William Armstrong’s Cragside home was pioneering in its use of renewable energy.

Part of the age we live in seems to be rediscovering that old ways of doing things were actually better. For example, the recent realization that the makeup of towns to encourage vibrancy through density and the support of multi-income levels versus single-strata communities is better – a millennia-old concept only deviated from with the advent of the car and suburban tract developments. Part of the human condition seems to be learning from (some) mistakes.

In the 1860s, William Armstrong was “green” before it was dreamt of. In addition to planting 7 million (yes, million) trees at his Cragside estate, he was big into renewable energy at the dawn of the electrical era. He said coal “was used wastefully and extravagantly in all its applications” and that Britain would run out of coal in 200 years. He was also keen to harness solar power saying that a single acre located in sunny climates would generate the power equivalent to 4,000 horses toiling for nine hours a day.

(more…)

Dallas earned a gold star for green building! A new report by Abodo.com ranks the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex tops for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified residential building. In fact, Texas leads the nation with the most LEED-certified residential construction projects by a substantial margin. With 6,945 LEED-certified residential projects underway in Texas, more than half of them – 3,797, to be precise – are located in Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington. California comes in second with 5,255. Nice work, Big D.

But before we get too excited about our achievements in sustainability, there are other statistics we ought to consider. Abodo cites data from the US Census Bureau showing that in July of 2017 alone, there were 1.16 million residential project starts. Of those, a measly 38,350 are designed to LEED standards.

(more…)

BA Norrgard Buzzfeed Tiny House

Have you ever tried to imagine what life would be like in a tiny house? Well, lifestyle repackaging expert, tiny home blogger, and Dallas native BA Norrgard offered a few BuzzFeed staffers the chance to live in her tiny house for a few hours. The results? Lots of laughs and a little introspection. Jump for the video!

(more…)

Mockingbird June 4

We’ve reported on this incredible box-like residence on Mockingbird in Highland Park, a home that caused some friction with neighbors thanks to its unique design and use of materials. With a building envelope you’d most often find covering a warehouse and some really innovative use of natural materials, Russell Buchanan’s “Mockingbird House” caught the eyes of AIA Dallas, which gave the home an Honor Award.

IMG_1177

The house is a two-story, 4,140-square-foot home that is basically a rectangular box served by a vestibule that, when lit up at night, glows amber thanks to the onyx slab construction. The owners, whose trade is in wholesale stone, used several different types of granite, quartz, and marble in the home’s construction.

Buchanan, who likened the home to a giant refrigerator box, says the insulated panels provide a construction efficiency that is unmatched, and have the added benefit of providing sound-dampening properties that keep the home quiet despite the busy street just outside.

When I toured this home during a Dallas Architecture Forum event, what really struck me was the versatility that this type of construction could lend. And considering that the home was pretty much finished in a year, well, that’s incredibly fast for a well-insulated home.

Congratulations to Buchanan for his forward-thinking design!

 

Mockingbird June 4

We’ve reported on this incredible box-like residence on Mockingbird in Highland Park, a home that caused some friction with neighbors thanks to its unique design and use of materials. With a building envelope you’d most often find covering a warehouse and some really innovative use of natural materials, Russell Buchanan’s “Mockingbird House” caught the eyes of AIA Dallas, which gave the home an Honor Award.

IMG_1177

The house is a two-story, 4,140-square-foot home that is basically a rectangular box served by a vestibule that, when lit up at night, glows amber thanks to the onyx slab construction. The owners, whose trade is in wholesale stone, used several different types of granite, quartz, and marble in the home’s construction.

Buchanan, who likened the home to a giant refrigerator box, says the insulated panels provide a construction efficiency that is unmatched, and have the added benefit of providing sound-dampening properties that keep the home quiet despite the busy street just outside.

When I toured this home during a Dallas Architecture Forum event, what really struck me was the versatility that this type of construction could lend. And considering that the home was pretty much finished in a year, well, that’s incredibly fast for a well-insulated home.

Congratulations to Buchanan for his forward-thinking design!

 

Community First Village

 

(Photo: KUT)

The concept behind the Community First Village is revolutionary — rent a tiny home to someone who needs a reason to hold down a job for an affordable rate, and help the homeless turn their lives around.

The fact that it’s adorable doesn’t hurt, either.

Austin, home of the food truck trailer parks and high-priced housing, has made something that Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League calls, “the very first ‘yes, in my backyard’ project!’” according to this story from KUT:

Mobile Loaves and Fishes’ Alan Graham, the man behind the project, says one reason many in the nearby community are on board is because there will also be a bed and breakfast in the village and an Alamo Drafthouse outdoor movie theater.

“We haven’t converted everybody, but when people come out here they go, ‘Oh!’ They see a chapel; they see medical and vocational services on site, and they learn that residents will not live there for free; they’ll pay a monthly rent.”

