Friday, February 8, 2013

More Townhouse Parking Approaches, From the Comments

I'm fortunate on this blog to have commenters who not only are willing to share their wealth of knowledge on the topics I post about, but who frequently include links to streetview images of their own choosing which, due to the limitations of Blogger's commenting system, can't be easily displayed there.  Many of these examples are so interesting and relevant that I often want to feature them in a post of their own. I've finally gotten around to doing that here, using some of the examples submitted in response to last Friday's post on townhouses and parking (I may add to this list as time allows).

Nicolas Derome, who has a series of posts at the Strong Towns Network exploring the urban form of Toronto and Montreal that I recommend checking out, contributed examples of contemporary attempts to integrate townhouses and parking from both of those cities:

Nicolas notes that in the above Toronto example, since the streets are private, widths of only 20 feet, rather than 25 or 30 feet, are permitted.  The technique of recessing garage doors while emphasizing pedestrian entrances is presumably intended to mitigate the visual effect of the garages: is it an improvement?

From Alai comes this example of parking subtly integrated into Craftsman-style San Francisco rowhouses.  I agree with Alai that this is a better result than the example I showed from the Sunset neighborhood, and in fact many San Francisco townhouses of the first half of the 20th century did make creative efforts to incorporate garages elegantly and unobtrusively:

Another example from Nicolas shows a parking approach taken in Montreal, where a narrow driveway is used to access below grade parking, which is then decked over to provide a spacious patio area.  This is very similar to one of the townhouse parking approaches described by Nathan Lewis (see Solution Three), and requires no more than the excavation of a basement-sized area:

Finally, another example from Nicolas featuring Alcorn Avenue, not far from Toronto's central business district.  The street appears to have a mix of rowhouses from throughout the 20th century, including several from the 1980s with front-loading parking.  The overall result is very successful though, due in part to the narrowness of the street, in part to the effective use of limited greenery, but more than anything to what Marc describes in the comments as "organic variation - [where] each house and door [is] designed by a different person." This variation, Marc notes, communicates a human presence even where garages are present and noticeable.

This sort of variation was also cited as a sign of urban health by Jane Jacobs, of course, whose own home was located within walking distance of Alcorn Street.  As she wrote, "a successful city district becomes a kind of ever-normal granary as far as construction is concerned. Some of the old buildings, year by year, are replaced by new ones or rehabilitated to a degree equivalent to replacement. Over the years there is, therefore, constantly a mixture of buildings of many ages and types." When redeveloped piecemeal, rather than at once, each new building adds to the texture of the street, and the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts.

Thanks again, everyone, for all the interesting comments.


  1. Wow, now *these* examples have won me over!

    "The technique [in Toronto] of recessing garage doors while emphasizing pedestrian entrances is presumably intended to mitigate the visual effect of the garages: is it an improvement?"

    For sure, but I think a shallower recess (as in the prewar San Francisco example you posted later) is even better. If the recesses are too deep they can risk feeling like the gloomy entrances to parking garages.

    I would also like to thank Nicolas for all the excellent examples from Toronto and Montreal! Would you mind if we (the US) stole some of your architects - it seems like thoughtful architectural design (assuming a small-scale increment of development) is the biggest determinant of the quality of a front-loaded garage, and we're so obviously behind Canada.

    "...Many San Francisco townhouses of the first half of the 20th century did make creative efforts to incorporate garages elegantly and unobtrusively."

    More specifically, I think the famous Painted Ladies that Nathan Lewis originally cited... for several reasons: First, the stoops are so large (and the garage doors comparatively small and unobtrusive) that your eyes easily pass over them as they jump from stoop to stoop. Second, the architecture is so lavish and rich that it easily distracts you from the garage doors. And third, the garage doors project verticality in their design (i.e. like old carriage house doors) which may be subconsciously more pleasant for pedestrians. Jan Gehl has noted that narrow, vertical shopfronts attract more pedestrians than horizontal facades...

    ...and the same might very well be true of garage doors that are narrow and vertically-oriented in their aesthetics, like normal doors for humans. Contrarily, developments that feature ordinary, wide, horizontally-banded (or blank) garage doors may be worse because a pedestrian has more difficulty feeling he/she is making any progress as he/she walks past them.

