For many years, residential development in Canada has been primarily a suburban activity. As stated in CMHC's introduction to this competition:
Housing in Canada is among the best in the world, but in achieving this standard, land has often been used wastefully and housing design has largely ignored the problem of energy conservation. Because of changing conditions and rising costs, housing has become very expensive for most Canadians and designers are now challenged to provide solutions which recognize the associated aspects of cost and good design.
Our suburban areas are indeed wasteful of land, and a great challenge is to seek alternative residential patterns which are more efficient in their use of land. However, suburban patterns are as they are because most Canadians believe that they are the basis for a desirable lifestyle; alternative residential patterns which are revolutionary would find little acceptance in the marketplace at present.
So, the dilemma: as a society we can no longer afford to follow wasteful suburban development practices but most of our citizens believe that the suburban lifestyle is, on the whole, a desirable one. A fact difficult to overlook in the search for a new suburban residential pattern is that vast suburban residential areas already surround our cities. In fact, as population growth continues to moderate, land currently used for family-type housing will become attractive to builders, and many suburbs will be demolished and replaced with high-density buildings. We've never tried to density the suburban pattern except by substituting entirely different patterns, and in that process the desirable aspects of the suburban lifestyle are sacrificed.
It is interesting to examine older residential areas in the city to see how such areas have adjusted to changes in their population over many years. First, lot sizes are usually narrower, but the occasional wide lot will often be an opportunity to infill a pair of houses where there was one before. Second, houses are often larger than required by modern families and an upstairs apartment can be let. Third, house types often vary within the same block. Single family detached houses coexist beside semi-detached ones and beside duplex houses. Fourth, some areas of old mansions can offer coach houses in the rear yard to let. All of the adjustments listed are common in our cities and they were accomplished in a gradual and evolutionary way rather than a revolutionary one by widespread demolition: adjustments occur within a relatively stable framework. The key to stability is the mix of accommodation types provided in the original and in the gradual introduction of more variety into the mix.
The purpose of this project is to propose ways of al-lowing basic suburban patterns to evolve gradually into more varied mixes of house types in a manner similar to the model of older inner city residential areas. The proposal is for the design of a projected lifecycle strategy for a neighbourhood rather than exclusively for the design of buildings. A corollary of this project is to propose ways of introducing non-revolutionary variety into existing suburbs that surround all our cities as an alternative to the probable demolition of such suburbs.
In 1980 land is assembled. The land is zoned for mixed residential use with a maximum building height of 10 metres. Streets are laid out on the land and underground servicing installed. Street width is 20 metres; although one might consider a narrower right-of-way it is decided to avoid seeking such municipal approvals. Instead, the "developer" decides to rely on the generous street width to provide curb parking spaces for visitors. Service lines are of sufficient size to serve two dwellings in the event that infilling eventually occurs.
All lot sizes are 16 metres wide. Minimum lot depth is 25 metres, although many lots are deeper. Each lot is divided into two parts. The part on which the house is built is to be owned by the eventual resident, but the part on which the garage and side yard are located is leased from the "developer" by the eventual resident. The land lease is for fifteen years and is renewable at the discretion of the "developer" for further five year periods. If the "developer" is a municipality or is CMHC, such a public corporation might assemble, zone, service and subdivide the property and then sell the lots to commercial builders who would build the individual houses. However, the corporation would retain ownership of the land-lease parts of each lot and the fee that the corporation charges for annual rent of the side yard would be a good indirect control over the commercial house builders profit margin or a control over buyer-speculator profits. Thus this procedure could, if desired, be used in a program similar to Ontario's HOME program to subsidize first-time home-ownership. See drawing no. 1
The houses that are built are similar to common sub-urban types. Most of them consist of 3 bedrooms in a two-storey house with two-car garage, unfinished basement, and wide front and back yards. Some features might be considered optional such as the insulated metal fireplace or the skylight over the entrance vestibule. Carports or one-car garages could easily be substituted for the two-car garage creating more usable yard space. The central entry hall through the house is characteristic of old New Brunswick farm house plans. See drawing no. 2
Roofs and gable ends are covered with cedar shingles a traditional New Brunswick rural and seacoast building material. Below the roof eaves, exterior walls are white-painted horizontal lap siding a traditional town material particularly in historic United Empire Loyalist architecture. As the original natural warm colour of the cedar evolves to a silvery gray, subsequent repaintings of the lap siding and trim on the houses might change to warmer colours. The structure of the house is common wood stud and wood joist except that walls located on the lease line are concrete block (future fire walls) clad with wood as described above. See drawing no. 3
One advantage of suburban patterns often overlooked is the ease with which additions or interior modifications can be made to houses. Sites are usually not too constricted to allow horizontal expansion of the floor space, and within basements or crawl spaces, plumbing lines can be readily moved. Such flexibility is more important to families especially growing families than to singles. As new children arrive or as older children begin to need a room of their own, or perhaps when grandma comes to live with her children for a while, more space is needed.
