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Friday, June 10, 2011

Builders See "Green" as Answer for Turnaround

Daily Real Estate News | June 10, 2011 | Share
Builders See 'Green' as Answer for Turnaround
The green building sector is offering some hope for the homebuilding industry, which has battled sluggish sales in recent years that has practically brought new-home construction to a halt.

But home builders that have opted for green construction are beating the odds and have even seen their market share rise slightly, according to panelists at a Standard & Poor’s housing summit this week in New York.

Home owners are being lured to green, seeing it as the greatest potential for appreciation of their home, panelists note. Green remodeling has also increased, partially due to federal tax credits available to home owners for energy-efficiency improvements.

In 2010, a third of all commercial real estate construction was green, as was 16 percent of residential construction. Jeff Mezger, president and CEO of KB Home, says one challenge is introducing more “green” products for the starter and move-up markets that won’t increase costs.

Also, some consumers are still not sold on green building, lacking information about energy savings and finding a qualified person to do the upgrade work, panelists noted.

Source: “Housing Panelists See Opportunity in Green Building,” HousingWire (June 9, 2011)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Time to Visit Brytan

It's time to pay a visit to Brytan and check out our new interactive Human Sundial and tell the time with your shadow! Located in the beautiful Parkside Green area, the Brytan Sundial is a hand-crafted mosaic tile work of art, newly completed by LZ Mosaic.

1. Stand on the current month
2. Stand close to the centerline
3. Put your hands over your head and read the number under your shadow
4. Adjust for Daylight Savings Time (sundial will be one hour behind)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Brytan has struck GOLD!!

The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) just awarded GOLD certification to a home built in Brytan by EG Gonzales. This home is the first GOLD LEED-H certified home in Alachua County. EG and his son, Eric, built a home that is not only energy efficient but was built recognizing the importance of recycling, sustainability and durability. The home, already sold, also featured many of the custom touches often seen on much larger homes.

Congratulations to EG and Eric Gonzales for being the first to build LEED-H gold in the area!!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Move your Business to Brytan!

Check out our new video photo show and discover why Brytan is the perfect place for your business.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What's So Great About New Urbanism?

Check out this fun YouTube video below on TNDs and new urbanism. Note the opening scene and the water color shown to the left. It is BRYTAN!! Michael Morrissey is the artist and he drew it for the Brytan Charrette in 2000. The video clip is under 3 minutes and worth watching to get a quick overview on why communities like Brytan are not only convenient and friendly but also sustainable.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Homes Inspired by Ecomagination

Today we are pleased to announce that homes inspired by ecomagination™ will be available in Brytan. Based on commitments to utilize the most innovative building techniques and to provide energy efficient features, the builders at Brytan have agreed that the GE program provides the best value in today's marketplace. New homes in Brytan will be certified to meet the stringent Environments for Living Green Building program, which incorporates the latest energy saving technology.

Today's decision to work with the Environments for Living program will allow Brytan to be a place where not only the designs of the homes, but also the design of the community work together to provide for a sustainable lifestyle. We believe that we have a responsibility to preserve our environment so we are working with a select group of builders who are committed to creating energy efficient homes for you and your family to enjoy. All homes in Brytan are certified green by independent third parties so you can be assured that your home is truly "green" not just a home with a few energy efficient appliances. Brytan is proud to be the first community in Alachua County to sell homes inspired by ecomagination™.

Brytan is truly Gainesville's greenest community.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


On Wednesday, we will have another symmetrical date...09/09/09. We probably all remember the fantastic opening of the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing that was held on 08/08/08. While it may not be as grand, at Brytan we will be unveiling a new program for the homes in our community that we are extremely excited about!

Tune in tomorrow for our special announcement...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Value-added Summer

It's hard to believe that the summer is over and school has started up again! The summer months are often filled with vacations and events where we take some time to re-charge out batteries and reconnect with our families and friends. At Brytan, we used the time to research and learn about new technologies and ideas to make the homes in this community, the greatest value in terms of features, sustainable designs and economic benefits. We are excited about what we will be offering and look forward to sharing it with you!