    I can't think of any examples off the top of my head (but I'll post them later if I remember), but another way to minimize front-loaded doors on houses built on hilly terrain may be the "half-and-half" approach. I.e. the garage entrances may be sunk halfway (or even totally) into the ground, with ramps leading down to them. This way the stoops leading to the occupied floor above them don't need to be nearly as tall (and too much removed from the street). The pedestrian is thus perched above the garages and closer to the stoops and occupied floor.

    1. These examples definitely did not win me over. They are better than many hideous U.S. examples, but fall far short of what could be accomplished, more easily and cheaply, with better design.

      People are so retarded today that we can give them an honest cheer for being able to use a toilet rather than pooping in their pants. However, much greater things are possible.

    2. Well yeah, the examples all still enfront wide 19th century "hypertrophic" streets, but replace those with streets like that one in Suginami and most of these rowhouses would work reasonably well.

  2. Thought I'd quote Gehl directly from the PedShed link:
    "Walking along a ground floor fa├žade with primarily vertical rhythms makes the walk much more interesting and eye-catching. We move from ‘column to column’, which makes the walk seem shorter. Facades with primarily horizontal articulation intensify the feeling of distance – a long tiring prospect at eye height."

    And some more examples of front-loaded garages I'm familiar with...

    This development does a couple things fairly well to minimize their effect - some doors are recessed slightly, some have bays over them (reducing the prominence of the doors below), and some have balconies/decks over them:

    And note the "narrow street!"

    These townhouses rely on sheer architectural richness and formal planting to try to overcome the garage doors, with decent results:

    Unfortunately this is as close as you can get in Streetview:

    1. In addition to vertically-oriented architecture creating a greater sense of progress for the pedestrian, I've wondered if narrower streets have the same effect? Presumably they would, as the narrower the street, given the same average shopfront width, the greater the perceived sense of pedestrian motion.

      Thanks for the Baltimore examples. They are unusually well done (Baltimore's infill projects seem to me to be way above average -- the best of the Hope VI projects that I surveyed were from there, too). Still, I'm not sure I see the necessity for a segregated pedestrian path on the opposite side of the auto access lane, as in the first example and several others I've seen from California. The auto lane, meanwhile, is so wide that on streetview it is possible to see several cars parked head-in in front of the garage doors. Perhaps with the number and spacing of garage entrances (and possibly required minimum street widths) the designers thought that it would be impossible to create a pedestrian environment there that was to their satisfaction?

      I can understand why, considering this dilemma, Alexander advocated removing the auto lane instead, and leaving that alluring pedestrian path (with the area devoted to the lane becoming fairly spacious backyards).

    2. "In addition to vertically-oriented architecture creating a greater sense of progress for the pedestrian, I've wondered if narrower streets have the same effect? Presumably they would, as the narrower the street, given the same average shopfront width, the greater the perceived sense of pedestrian motion."

      Yes, and I wonder if one of the reasons so many of the 70s/80s-era pedestrian malls failed was precisely because of the opposite: a limited number of people were diluted over a very wide carriageway, possibly leading to a lack of perceived motion/progress in the resulting yawning chasm. (Of course, there are also plenty of wide pedestrian promenades elsewhere in the world that don't suffer from their width at all, though many seem to be subtly divided into narrower parallel strips via lines of trees, benches, lampposts, pavement patterns, etc.)

      BTW, you forgot to mention another decent example of garage-fronted urbanism - Rosemary Beach! :-P

      Although the development relies on the same dual-network hierarchy as the first Baltimore example, its garage-fronted (rear?) streets appear to be extraordinarily pleasant and welcoming. I'd be absolutely delighted to walk there.

    3. You know, I was originally planning to include this example from San Jose in the first post, which appears to be strongly influenced by Rosemary Beach:

      It got left on the cutting room floor, but Rosemary was in the back of my mind.

      As for the malls, it seems to me that most enclosed malls have fairly narrow walkways, with irregular layouts (rather than wide and straight designs like American main streets). This sort of design must be associated with higher sales. The Westchester Mall near me, for instance:

      The ground floor walkway (the widest walkway in the mall) is far narrower than almost any pedestrian mall in the USA, yet still is broken up with artworks, planters, benches, etc. The successful pedestrian malls do seem to have worked hard to heavily reduce the amount of open space, creating the perception of narrower walkways (see the examples in Boulder and Charlottesville):

      This street, a bit wider than the example from the mall, is about as wide as I think you can go without the need to artificially reduce the space:

  3. Here's another approach to managing garages. This one's in North Carlton, Melbourne.

    1. Thanks, Alan -- I like those. The garages blend in very well. I'll have to do a little virtual tourism of Melbourne now.