Graham adds that if 200 chronically homeless people get back on their feet, that could save Central Texas taxpayers about $10 million a year.

The village covers about 27 acres and features adorable micro homes like those on trendy blogs and websites, designed and built by University of Texas architecture students. Rent runs around $200 a month for some of the homes, which includes access to a community garden and social services. Mobile Loaves and Fishes is still in the middle of a fundraising campaign for the project, with a goal of $6 million. Find out more about the project here.

Considering the growing homeless population in Dallas, do you think there’s a space for this concept here? Where would you put a development like this? And if this was planned for your neighborhood, would you be a NIMBY or a YIMBY?

Fort Worth Sundance SquareMeet Russ Sikes. The Plano resident –yes, Plano! — is a founding member of the North Texas chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism, or CNU, which advocates principles of good “place-making” as a key to improving our quality of life. Good “place-making” makes for a better environment. Actually, over drinks Russ told me he and his wife used to live off Greenville Avenue in Dallas. He moved to Plano like so many do, for reasonable housing and decent schools.

Which is why I really like Russ: he’s real. Never mind the fact that a couple hours with the Harvard-MBA, who is VP at Regal Research and Manufacturing Co. in Plano, flashed me back to the richness of social discourse in Harvard Yard. Russ was refreshingly not one of those “new urbanists” who wants us all to dump our cars in a landfill and scrunch into the city, live on top of 1500 others like cockroaches in two rooms. “New Urbanist” sometimes has made me think of the post-war scene in Dr. Zhivago, when Yuri returns to Moscow.  Through Russ and Andres Duany I am learning the the Congress for the New Urbanism wants to make our lives more WORKABLE, not necessarily all WALKABLE. Good neighborhoods require planning to create complete, compact, efficient and connected spaces, a variety of housing types, and integrate other building uses. The traditional town pattern was created by humans centuries before the automobile; cars, God love them, have changed a lot of the natural place-making.

When I told Russ that though I love our fair city, I just don’t think downtown Dallas is very walkable (especially in heels!), but downtown Fort Worth IS, he explained why. Herewith is Russ Sikes’ first great guest post:

A Tale of Two Cities

One vast metropolitan region anchored by two downtowns is certain to provoke constant comparison between them.

How often have you heard, “Downtown Fort Worth is improving, but I ADORE downtown Dallas!”  Never? Me neither.

Considering how thoroughly subjective aesthetic preferences are, this is interesting in itself, for it suggests an underlying consensus in our preferences concerning “place”.

What those shared preferences are, and why they exist, is central to understanding how we can make all of our urban places more appealing.

Several principles underpin this consistent response.Fort Worth bike trail

 SpatialDefinition

We humans are hard-wired to feel most comfortable in places with identifiable centers and edges.  Throughout all of human history prior to the recent rise of mechanized transport, centers have offered safety and security, while edges presented danger and uncertainty.   Be it a neighborhood, town center, complete village, or simply a distinct district, our inclination is to seek orientation by locating the centermost spot in any environment, and to look outward for its boundaries.  Identifiable centers and edges create psychological comfort.  The compact size, palpable center and tight contours of downtown Fort Worth create a tighter identity of place than Dallas’ diffused, distended collection of downtown places.

Visibility, Access and Egressdowntown fort worth at sunset, texas

Humans are also above all visual creatures.  We are most comfortable where we can actually see our surroundings, and routes of approach and escape.  (Who wants to venture down dark, enclosed alleys?)

Downtown Dallas is comprised of many buildings that are much taller than those of its smaller neighbor.  For all their virtues of impressive scale, skyscrapers tend to block light, or, in some rare cases, reflect it. They darken the streets below, as they form wind canyons that make Dallas colder and draftier than it would be with shorter buildings.  Cold and drafty versus warm and light explains the difference in feel, and one is clearly more appealing than the other.

This dimensional contrast extends horizontally as well.  Downtown Dallas tends to have very long blocks, especially along its east-west axis.  Its “superblocks” emphasize the canyon-like quality of the street.  In contrast, the short blocks and frequent intersections of downtown Fort Worth create a visual porosity that bathes the city in light, enabling people to see multiple pathways nearby.

 HumanScale and OrientationFort Worth court house

Openable windows suggest human activity and control.  Brick streets slow cars, calming traffic, and embrace us with warm color.  Frequent Intersections activate the street by providing corners, visibility, porosity, options, actively embracing pedestrians and thwarting the speed of vehicles.  In short, places scaled to our own physical size and approach are much more appealing than those that clearly aren’t.

The material composition of human places matters too.  Bricks, stone and other materials of natural color are warm and accommodating to humans.  Cool tinted glass, over-sized blocks of concrete or gray rock, and unnatural colors are less inviting.