Stay tuned!!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hot in Gainesville but cool in Brytan!

Summertime is upon us! Hot, humid days punctuated by thunderstorms seems to be the daily forecast during the months of July and August. Along with the higher temperatures, many of us are seeing higher utility bills. Homes in Brytan have utility bills significantly below most homes in the area. These LEED-H certified homes are built to reduce energy demands and to provide a comfortable living environment. You should check out the homes and see how the insulation and other features make Brytan a "cool" place to live!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Green Living...how do you know you are doing your part?

I have yet to meet someone who is against the principles of green living and sustainability. People generally seem to want to do "their part" towards protecting our environment, whether it is picking up trash, turning off lights, turning up the thermostat and recycling cans and plastic bottles. The one point that is often made to me when talking about "green homes" is the fact that it really depends on the persons living in the house and their habits. Well, I guess the answer to that question is "yes" and "no." When people make the decision to purchase a LEED-H certified home, they are paying a bit more because they want the house itself to have an impact on the environment. LEED-H homes are built recycling materials, separating waste and using less toxic or non-toxic products. Those homes are more "green" just by virtue of how they were constructed. The "no" component comes about because of the behaviors and habits of the people that live in the homes. How do you know how "green" your lifestyle is?

How do you know when you are doing things that lower electrical consumption or decrease water usage? The lifestyle habits are a large component of truly being green.

Stay tuned as more information on understanding the impacts of your lifestyle habits on energy, water and air.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Green Certification...Good News!

Despite our disappointment with certification for the neighborhood, we are extremely pleased with how well the houses in Brytan are doing. We just found out that the most recent house may achieve LEED-H Gold certification!! We should know soon and will keep you posted. E.G. Gonzalez built a wonderful home with many green features. Not only does the house have icynene insulation but it also has a tankless gas water heater and dual-flush toilets in all of the baths. Dollar for dollar, this house is one of the most value-added buys on the market today.

Other good news pertains to the home currently under construction by DMCS, Inc. Many of you have been following the construction of this home and attending the green construction series presented by the builder and area LEED consultants. The home is on track and may obtain platinum certification, which would be a fantastic achievement!

Brytan continues to be Gainesville's Greenest Community!!

Stay tuned and we will keep you informed!

Green Certification...not good news!

This week-end we received news thatwe would not be able to be certified as a LEED-ND community. It was very disappointing because the areas that we fell short in, are areas that can not be changed at this point. There is an environmental prerequisite and though we satisfied local, state and federal requirements, we could not satisfy the LEED requirement. Since it is a prerequisite, none of the other issues matter.

Overall, I think it is good that USGBC is trying to recognize neighborhoods but I think the program has many kinks to work out. If your project is in a dense, urban area surrounded by existing development and your buildings are already designed, you should probably pursue the certification. If your projext falls into Stage 2 under USGBC's guidelines, I would proceed with extreme caution. You likely won't have the information in the format (e.g., already built) that USGBC is looking for. When asked to provide estimates, USGBC did not accept our estimates. We were using the best information that we had to make a realistic and achievable projection. To be told that your estimate is not acceptable by a committee that is not located in the area nor that understands local markets, is frustrating.

Was it worth it? We spent ten of thousands of dollars and much of it was wasted on trying to guess what USGBC wanted. If you are considering the program, I would wait until USGBC provides concrete examples of what is acceptable and concrete examples of how they want the information provided. Too often, the existing examples only applied to Stage 1 projects so the other two stages did not have clear guidance. The program is probably best suited for Stage 1 projects. Knowing that, I would not pursue it if I had it to do over again.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Front Porch

Some people have asked why we have designed the Brytan houses with steps up to the front porch.

