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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

ReThink London: Reviving a downtown


Older, original downtowns throughout North America were attractive places. One reason was the unity of the architecture. All the structures dated from approximately the same era. Often the building material, the local brick or stone, was a uniting feature tying the entire streetscape together.

Today we have a plethora of theories on how to make failing downtowns successful again. Saving historic buildings, or at a minimum their facades, is often heralded as one answer. Sadly, many of the facades are gone, the architectural flow broken. But, there is an answer.

First, forget trying to bring back what was lost. If a beautiful, cut granite building facade was demolished, accept it. Such facades are often out of reach cost-wise today. But don't fill in the gaping break in the streetscape with an oh-so-out-of-place modern, glass structure. Reach back into the past, find a much cheaper alternative to the original structure, but an alternative with roots in the last century, and lay some brick.

Brick is not that expensive and brick can be laid in a multitude of patterns making a  new facade blend with older buildings. What goes behind the facade is another matter. With modern construction hidden behind the facade, the new building can be both beautiful and practical.

Even better, let the facade skin a structure only three or four stories high, don't make that structure too deep. Keep it shallow. With the feel of the street restored, build a much higher, multi-storied building behind and welcome increased office space and a growing number of residential units to the revitalized street.

How do we encourage such an approach? Think form-based code. I've written about this in the past, click this link, ReThink London suggestions, and go down to the sixth suggestion.


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