to the church’s theological tension at the time, which manifested itself in doctrinal inclinations towards avoiding that which had been done before. To this day, according to architect Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, this unresolved traditional/modern conflict “requires a sorting out of intellectual goals and the emotional or visceral effect that a space can have on a people’s spiritual stance.”

I was just a kid at the time but, even then, the less-than-subtle disconnect between these newfangled buildings and the deep rituals taking place inside of them did not go unnoticed.

Theological considerations aside, that’s just poor branding.

But now that the sheen of the suburban promise has faded and our recent history’s tendency towards folly is increasingly revealed, the timing is perfect for some signs of hope.

One such sign arrived today, with this morning’s Atlanta Journal Constitution. But it’s a mixed blessing.

Mary Our Queen Catholic Church, a growing, 15 year old suburban congregation in Norcross, Georgia, is looking for a permanent home. But rather than build something new, they’re looking to purchase a spectacular, historic Buffalo, New York, basilica and move it nearly a thousand miles south, piece by piece, to be reassembled.

The church calls it “preservation through relocation” and claims new construction of equal quality would cost more than twice as much. The whole project seems like a solid exercise in pragmatic preservation, nicely aligned with what Original Green architect Steve Mouzon describes as the key attributes of truly sustainable buildings: lovability, durability, flexibility and frugality.

Such permanence, history and reinforced cultural identity are touchstones of common sense sustainability. But don’t rejoice just yet. There’s at least one devil in the details.

Take a look at the church in its present location:

           

Now consider this rendering of its future home:

Conspicuous in the new plans is the apparent absence of a surrounding neighborhood. Thus, a structure that once stood as the spiritual heart of a physical community will now be repackaged as the idealized temple on a hill.

Not that I have anything against grandeur or symbolism. Each has their place. But the church suggests this rebirth will add centuries to the building’s life. Assuming that’s true, what are the ramifications when the building is embedded in a physical context that many believe has increasingly diminished prospects?

Or, as Mouzon puts it, “Only after a place has been made sustainable does it make sense to discuss sustainable buildings.”

That’s not outside the parish’s reach. It simply depends on their vision. If their goal is to remain a relevant spiritual hub over decades (if not centuries), they may want to broaden their approach to reflect the fact that their days as an auto-dependent destination may be numbered.

Could the church transcend its sprawl-intensive landscape to once again, as circumstances change, serve as the heart of a vibrant physical community? Maybe yes. Gwinnett County, where the church is located, has been the site of some intriguing suburban mall retrofit proposals and, on an even more related note, Grenfell Architecture has spelled out a great proposal for transitioning a sprawling, suburban lot to a denser, transit-friendly urban neighborhood, developed over time by a church that would sit at its center.

It all goes to show just how fractured the whole conversation is. In no way discounting the church’s efforts, they’re just one more example of how far we’ve yet to go. If only there were some resource that put all the issues – transportation, land use, environmental and historic preservation, energy depletion, community sustainability, cultural identity, agriculture, and more – on the same page so individual efforts could better plug into a more cohesive big picture.

We could call it the Good Book.

–Scott Doyon

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DPZ Promotes Mall Makeovers

Firm Suggests Model Legislation in Florida

Will Florida put the “suburban retrofitting” movement on the fast track?

Making it easier to do something about this.

Making it easier to do something about this.

Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. (DPZ) is providing state officials with a legislative template to do just that. On April 20, the Miami-based design and planning firm submitted to Florida’s Division of Community Assistance a suggested draft for a State of Florida Sprawl Repair Act. It’s intent: To enable, among other things, “the retrofit of shopping malls and shopping centers into dense, walkable, mixed-use town centers.”

In an appendix, the document even provides a list of 48 enclosed shopping malls that may be ripe for retrofitting. The effort, says DPZ principal Galina Tahchieva,  “is about stirring ideas about how to incentivize the private sector through easier permitting and infrastructure funding.” And the hope, of course, is that other states embrace similar initiatives.

“The repair, retrofit, and repurposing of commercial nodes — these malls and shopping centers — should be the first in a number of sprawl interventions,” says Tahchieva. That’s because they promise maximum bang for the investment buck.

“These nodes command the largest monetary and real estate investments in suburbia, and in most cases, they’re still under single ownership,” she says. What’s more, if dead or dying malls are redeveloped and intensified as complete town centers with residential and office components to supplement the retail, “transit between these intensified nodes will then start making sense.”

The next target, says Tahchieva, “should be the failing residential subdivisions.  The choices are: evolution into mixed use neighborhoods, if they are lucky with location and have potential for intensification and leadership, or devolution, abandonment or conversion to park or agricultural land. The future growth of Florida is dependent on such actions.”

Tahchieva headed a DPZ design team that, during a February charrette in Atlanta, explored design alternatives for an out-of-date mall in the city’s northern ‘burbs. See our coverage here.

The broader retrofitting initiative is already influencing form-based coding efforts. The Center for Applied Transect Studies is working on a SmartCode module for suburban retrofitting – and, incidentally, for the emerging “agricultural urbanism” movement. See CATS’s new modules here.

— Ben Brown

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