Raising the floor level of the homes accomplishes several things. The first is added privacy. As the houses get closer to the street, we can create a vertical distance that defines the private space of the porch as distinct from the public space of the sidewalk. Even if the house is only a few feet away from the street, people walking by on the street have a vantage point from a significantly lower eye level than that of the occupant - not dissimilar to being on a balcony. The result is that higher density living does not compromise privacy.

From the perspective of sustainability, separating the structure from the ground reduces the potential for moisture intrusion, susceptibility to termites and other insects and pests, and wood rot.

The height above grade does not prevent us from designing for universal accessibility. The configuration of the lots make it very easy to provide a level entry from a side or rear approach to the porch or directly from the garage. In this way, we can maintain the privacy and comfort level for all occupants.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Greener Lawn, With No Grass

In 2007 a couple of students from the University of Florida finished up an 18 month project -- a documentary about our obsession with lawns -- with grass, with mowers, with fertilizer and water. Visitors to Brytan are often confused by the lack of lawn, and not sure they are ready to give their weekly foray around the yard with a lawn mower. This presentation may help you think differently about what has become an American tradition with questionable value. It is titled "Gimme Green" and you can watch it on the website: http://www.gimmegreen.com/updates/seeGG.htm

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Window Comparison Examples

The upper image here shows a double-hung, traditional wood-style window installation. The lower image shows a typical single-hung aluminum window. You can see how the upper image shows the shadows created by the window being installed into the wall, rather than on the face. It creates a sill at the bottom and reveals the depth of the wall. Also, the muntins (grid bars) are dimensional on the exterior of the glass, creating another layer of depth.

On the lower image, you can barely make out the grid behind the reflection on the glass surface. The glass is pushed out almost even with the trim around the windows, giving the facade a very "flat" look.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Houses with Value

The Parade of Homes is a great opportunity to see a variety of homes and features that can add value, comfort or fun to a house. This year, there was quite a variety of price points to review and I am really pleased at how Brytan measured up. I think the three greatest features of Brytan, besides the truly green aspect, are the great gathering spots in each home, the craftsman detail and the fiber optic network. I will start with the fiber network first because I think that is sort of a sleeper. It is not discussed very much because most homes don't have a true connection. But if you think of the impact on the internet and the speed at which communication is occurring, the one thing that we all know is that homes need to have this capability or be very "dated" in a short time frame. Why buy a home today that is not going to handle the conveniences of tomorrow? The other feature that I appreciate in the Brytan homes is the trim around the windows and the finish detail. EG Gonzalez built a wonderfully detailed home to feature in this year's Parade. Everything was high quality from the way the kitchen cabinet and drawer doors closed to the flooring in the garage. Talk about value for your money! Finally, there is what I like to call the great gathering spots in a home. Brytan homes have porches where you can actually have a chair, swing or rocker...not just a concrete slab that is barely large enough to set a potted plant. There is also grilling areas or enclosed patio areas that are more "private" than the front porches. Then there are the many benches in the parks and close to sit, relax and catch up with a friend. Go ahead, relax...you don't have to spend your afternoon mowing the yard or trimming the hedges!

Brytan does not feature the least expensive homes...that has never been one of the objectives of the community. Rather the objectives are to provide a great deal of value, regardless of the square footage and to provide a variety of price points in a variety of homes. If you are buying a home today, buy one that will retain and increase in value. In Brytan, you will get not only the home you can afford but the home that will truly improve your life and lifestyle!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Everybody loves a Parade

...especially one at Brytan! The BANCF Parade of Homes has begun and the weather could not be better. The attendees have been fantastic this year and are truly interested in the variety of green features that are in the homes and in the communities. People seem to understand that the homes of yesterday do not offer the technological components nor the efficiencies of many of the homes today. The value that is available is much higher in homes that have access to a fiber optic network and that already have green features built into the foundation and walls...areas that are more difficult to make "green" in the future.

Come visit Brytan and see why the homes here are great value for you, your family and for our community!!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Anybody ready for a parade?

