A new book called "Architectural Design for Traditional Neighborhoods" aims to get architects and production home builders on the same page about what makes a good neighborhood and how polymeric siding can add to the appeal.
The simple concepts and material considerations are meant to bridge a gap between New Urbanists' traditional neighborhood developments (TNDs) — think houses of various styles with big porches lining tree-shaded sidewalks to parks and cafes — and the production builders who construct a lot of U.S. housing on large tracts of low-density land in car-dependent places.
"True TND entails more than a few facade details slapped on production models in a suburban plat," New Urbanist architect Andres Duany wrote in the book's foreword.
True TNDs offer pleasant places for neighbors to walk around and socialize be it a porch, park bench or pub. Residents can get in their 10,000 steps a day by running errands on foot to the bakery, barber, bank, market and dry cleaners.
The 74-page book has two main goals: to introduce more builders to traditional neighborhood platting and block-face design and to introduce more designers to the methods and materials suited to production building.
"Our guidelines help designers and planners work within the limitations of the construction industry while taking advantage of building material innovations that add value to TNDs," Duany writes.
Published by the Vinyl Siding Institute, the book has four chapters with the last one about "new horizons in building materials." The chapter covers the categories, advantages and architectural considerations of polymers such as vinyl, insulated vinyl, cellular PVC, polyurethane composites, solid polyash and polypropylene shake.
Another section gets into how synthetic trim can provide crowns, casings, fluted columns, pediments and brackets without the need for a master wood worker.
"An architect is sensitive to the details of a building because his eyes are trained," one of the authors, Fernando Pages Ruiz, told me in a phone interview. "It's like being a foodie. You can't eat just any meal. We're trying to show architects you can get that level of correct detailing using these new materials. The interesting thing is, consumers are beginning to demand them."
Synthetic materials can provide the characteristics and styles of Craftsman, Folk Victorian, Farmhouse, Foursquare, Italianate, and Prairie houses while reducing maintenance requirements, such as scraping, staining, caulking and painting.
"These materials afford freedom from maintenance," Ruiz said. "The consumers are starting to press the architects about that."
The architects seem to be coming around, Ruiz added, noting the design book was "extremely well received" at its launch at the Congress for the New Urbanism in Louisville, Ky., in June.
"I used to feel like the Marlboro cowboy at an oncology conference," Ruiz said. "People would walk around the building to avoid walking by our table. It was total rejection but over the years it has improved."
In addition to design elements, the book emphasizes to production builders the importance of a central square or plaza with diverse activities for strangers to get acquainted as neighbors. In the book's afterword, New Urbanist architect Stephen A. Mouzon says a neighborhood center is arguably the most important aspect of traditional neighborhoods.
"Do not underestimate this foundational principle, because without it, a residential development is not a real neighborhood, but only a housing subdivision," Mouzon writes.