    2. Advantage here of more streetfront. A garage isn't so bad when it is 25% of the total streetfront of a building instead of 70%. However, then you either end up with very large plots (wide) or you have to put the streets closer together (Really Narrow), as is the case in the Japanese examples. There, I took the example of the 40x50 plot size (40 ft streetfront, 10ft garage door, 2000sf) instead of the 20x100 (same 2000sf) size common in the U.S., a solution forced by the use of excessively wide streets.

    3. In this Melbourne example, there is obviously a very wide sidewalk and also some onstreet parking, which shows a very wide total street width. Thus, either the plots have to be very large or you end up with waaaay too high street/plot land ratio. Another failure, despite some good individual building treatment. There's a reason I say that Really Narrow Streets are the key to everything.

  4. Regarding the Painted Ladies, I think it helps that the garages are in the same colour pattern as the rest of the house, but also much more plainly decorated, so there's really nothing drawing your eyes to them. Everything is on the floors above the garage, including the front door and all the ornamentation, so your eye is drawn towards those instead. The garage doors on the craftsman townhouses also follow the same colour patterns.

  5. The top photo shows some confusion common today. Once you start including a lot of townhouses (narrow) with garages, you don't really have a sidewalk anymore, because it is constantly interrupted by garage entrances/short driveways. The best solution is just to get rid of the sidewalk and front grass setback altogether. You end up with a "Really Narrow Street." However, they haven't quite figured this out, so there is this funny mess of squares of grass and bits of sidewalk. The street should just be ten feet narrower. You can still have some greenery, including lots of trees.

    This is a particularly compact example, with townhouses and garages on the right. The street is only about ten or twelve feet wide.

  6. BTW some excellent architectural (building design) examples here. For example, the "craftsman row houses" from SF show excellent integration of a garage door in a pleasing way in a modestly sized house with not much width. This design seems completely compatible with a "really narrow street" of perhaps 15-20 feet wide. The large "victorians" have some advantage of using a very large and impressive facade ($$$) to visually overwhelm the garage door. Also, they typically have a very large stairway that protrudes far in front, and a significant setback, both elements which I consider reactions to the excessively wide 19th Century Hypertrophic streets that they are located on, and not directly compatible with a "really narrow" pedestrian street.

    Bravo on that count.

  7. I think a far better solution than all of these, particularly with existing 19th Century Hypertrophic-style streets (sidewalks, center automobile roadway, onstreet parking likely) is the use of shared rear parking. Like this:

    This eliminates the front garage door, and all of the issues stemming from multiple driveways cutting across the sidewalk and also preventing onstreet parking. I think that onstreet parking is generally a BAD idea, but if it is already there then that is just a design element you have to deal with. No real space is lost to rear auto access because the entire parking area is decked over, creating a nice big backyard.

    1. The one in Montreal is basically like that, except the shared rear parking is in the basement instead of ground level, and accessed from a shared driveway instead of a cross street.

      Most of the homes in that neighbourhood use some variation of the shared rear parking approach, although the frontage streets are still relatively wide.

      I think on-street parking makes sense if the street is already wide.

    2. Good for those guys in Montreal. Finally someone with two brain cells to rub together.

      The problem with below-grade parking is generally that it is very expensive. In general, I would rather see money spent on the living quarters of humans than the living quarters of automobiles. However, perhaps it can be combined with basement/foundation functions so that the cost factor is mitigated.

      There is a question of what to do in an existing situation where the street and street width is a given and can't be changed. In that case, you are limited to building design.

      Then, there is the question of what to do when you are building the whole layout, including streets. In this case, I find no reason for on-street parking. It is basically a relic of 19th Century Hypertrophism, specifically, what to do with very large streets that were actually built a century before the automobile.

  8. Don't forget the Creole Townhouses of the French Quarter here in New Orleans. The style split the first floor between a Carriageway (though, not technically a garage, it fulfilled the same purpose) that lead to the courtyard and living or retail space. Built from the 1780 through the mid 19th century, the style so naturally incorporates the carriageway that one would never think it to be out of place.

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