Yes, it is that time of year again...the annual Builders Association of North Central Florida's Spring Parade of Homes. The Parade starts this week-end, April 18th and runs until Sunday, April 26th. Of course, Brytan is one of the sites that is in the Parade. The Parade is a wonderful time to visit the homes and see what new products are available for homeowners. With the introduction of numerous "green products," saving money on electricity, irrigation, and energy use is not only easy but stylish. At Brytan, the homes are verified green, meaning an independent third party tested, rated and scored the homes in several categories, not just energy consumption. I really like how the yards have been designed to minimize water requirements. With more water restrictions being placed on irrigation days and times, the design of yards is increasingly important.

When you visit Brytan, be sure and visit all 3 homes...each has unique features that are really worth seeing. From an apartment over a garage that could be used for a caretaker, renter or college student to open floor plans with lots of storage niches, there is lots to see!!

Enjoy Brytan, enjoy the Parade and enjoy the day!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Spring is here!

Not only are the houses green in Brytan, but the wonderful street trees are showing their green side! The many plants in the Butterfly Garden are beginning to bloom and the entire area looks great. This time of year is perfect for strolling on the trails and envisioning what your home could look like. Brytan is the place to live if you believe in sustainable design, energy conservation and walkable communities. Go and enjoy the wonderful weather!!

What's in a Window?

Brytan has detailed set of architectural standards for its homes. In a high density neighborhood where the buildings engage the street, pedestrians come in close proximity to the architecture. For this reason, it is extremely important that the buildings have a sense of authenticity. How many times have you seen a building from a distance and then, as you get closer, something just doesn't seem right about it? It looks "flat" or somehow just not "real." In fact, many buildings today are constructed relying on applied detail to provide interest. At Brytan, we emphasis an authentic depth to the facade, meaning that materials should look like they are really doing the job they were intended to do and that the facades have an appropriate depth to create the shadow lines and details that you expect to see when you get close the the building.

One of the most important features is the window. You will notice in Brytan that the windows on the front of the houses look a little different. The architectural standards require that the windows have exterior "muntins" or grids, which cast a shadow on the glass below them and emulate the original structural purpose of the those pieces. You will also notice that the glass and sash are set into the wall rather than being flush with the exterior of the siding. This too is an authentic look that gives the window openings a "realness" and provides a shadow line and a window sill.

Most of Brtyan's windows are double-hung. That means that both the top and bottom sash are operable. Open the top sash and the bottom sash and it will naturally draw cool air in the bottom of the windows and push the rising warmer air out the top - a method that has been used for centuries to improve comfort level without air conditioning. Once you close the windows and turn on the HVAC system, though, you can take advantage of their modern advances: these are vinyl, high efficiency widows, with low solar heat gain and insulated glass. They have the best of the new and the old technologies.

When you think about it, windows are the primary way that occupants inside the building experience the outside. Doesn't it make sense to make them both beautiful and functional?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Front Yard Challenges

Probably one of the most frequent comments that you hear from people the first time that they visit a new urbanist community is, "the yards are too small." I am pretty sure that I said that the first time that I visited Kentlands ten years ago. As you learn more about new urbanism, you tend to understand more about the different "spaces" that people use during the course of the day. There are public spaces and private spaces and we clearly need to be able to access and use both types of spaces.

Starting with public spaces. It is pretty easy to see that parks, walking trails, sidewalks, plazas and alleys are public spaces. These are places where you expect to interact with other people. Okay, but what about private spaces? The private space is accomplished by the spaces in your home and perhaps office. Your home is considered your private realm and good design should allow you to have private spaces that are located inside as well as "outside." People don't want to have to spend all of their "private" time indoors. Good design should allow courtyards, garden areas and outside social areas within the structure of the home that allow the homeowner to be outdoors in a private space.

The key is not the size of the space, it is whether it is well-designed for how it is intended to be used. As I noted in an earlier message, people often say they want a yard...actually they want to be able to plant some flowers. They don't really want to have to mow the yard and pull the weeds or pay a lawn service each month to care for the yard. These interior courtyards and patios allow people to have areas where they can plant flowers or herbs without having the responsibilities of large yards.

