By Nicholas Miller
When I saw the post about the planned Fruit Belt townhouses, I thought it was a good opportunity to show how simple design changes can have a big impact. It’s pretty clear to me that the designers were trying to create the illusion of detached houses.
St. John Community Development Corporation is planning to build 49, two to four-bedroom residences on 17 City-owned sites. Buildings have been designed to complement the 28 townhouses units St. John CDC built five years ago with predominantly brick front facades, siding, shingle accenting and full-front porches (below).
In my opinion, the design wasn’t likely to fool anyone and was worse for trying to do so. Further, the mix of materials and colors also looked chaotic rather than harmonious. For example, the three-unit design had three colors of brick and two kinds of siding in three colors. Sometimes, less is more.
I’ve reduced the cladding to just two materials – brick and shingles. I linked the units together by running these materials across the entire structure in two bands. I further simplified the design by eliminating the small gables along the porch’s roof. In the original three-unit design, the central gable is slightly smaller than the end gables. Instead of shrinking the central gable, I made all the gables the same size and compensated by shrinking the indent between units.
I also suggest building the porches with brick and adding a slight curve to the facia boards to add interest to the gables – a detail that could be easily fabricated on site. I’ve also provided a rendering of the gables with straight facia boards. These changes shouldn’t alter the project cost much at all, it’s really just how the same materials are applied. This design also isn’t completely dependent on particular materials, so there are opportunities to save. For instance, the brick could be substituted with stucco or blocks.
On a final note. The single-story designs seem like a missed opportunity. They should add an upstairs unit. It could even be a market-rate unit that would help subsidize the rest of this project. The marginal cost for those additional units would be relatively low. It would share the same foundation, roof, and some of the plumbing and electrical of the downstairs unit that’s already budgeted.
Nicholas Miller graduated from the Ohio State University with a B.A. in Urban Geography and Economics in 2010. He currently lives in Detroit with his partner where he works in the GIS field.