Sunday, July 02, 2017

Stacked Townhomes - The Site Plan

The Site Plan is the biggest problem with a typical rear garage stacked townhome.

Last time we looked in some detail at the typical configuration of a Stacked Townhome with rear access garages. I promised that next we would look at the site planning implications of this kind of living space arrangement, and that’s what we are going to do today.

Right off the bat the layout of the rear access garage stack townhomes dictates that you are going to have a street or an alleyway at the rear of your houses. Rear alleyways are great, one of my favorite organization approaches for compact housing. But for a house with garages integrated into the volume of the house this means there is not going to be any rear yard / rear courtyard / private outdoor space. That is a huge trade-off, one where the plan really gives back little for the trade-off.

A common response to this no-win trade-off when this type of plan is used by developers is to omit a street at the front of these stacked houses, and instead they make a green pedestrian space. I hesitate to call it a pedestrian street, because these spaces are rarely treated as streets - meaning linear spaces that connect places. They are more often just a green space feeding off the collector road. This resultant green space does not function like a front yard, nor does it take the place of a rear yard. It does not see the pedestrian traffic of a real street, and does not offer the conventional relationship of a front yard and front door to a street. Compounding this is most comings and goings from the home will be from the garage, and since the front green space is not a street and does not take you anywhere, or bring you there, the home now lacks any normal street life.

This is everything going wrong with this home organization at the scale of neighborhood building. The obvious solution is to have a legitimate street at the front of the house, but this doubles infrastructure for the developer. The way to mitigate this is to make the alleyway a true alleyway, a service street where you do not spend budget on niceties. This minimizes the doubling of infrastructure, and allows you to limit improvements to the front street - trees, nice sidewalks, etc. But even if all this street making is done right, it leaves the house with no back yard and no private outdoor space. The unused front pedestrian green gets all of the site improvements - nice footpaths, and trees - where nobody comes and goes, and the rear alleyway gets no improvements - the place where everybody comes and goes. This fault lies with this stacked house design, and the only way to overcome it is to overhaul the prototype.

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