I call this post, the "Front Yard Challenge" for a reason. I was asked to do this about 8 years ago and it was a good exercise. When you drive around different neighborhoods, see how many people are really playing in front yards, especially if there is a park nearby. In my neighborhood, most people exercise on the trails and take their kids to a park to play rather than in the front yard. Yesterday, out of about 32 homes, I saw people in the yards of two homes. One was mowing the yard and the other was pulling weeds and pruning bushes. The other 30 homes did not have activity in the front yard though I did see one mom with her two kids riding their bikes and parking them in the garage. Think about how you really want to use your outdoor spaces and I bet you will be surprised to find that a small yard can meet all of those needs.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Who Knew an Energy Audit Would be This COOL?

Check out this great music video made by some students at Stanford.  I am sure it will go LEED Platinum! 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Who lives in this house???

Listening to Andres Duany discuss the evolution of town centers and housing options over the last 50 years, one is amazed at how we have established our lifestyles around our housing choices. Often we look at neighborhoods of yesteryear and admire the large porches or the beautiful streetscapes. It seemed that each house was a unique structure and was often referred to by the name of the family that first lived there. The "McKinley house" or "Smith house." When you referred to the "Smith house," everyone knew exactly what house you were referring to. Over the years, we moved to the suburbs and houses started to look more and more alike. You can drive into some subdivisions and row after row of houses will look alike. Also, the garage started to appear on the front of the house. It certainly cost less if you did not have to build a driveway from the street to the back of the house. Alleys disappeared and fenced in back yards became popular. People would come home from work, enter the house and not leave again until the next day when they back out the car and headed off to work. You didn't really know your neighbors and they didn't know you. The only thing you knew for certain was that a car lived at that house because the garage was the largest feature of the front of the house.

Today, we are seeing an increasing demand for some of the "neighborhood" communities of yesteryear when people actually were neighbors. People want a home that has an inviting feel from the street. The garage is back where it belongs, in the back of the home. The house is designed to allow people to interact with the neighborhood when they want and to have privacy when they desire it. Homes in Brytan are designed to allow choices in how you live rather than in dictating how you must live. For instance, in traditional subdivision homes with the garage doors across most of the front, there is not a place to sit on the front porch, nor is there a beautiful street to look out upon. Start to look around at the different communities and see if you notice some of these design features.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Are you Green Today?

Today is St. Patrick's Day -- A day associated with corned beef, cabbage and potatoes; Irish Whisky and Guiness; shamrocks and leprechauns; and, last but not least, wearing green so you don't get pinched.  

With green on your mind, it is a good time to consider how green you are every day:
  • Are you conserving energy by adjusting your thermostat, using a programmable thermostat, or even opening your windows and not using your AC or heater at all (particularly during pleasant Spring weather!)
  • Are you conserving water by installing appropriate landscapes that don't require irrigation, by installing low flow bubblers on your faucets, waiting to run your clothes washer or dishwasher until you have a full load, or by simply turning off the water while you brush your teeth?
  • Are you recycling your metals, plastics and paper products, and better yet, are you thinking about unnecessary packaging when you purchase products?
  • Are you buying local products and using local businesses which not only helps your local economy but can also save transportation costs?
  • Are you starting slow and slowing when approaching red lights by removing your foot from that gas (which will conserve fuel) as well as keeping your car maintained and your tires inflated?  
  • When choosing a new place to live, do you consider proximity to work, schools and basic needs such as grocery stores, banks and libraries?  
  • Are you keeping the filters changed on your AC, choosing low VOC cleaning products and considering the ingredients in your cleaning products?
  • Are you choosing to give services or gift cards or recycled gifts rather than adding to increasing piles of belongings that your friends have?
  • Are you choosing to walk or bicycle or carpool to some of your destinations?
  • Are you eating lower on the food chain more often and choosing organic, local or healthier choices for your family?
These are just a few of the many ways that you can lessen your impact on our planet.   While today may be one of the few days in the year you may choose to wear green, tomorrow and every day after could be a day you choose to live green.    

