Architecture that Fits and is Oriented to the Street

Houses designed for a street-focused, pedestrian oriented environment put their most attractive face to the street. They often have architectural detail such as woodwork, railings and decoration and roof pitches that are often steep. Garages are hidden and steps or porches provide an inviting transition from the public arena to the private household.

Some communities that are trying to recreate traditional neighborhoods have detailed design standards to guide architecture. This approach is most commonly used for retail buildings, to prevent look-alike national chain stores. Using tight standards for private homes, except in historic districts, can be criticized for suppressing individuality and increasing costs. However, some basic steps can be taken to guide builders in your town.

  • Ensure buildings have articulation – a variety of colors, textures, materials and rooflines to increase visual interest and help identify individual homes or businesses.
  • Require garages to be level with or behind the front façade of a house.
  • Require parking lots for commercial and civic buildings to be in the rear or to the side.
  • Allow on-street parking.
  • Have maximum as well as minimum setbacks so that houses are not too far from the street. Front lawns from 10 to 25 ft. deep are good for a traditional neighborhood (25 – 35 ft. on arterial streets). If you measure from the property line or the centerline of the street, add the appropriate number of feet to achieve that result.
  • Provide incentives for porches, stoops or patios in front of houses.
  • Allow mixed use buildings such as stores with apartments above.
  • Allow multi-unit structures (up to a limit) on the same size lot as a single family house, with parking in the rear. This allows flexibility, for example, to add a garage apartment or turn a house into a duplex and back again.
  • Provide for alleys behind major streets so that houses and commercial buildings can face the street and sidewalk, but have their vehicle access in the rear. That way there are no driveways interrupting traffic on a busy thoroughfare.
  • Provide a design handbook with pictures of the types of buildings desired.