Chapter One

Summary of the effect of building type on behavior

A family’s claim to a territory diminishes proportionally as the number of families who share that claim increases. The larger the number of people who share a territory, the less is each individual’s felt rights to it. Therefore, with only a few families sharing an area, whether it be the interior circulation areas of a building or the grounds outside it, it is relatively easy for an informal understanding to be reached among the families as to what constitutes acceptable usage.

When the numbers increase, the opportunity for reaching such an implicit understanding diminishes to the point where no usage other than walking through the area is really possible, while every use is permissible. The larger the number of people who share a communal space, the more difficult it is for people to identify it as being theirs or to feel they have a right to control or determine the activity taking place within it. It is easier for outsiders to gain access to and linger in the interior areas of a building shared by from 24 to 100 families than it is in a building shared by from six to twelve families.

The effect of building type on residents’ control of streets

If we examine the above three building types from the viewpoint of residents’ ability to exert control over surrounding streets, we again find marked differences.

Figures I-12, I-13, and I-14 graphically summarize the major differences between residents’ ability to control the areas around their homes and public streets. The three illustrations show the same four-block area of a city, each developed using a different building type.

Fig. I-12: A four-city-block row-house development. Only the central portion of the roadbed can be considered fully public.

Figure I.12 is an illustration of a row-house development built at a density of 18 units to the acre. Each city block has been subdivided so that all the grounds, except for the streets and sidewalks, are assigned to individual families. The front lawns, because each belongs to an individual family, are designated private. The rear yards, for the same reason, are also private. In fact they are only accessible from the interior of the dwelling units. The close juxtaposition of each dwelling unit and its entry to the street contributes to the incorporation of the sidewalk into the sphere of influence of the inhabitants of the dwelling. This is further reinforced by the fact that their private lawn abuts the sidewalk and the family car is parked at the curb. Residents’ attitudes suggest that they consider this sidewalk and parking area as semi-public, rather than public.

Examining the entire four-block area, we find an urban fabric in which most of the outdoor areas and all of the indoor areas are private. In addition, a good portion of what is legally public street is viewed by residents as an extension of their dwellings and under their sphere of influence: that is, the sidewalk and that portion of the roadbed on which their cars are parked. Because of the close juxtaposition of the street to the private front lawn of each dwelling, residents are concerned about ensuring its safety and act to maintain and control it. In actual fact, only the very central portion of each street is truly public in nature. If the street were narrow, even the activity in this central portion would be considered accountable to neighboring residents.

Figure I-13 shows the same four-block area, this time accommodating three-story garden apartments built at a density of thirty-six units to the acre. The rear courts within the interior of each cluster have been assigned both to individual families and to all the families sharing the cluster. The families living on the ground floor have been given their own patios within the interior courts, with access to them from the interior of their unit. These patios are therefore private. The remainder of the interior court belongs to all the families sharing a cluster and is only accessible from the semiprivate interior circulation space of each building, making the remainder of the interior cluster semi-private.

Fig. I-13: A four-city-block garden apartment development. The streets and grounds are encompassed within the domain of the multifamily dwellings.

The small front lawn adjacent to each building entry is the collective area for that entry’s inhabitants and is therefore semiprivate. As in the row-house scheme in Figure I-12, all the entries face the street, but each entry now serves six families rather than one, and is thus semiprivate rather than private. Parking again is on the street immediately in front of each dwelling. Because of the semiprivate nature of the grounds, the sidewalk and street are not clear extensions of the realms of individual dwelling units. But even with all these limitations, the neighboring sidewalk and parking zone on the street are considered by many residents as areas over which they exert some control.

Figure I-14 is the same four-block area shown in Figures I-12 and I-13, but now developed as a high-rise superblock at a density of fifty dwelling units to the acre. Each building entry serves fifty families by means of an interior circulation system consisting of a public lobby, elevators, fire-stairs, and corridors. The grounds around the buildings are accessible to everyone and are not assigned to particular buildings. The residents, as a result, feel little association with or responsibility for the grounds, and even less association with the surrounding public streets.

Fig. I-14: A four-city-block high-rise development. All the streets and grounds are public.

Not only are the streets distant from the units, but no building entries face them. The grounds of the development that abut the sidewalks are also public, and so, as a consequence, are the sidewalks and streets. This design succeeds in making the entire ground surface of the four-block area public. All the grounds of the project must be maintained by management and patrolled by a hired security force. The city streets and sidewalks, in turn, must be maintained by the city sanitation department and patrolled by city police.

The placement of the high-rise towers on the interior grounds has produced a system of off-street parking and access paths to the building that involves many turns and blind corners. Residents in such developments complain about the dangers of walking into the grounds to get to their buildings at night. The proclivity of landscape designers for positioning shrubs exactly at turns in the paths increases the hazards of these access routes. This problem does not arise in traditional row-house or walk-up developments where building entries face the street and are set back from the sidewalk no more than ten to twenty feet. Nor do these fears occur in high-rise buildings whose entries face the streets and are only set back slightly from them. In these latter cases, residents are able to move in a straight line from the relative safety of the public street to what they can observe to be the relative safety of the well-lighted lobby area in the interior of their buildings.

Fig. I-15: A high-rise and a walk-up built at the same density. The project on the left is turned in on itself, away from the public street, while the one on the right brings the streets within the control of the residents.

Figure I-15 shows two housing projects located across the street from one another: a garden apartment complex on the right and a high-rise on the left. Both projects are designed at the same density and with similar parking provisions (40 units to the acre and one parking space per unit). The high-rise project on the left has all building entries facing the interior grounds of the development. Parking has been designed as a continuous strip along the street, further disassociating the buildings from the street. The project on the right is only three stories in height and has all the buildings and their entries juxtaposed with the city streets or the interior streets and parking. Each entry faces onto the street and serves only six families, whereas the high-rises have 60 families sharing a common entry. Small play and sitting areas have been provided near the entry to each walk-up. This serves to extend the sphere of influence of each of the six families into the street.

The residents in the walk-up are a very short distance from the surrounding streets, and because of the positioning of the building entries, play areas, and parking, the neighboring streets are brought within the sphere of influence of inhabitants.

Another important lesson to learn from the above comparison is that two radically different building configurations can be produced at the same density: in this case a density of 40 units to the acre with one-to-one parking. This is a very high density that will satisfy the economic demands of even high land costs. The walk-up development achieves the same density as the high-rise by covering more of the grounds (37 percent ground coverage versus 24 percent). Municipalities who wish to reap the benefits of walk-up versus high-rise buildings must learn to be flexible with their floor-area-ratio (FAR) requirements to assure that they are not depriving themselves of a better housing option in order to get more open ground space which has little purpose.

What is true for site design is also true for building design: the same building envelope can be subdivided in different ways to produce dramatically different results. For instance, Figure I-16 shows two ways of configuring a three story walk-up. Both buildings each serve a total of 24 families. In the upper layout, all 24 families share two common entrances and eight families share a common corridor on each floor, although access to the corridors on each floor is open to all 24 families in the building. In the lower design, only six families share a common entry, and only two families share a common landing on each floor.

Fig. I-16: Comparison of two ways to subdivide the same building envelope to serve the same number of families, but in radically different ways.

In the lower design, the fewer number of families sharing an entry and landing allows the families to control the public spaces better: they can more readily recognize residents from strangers, and feel they have a say in determining accepted behavior. If this were a two-story building rather than a three-story building, it would have been possible, in the lower design, to give each family its own individual entry directly off the street and so avoid having any interior public spaces at all.