Housing Site Design: You Don't Have to Eat the Whole Thing

One in a series of posts analyzing hosing development in the United States and around the world.

As a first year architecture student, I was subjected to the same inane kindergarten exercises imposed on most, if not all, of my kin. One of these was represented as a study in composition. We were told to take two sheets of contrasting, colored construction paper, one quite large and the other a fraction of its size.  The object was to move the smaller piece around on the larger observing and noting the apparent effect of each variation. Like my fellow students, I was appalled and annoyed.

Twenty years later, I used those exercises in creating the site design for Dolan Green.

Birds Eye View of Murray Road.jpg
A sketch of the Dolan Green site

A sketch of the Dolan Green site

By placing a cluster of townhouses on one corner of the site, as close to the two adjacent property lines as local zoning would allow, I greatly enlarged the apparent size of the remaining site. I used that enlarged open area to create a “woods” now populated with towering forty year-old trees. The effect has been to create a natural wooded area where previously there had only been a barren, tree-less schoolyard.

Three of the townhouse owners have decided to used their allotted exclusive use areas to create landscaped courtyards. One of those owners, your Humble Correspondent, created a space that allows a variety of gathering areas suitable for a private client lunch meeting or a larger gathering. Note the photographs shown here.

In addition to the exclusive use areas which are adjacent to each unit, each owner is assigned a garden plot. Being the developer and architect as well as an owner, my plot was designated on the condominium documents as the largest of those plots. The result is a sizable vegetable and perennial garden replete with a bean arbor and a garden shed.

Inevitably someone, often a new unit owner, asks whether we can/should/would build more units in the woods. Defending those woods has become one of my unanticipated responsibilities. Although the original special permit that allowed the site’s development limited the number of units to seven, I fear that a future city board might be tempted to allow denser development, especially given that the neighboring homes have no woods..

Good design, like good intentions, are subject to editing by future forces unaware, or uncaring, of the original intent.

Ending on a happy note, two sub-committees of the Newton Comprehensive Plan Commission (Housing and Environment), used Dolan Green as an example of good design in their reports. Thank you.

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