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Old Posted Jan 15, 2013, 11:08 PM
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M II A II R II K M II A II R II K is online now
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The Genius of Traditional Buildings

The Genius of Traditional Buildings

Jan 9th, 2013

By Graeme Sharpe

Read More: http://www.urbanindy.com/2013/01/09/...nal-buildings/

Have you ever been to a old downtown and marveled at the historic buildings? Have you ever wondered how they could create such beautiful buildings on such small budgets, compared to the placeless architecture we are told is barely affordable today? The truth is that those multi-story, mixed-use buildings lining the street were built by a different culture. We are a different people now, and we demand different things from our built environment.

1. Leverage small investments

The typical traditional urban building is between 20 to 40 feet wide, and between 60 to 200 feet deep. This small width was a product of structural engineering limitations. A traditional building with masonry walls and wooden floors could not span further without significant cost increases, and tax policies often charged by street frontage instead of square footage. The result was small frontages and deep buildings.

The overall effect of a traditional streetscape is like walking through a well-curated art exhibit, where people can admire the buildings or the products in the glass storefronts. The density of different buildings and stores satisfies the pedestrian’s need for visual interest. It is a key part of what we call “walkability”.


2. Share with your neighbors

The party wall style of building, where adjacent buildings used the same structural wall to support their floors, was a very important money saving technique in traditional buildings. From the dawn of human civilization we have been building cities by slowly adding onto the existing structures. However, new construction codes that strictly regulate fire safety have eliminated this technique, and for all intents and purposes party walls are no longer in common use. Every building is now an independent structure.


3. Build up, not out

Traditional buildings, and traditional streetscapes by extension, never happened overnight. They evolved over time, as each small plot was filled in and then raised upwards. The neat thing about masonry walls is that they can support an incredible amount of weight if they are braced at each floor level, so adding a new floor on top was usually a simple process. This gave owners the ability to start small and incrementally expand their property as needed.


Lessons to Learn

As you can see, traditional building developers used their limitations as advantages, making the most out of known technology and social behavior. It is up to us to figure out how to apply these concepts to our modern urban areas. But the key lessons here are to create a development environment where buildings can start small, expand gradually, and create mutually beneficial relationships with their neighbors.


Graeme Street (Pittsburgh, PA)

Buildings along Washington Street in Downtown Indianapolis

Traditional Buildings start small (Indianapolis, IN)

A plain street can be more important to people than a capitol building (Derby, UK)

Street versus Alley materials, but it blends well (Indianapolis, IN)

Party Wall vs Fire Wall

The modern method of placemaking (Columbus, IN)


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Old Posted Jan 16, 2013, 1:24 AM
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jd3189 jd3189 is offline
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Originally Posted by M II A II R II K View Post
The modern method of placemaking (Columbus, IN)

More of this should be able to happen to a lot of strip malls if highrises are not needed.
It always seems impossible until its done.
- Nelson Mandela

Never stop. Never stop.
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Old Posted Jan 16, 2013, 2:06 AM
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More info on that project?
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Old Posted Jan 16, 2013, 2:17 AM
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However, new construction codes that strictly regulate fire safety have eliminated this technique, and for all intents and purposes party walls are no longer in common use.
They're allowed by building codes, the issue is zoning; in newly established zoning districts, zero lot line construction is rarely if ever allowed. Zoning also establishes minimum lot sizes, street front width etc. Not to mention mandating generous setbacks and minimal coverage... There's progress happening in some areas though.

Party Wall vs Fire Wall

Both are fire walls. The left is a party wall and the right is a pair of face-on-line walls. The effect is the same. Party wall have some drawbacks but they do give a little more interior space on a narrow lot.
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