One must also anticipate that family size shrinks as children grow up and leave home. An older couple living in the suburbs must often either carry the cost of too much house or be faced with the trauma of leaving their familiar house in the familiar neighbourhood. One way to avoid this disagreeable choice of alternatives is to duplex the house and to rent out the upstairs. Owners then have help with the costs of keeping the property, and tenants have an opportunity to join a stable, residential environment. To make the upper and lower apartments compatible, care can be taken to keep one's bedrooms above one's own living areas (See drawing no. 5) and separate stairs can be added to make each dwelling unit independent of the other. See drawing no. 4
In 1995 the "developer" begins gradually to infill lots by declining to renew land leases for some of the residents. It is likely that by 1995 the site will no longer be considered too remote from the city centre will not be considered a very "suburban" location. There will be pressure to redevelop and increase the density in order to make better public transport affordable. There will be much demand for more accommodation here because of the convenience of the location; and land prices will be high because of the demand. This is the critical era in the lifetime of a neighbourhood. It must recognize a new reality. It is not likely that it will be able to resist all pressure and continue as an elite enclave within the growing city, but it is possible for the neighbourhood to change by evolutionary means rather than by demolition. Thus the city will be a richer experience and the neighbourhood continues to offer its residents a desirable lifestyle.
The key element to finding buildable space within an already built neighbourhood is the parking accommodation. Removing the garage from the basic type A dwelling unit and building a new dwelling onto the leased portion of the lot requires that parking be compound-type in front of the pair of dwellings. The infill house itself (type D) is similar to type A, opposite handed, and dining room and living room exchange places. A fence is erected between the cars and the houses. The gates in the fence are the location for mailboxes and street address numerals. See drawing no. 6
If lot depths are the minimum (25 metres) the type D house has its primary outside private space in front protected by the entrance fence. Deeper lots, however, offer the possibility of both front and rear yards for even infill houses, and most existing suburban lots are much deeper than 25 metres. See drawing no. 7
Alternatively the infill houses can be small one- or two-bedroom apartments having the character of back lane Coach Houses. Parking for Coach House apartments (types E and F) is compound-type in front of the houses, and the gateway opens to a walkway which leads past the Coach Houses and to the next street. See drawing no. 8
(From competition program)
The jury admired many aspects of this submission, most particularly its whole approach to the question of density. Submission 4 offered a "conventional" pattern of low density development, but did so in a fashion which allowed for subsequent increases of density, through additions and infilling over time. The submission then went on to illustrate a range of different building strategies to attain those increases in density. Thus the submission showed how the kinds of densities required by the competition can be both met and transcended, through an intelligent long-range view of the subtle evolution of urban form. The jury also admired the competitor's grasp of the importance of encouraging more flexible zoning regulations.
The jury was not fully convinced by the somewhat cumbersome legal mechanism the competitor offered as the vehicle for his strategy of densification, but felt that this didn't seriously alter its inherent merits.
In addition, the jury was impressed by the straightforward, sensible and consistent way in which the submission addressed itself to matters of dwelling amenity, vehicular access, and construction techniques, throughout the long sequence of building evolution which it projected.
Provision of outdoor living areas, privacy from overlook, and an identifiable address were carefully maintained at each stage. Parking shifted intelligently from garage to court or pad parking, as the infill strategy continued. And the Systems of construction maintained a simplicity throughout the process, which would make their development by small entrepreneurs if not by owner-builders readily feasible.
The jury's reservations about the submission concerned a variable quality of presentation. They also questioned the furnishability of some rooms on some of the floor plans indicated. Then too, the matter of energy conservation was addressed only through a consideration of the tightness of the building envelope. No consideration was given to orientation, or to passive solar gain.
In conclusion, however, the great merit of the competitor?s ideas about individual initiatives, participation in the capitalization process, long-term neighbourhood stability, and the ongoing creation of low-cost accommodation, ail impressed the jury to a considerable degree.
(From jury report)
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