Dallas has grander scale, bigger projects, a longer list of attractions.  But viewing the two downtowns through these lenses explains the uniformity of people’s emotional responses to each.  And it all adds up to a cohesive, welcoming, human Place in Fort Worth, versus a distended, diffused collection of adjacent spaces, colder in comfort, color and accommodation in Dallas.

Fort Worth Sundance SquareMeet Russ Sikes. The Plano resident –yes, Plano! — is a founding member of the North Texas chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism, or CNU, which advocates principles of good “place-making” as a key to improving our quality of life. Good “place-making” makes for a better environment. Actually, over drinks Russ told me he and his wife used to live off Greenville Avenue in Dallas. He moved to Plano like so many do, for reasonable housing and decent schools.

Which is why I really like Russ: he’s real. Never mind the fact that a couple hours with the Harvard-MBA, who is VP at Regal Research and Manufacturing Co. in Plano, flashed me back to the richness of social discourse in Harvard Yard. Russ was refreshingly not one of those “new urbanists” who wants us all to dump our cars in a landfill and scrunch into the city, live on top of 1500 others like cockroaches in two rooms. “New Urbanist” sometimes has made me think of the post-war scene in Dr. Zhivago, when Yuri returns to Moscow.  Through Russ and Andres Duany I am learning the the Congress for the New Urbanism wants to make our lives more WORKABLE, not necessarily all WALKABLE. Good neighborhoods require planning to create complete, compact, efficient and connected spaces, a variety of housing types, and integrate other building uses. The traditional town pattern was created by humans centuries before the automobile; cars, God love them, have changed a lot of the natural place-making.

When I told Russ that though I love our fair city, I just don’t think downtown Dallas is very walkable (especially in heels!), but downtown Fort Worth IS, he explained why. Herewith is Russ Sikes’ first great guest post:

A Tale of Two Cities

One vast metropolitan region anchored by two downtowns is certain to provoke constant comparison between them.

How often have you heard, “Downtown Fort Worth is improving, but I ADORE downtown Dallas!”  Never? Me neither.

Considering how thoroughly subjective aesthetic preferences are, this is interesting in itself, for it suggests an underlying consensus in our preferences concerning “place”.

What those shared preferences are, and why they exist, is central to understanding how we can make all of our urban places more appealing.

Several principles underpin this consistent response.Fort Worth bike trail

 SpatialDefinition

We humans are hard-wired to feel most comfortable in places with identifiable centers and edges.  Throughout all of human history prior to the recent rise of mechanized transport, centers have offered safety and security, while edges presented danger and uncertainty.   Be it a neighborhood, town center, complete village, or simply a distinct district, our inclination is to seek orientation by locating the centermost spot in any environment, and to look outward for its boundaries.  Identifiable centers and edges create psychological comfort.  The compact size, palpable center and tight contours of downtown Fort Worth create a tighter identity of place than Dallas’ diffused, distended collection of downtown places.

Visibility, Access and Egressdowntown fort worth at sunset, texas

Humans are also above all visual creatures.  We are most comfortable where we can actually see our surroundings, and routes of approach and escape.  (Who wants to venture down dark, enclosed alleys?)

Downtown Dallas is comprised of many buildings that are much taller than those of its smaller neighbor.  For all their virtues of impressive scale, skyscrapers tend to block light, or, in some rare cases, reflect it. They darken the streets below, as they form wind canyons that make Dallas colder and draftier than it would be with shorter buildings.  Cold and drafty versus warm and light explains the difference in feel, and one is clearly more appealing than the other.

This dimensional contrast extends horizontally as well.  Downtown Dallas tends to have very long blocks, especially along its east-west axis.  Its “superblocks” emphasize the canyon-like quality of the street.  In contrast, the short blocks and frequent intersections of downtown Fort Worth create a visual porosity that bathes the city in light, enabling people to see multiple pathways nearby.

 HumanScale and OrientationFort Worth court house

Openable windows suggest human activity and control.  Brick streets slow cars, calming traffic, and embrace us with warm color.  Frequent Intersections activate the street by providing corners, visibility, porosity, options, actively embracing pedestrians and thwarting the speed of vehicles.  In short, places scaled to our own physical size and approach are much more appealing than those that clearly aren’t.

The material composition of human places matters too.  Bricks, stone and other materials of natural color are warm and accommodating to humans.  Cool tinted glass, over-sized blocks of concrete or gray rock, and unnatural colors are less inviting.

Dallas has grander scale, bigger projects, a longer list of attractions.  But viewing the two downtowns through these lenses explains the uniformity of people’s emotional responses to each.  And it all adds up to a cohesive, welcoming, human Place in Fort Worth, versus a distended, diffused collection of adjacent spaces, colder in comfort, color and accommodation in Dallas.