What does this have to do with Brytan?   Living in a sustainably built, energy efficient home with water saving fixtures and clean air systems, that is located in an urban environment will lower your carbon footprint and save water and electricity.    While we hope to see you you in Brytan, we hope that you choose to live green every day.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The lots are too narrow...

"The lots are too narrow..." is a comment that we hear frequently. We often find that it really isn't the size of the lot, it is the fact that these lots "looks" different from other typical lots. If we start to ask people about how they use the lot that they currently live on and what they like about it, we find out some interesting points. First, they want an area for their kids to play. Second, they enjoy gardening. Third, they view the yard as serving as a privacy boundary for their home. Those points were common themes but also common was this point: very few people enjoyed the time, effort and expense of maintaining a yard. They either spent their leisure time mowing, weeding and trimming rather than actually enjoying the yard or they had to pay a landscape crew to take care of the yard. The actual amount of space that people would garden was relatively small compared to the overall yard size. People were paying for a large yard in order to garden a small 8X10 or 4X6 area.

The narrow lots in Brytan and the way in which homes are sited on the lot allow for privacy yet also allow for gardening. The gardening can occur in the front beds or in the private courtyard between the home and the garage. Pots can be used that allow a person to easily change the plants depending on the season. Working on rosebushes or annuals is fun; mowing a yard is a great deal less fun, especially in the heat of the summer months!

What about play areas? Brytan has one of the best parks in the area. Your family can take advantage of the play equipment and the green spaces as well as walking trails. You will no longer have to buy expensive equipment that your children will outgrow in a couple of years.

The other key point and it is one that is going to become more of an issue in the future is the costs associated with irrigating lawns. Water and charges for wastewater have continued to increase each year. Brytan has worked with GRU to utilize reclaimed water in Brytan but the water management districts are going to encourage conservation of water resources. Brytan yards are designed to minimize water required for irrigation and to utilize those plants that work well without requiring an abundance of water.

Yes, the lots are narrow but all the ways in which you use your lawn are still available. You spend your time and money on your family and your home, not your yard!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Preserving the Night Sky: Earth Hour

On March 28, from 8:30 to 9:30 in the evening, cities across the world will turn out their lights for one hour -- and change the face of the world from space. Cities such as Moscow, Sydney (where the movement started), Chicago, Buenas Aires, Brussels, Rio de Janeiro, Shanghai, London, Vancouver, Paris, Mumbai, Rome, Budapest, Kuwait, Mexico City, and our very own Washington D.C. will all observe an hour of darkness during Earth Hour by turning off non-essential lighting and encouraging all individuals and businesses to join in the effort. The goal is to have one billion people enjoying the night sky and voting to fight global warming and encourage conservation.

I remember, as a child, looking up at the falling stars during the Perseids meteor shower, and having my entire field of vision taken up with streaks of light across the sky. For my own children to enjoy this meteor shower I had to drive out away from town. We laid on the hood of the car and when not counting meteors, we talked about the halo of light above our city, and how light pollution not only wasted energy, but interfered with bird migration and with sea turtle hatchlings. According to National Geographic, some amphibians, which are widely recognized as indicator species and are integral to some ecosystems, will delay nocturnal feeding when artificial light is present, which shortens their available hours for nourishment and may threaten their survival.

The New Yorker, in a recent article, discusses how bright light used to prevent crime can often become a tools of criminals. If a very bright light is used to on your garage, for example, your eyes adjust the bright light and make it more difficult to see into the dark void beyond. There are even safety implications, most of us have experienced seeing a gas station lit so brightly that it hurt our eyes, changing our ability to see less brilliantly lit objects on the road.

The cost of all of this light? In the United States the Night Sky Association estimates that the light wasted is worth two billion dollars annually, or the equivalent of 30 million barrels of oil and 8.2 million tons of coal.

