Saturday, June 1, 2013

Take the Challenge to be Creative

     My son completed and turned in his final project in his cabinet making class yesterday.  The project entailed clearly stating his intention, designing the intended project and then executing the design.  His intention was to make a chess board, reasonable considering that he is the president of his high school's chess club.  Furthermore, this chess board was to be made entirely out of wood from the scrap pile.  In other words, he intended to use what he had at hand rather than bring in new material.  This made the project a good deal more complicated, and the final product a good deal more interesting.
     I have clients who choose to take this route on a regular or on an occasional basis.  They choose to rehab existing structures or use sites that have had previous uses other than vacant ground.  This always makes the project a good deal more complicated.  I have in the past had to deal with sites that could not meet setback, buffer or easement requirements because existing buildings were placed such that they were in these parts of the site - sometimes because the site had been subdivided and sometimes because the zoning had simply changed.  This often leads me to have to file re-zoning requests, special use permit applications or requests for variance.  All of these are legal hoops that I had to jump through, but are not really physically hindering.
     I have also had sites in the past that had monitoring wells (wells placed on the site to monitor soil and/or ground water contaminants) and buried extras (one urban site had a number of 1950's cars buried under it and one had a deposit of medical waste).  I have even had a site where past foundations were discovered under the current foundations that were being removed to make way for the new use.  These very physical issues can create a good deal of extra work as my client, sometimes the contractor and I work to figure out how to deal with them.
     At the design level, physical aspects of the site should most definitely help to define the design of the site.  It is very easy to design the location of a building, associated parking, vehicle and pedestrian access and any additional amenities on a flat site with nothing larger than grass growing on it.  The designer is basically then working with a blank piece of paper, a clean slate.  It is much more challenging if the site has a major grade change or a rock outcrop, or a water feature like a stream or a pond, or a vegetative feature like a champion tree or an area of woods.  To obtain the owner's desired use out of these sites, the designer is challenged to be considerably more creative.  The end result, though, can also be considerably more interesting and desirable.
The entire site was utilized and a pond for fishing and swimming was added as an amenity!
     I was brought in on the design of a site, for example, in which the initial preliminary design showed a single double loaded parking lot (parking spaces on either side of a single 24' wide aisle) placed in a straight line and a row of townhomes placed along the length of either side.  The whole thing was to be raised up with fill soil to meet the requirement of placing these units above the 100-year flood line which added to the general ugliness of the design.  This design was boring, but it did meet the client goal of X number of units on the site and the local planning requirement of X number of parking spaces per unit.  I was privileged to have been allowed to re-design the site, with of course the same parameters, and to complete the design and construction drawings.  My design included a pond in the center of the site that allowed me to obtain the fill needed to raise the buildings but also accessed the clean water table near the surface of the site.  Encircling the pond were the townhomes and encircling them the drive and parking.  Thus each townhome had a public entrance to the loop drive and parking and a private interior entrance to the walks encircling the pond.  Ironically, my design actually cost less to construct than the estimate for the initial design and produced a pleasant place to live.  Residents got an amenity that provided them with swimming, fishing and walking recreation as well as aesthetics. It did, however, take a good deal more design time and creativity.
     Don't take the easy way out when designing your site.  Take the challenge.  You might really like the results.  Work with what you have on the site rather than ignoring it.

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