Christmas card community

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Tom Low responded to a request on TradArch from architect Steve Mouzon for comment, thumbs up or down, on a new neighborhood in Bentonville, Ark., featured in Architect magazine, voice of the AIA (which traditionally hates traditional architecture). Low replied but added the image, above, of what he was working on. To me, it seems much better.

Down below this post is the Bentonville “pocket neighborhood,” described in Architect, called Black Apple and inspired by Pocket Neighborhoods, a book by Ross Chapin. Of Black Apple, Mouzon had written:

On the one hand, it quotes a lot of regional vernacular and does some interesting things. On the other hand, there’s nothing canonically correct. Good or bad? What say you?

As for me, it’s the first time I’ve seen anything with any traditional inclinations in Architect in decades, so I’m wondering if it signals something we’re not quite seeing yet.

My first impression had indeed been that the pocket neighborhood was a bit spare and sterile, but it was nice enough that a feeling of oddness did come over me that it was featured in Architect. Here’s what Low wrote of it:

Pretty basic design but framed with references to appealing Ross Chapin brand pocket neighborhoods, green building, great-good places, small cottages, and local vernacular style. IMO mostly succeeds in scale, but the details are clunky, social character especially suffers from the the low-slab floor, and the community pavilion is hip but a little too corn-cribby kitsch.   The traditional precedent is bungalow courts like those in Hyde Park Tampa and Pasadena.  Excellent model for expanding housing choice de-emphasizing auto-centric era lifestyles.

That articulates my own instinctual reservations. I think what he finds wrong with it is summed up by the neighborhood (pictured on top) that he has designed for Black Mountain, N.C., near Asheville. The site work has already begun. (Probably a good start with this weather!)

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Black Apple neighborhood in Bentonville, Ark. (Architect)

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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2 Responses to Christmas card community

  1. Pingback: Tom Low’s village progress | Architecture Here and There

  2. To me, the biggest difference between the Black Apple practice and Low’s Black Mountain, NC (both are “black”, which is something they have in common) is the mass of the collection of houses. Black apple is one pocket (of 11 units, I believe), and Black Mountain is a couple of times bigger than that, and I think the later makes a better neighborhood, in terms of size and layout. Sociology research shows that a group of 45 people is a preferable size for neighborhood. When there is enough housing, it is big enough for people to wander around and explore, and to develop several layers of social contacts (from acquaintances to close friends) among your neighbors and best for social solidarity. On another hand, looking at the physical context of Black Apple as a whole, there are excellent amenities at close proximity. If it is walkable to access these amenities, then I think it complements the shortage of things to do within the neighborhood by providing the chance to explore outside, and still walking-friendly.

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