What does this have to do with Brytan? Brytan is participating the in the Pilot LEED-ND program which encourages conservation of energy and protection of the night sky in neighborhood design. Choosing light fixtures that only aim downward, prohibiting decorative lighting (allowing lighting for safety purposes and some amount for advertising) and measuring the "spread" of light are some of the requirements. Barriers to implementation are requirements by the Department of Transportation, as well as legal concerns about liability since these efforts are voluntary and not mandated. Some municipailites have enacted legislation prohibiting certain kinds of lighting, and are changing out inefficient fixtures for fully shielded fixtures, sometimes saving millions per year. The City of Calgary, according to the BBC, changed out 37,500 fixtures, saving $2 million per year and yielding a full payback in only six years.

What can you do? Encourage local legislation restricting wasted and unnecessary lighting, and educate your friends and neighbors about how less light can be safer. Participate in the upcoming Earth Hour, and be part of the one billion participants fighting global warming. Turn your lights (and your TV!) off and enjoy a candlelit dinner, a walk under the (more visible) stars or lay in your hammock and listen to the sounds of nature realizing it is night (maybe you will see a firefly!).

Friday, March 6, 2009

Participating in a Charrette

Thinking back on the charette...

If you are involved in any way with land planning, design, architecture, engineering or development, you need to participate in a charette. It is an amazing process to watch a site plan become a workable entity. Working with Duany, it was important for us to follow the transect that he actually was in the process of developing during our charette. We wanted to develop a town that went from most urban to more rural and include the many visual "hints" that assist the user that he is going from an urban environment to a more rural environment. The most interesting aspect of the process was the interaction between what the best design was versus the best design that was possible given the many limitations that are put on the site. The challenge of designing communities today is to do so within the many requirements that are often at odds with the goals of new urbanism. For example, new urbanism promotes pedestrian friendly streets. This goal encourages narrow streets, on-street parking and curves to force drivers to slow down. The reality is that people don't want to slow down. The reality is that emergency services don't want to drive on narrow lanes. It was increasingly difficult to meet all the requirements and not lose the essence of new urbanism during the process. Also, one has to factor in the amount of open space or green space required, the separation requirements between the various utilities in the project and the placement of civic spaces. Personally I probably am in the minority but I am not a fan of requiring trees to be planted in islands throughout parking lots. Planners, seeking shade, require a tree every "X" number of parking spaces. Quite frankly, I think requring a certain number of trees is great but if you could get a larger section in the parking lot with several trees or encourage more of a useable urban park near the parking lot, it would be better for the trees and for the users of the space. Maybe it is a good idea to let the cars get hot in the sun...maybe people would be more willing to take mass transit...who knows?? I just think that urban parking lots need to be urban and smaller in the final footprint rather than larger than they need to be because of the island requirements. Sub-urban parking lots could have different requirements and, in my opinion, should have different requirements. In fact, there should be rules that are followed for urban spaces and rules for more rural spaces. When governments only specify one way and do not consider the profile of the area, it greatly hinders the ability to create a sustainable and enjoyable space.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Give and Take of a Charrette

After sending out numerous invitations and publicizing the meeting times, the charrette began. We were extremely pleased with the turn-out. New urbanism was a new concept to many people in this area. Haile Village Center is a nice example of traditional neighborhood design for a village, but Brytan is larger and it to be designed as a town. The difference involves providing more of the daily needs within the town boundaries. The charrette opened with a presentation by Duany where he explained many of the concepts of new urbanism. He explained the importance of pulling the buildings up to the streets, of creating vistas at the end of the streets, of on-street parking to provide a barrier between the pedestrians on the sidewalk and the vehicles on the street. Traffic calming is an important element in creating a truly walkable community. It is interesting to note that people are in favor of slowing down the traffic in a general sense but they don’t like to be slowed down in their daily commute.

The individual meetings took place with discussions of building placement and the role of neighborhood parks. Other topics included architecture and the importance of having homes that have “eyes on the street”; so many homes are designed today where once a person enters the home, he has no connection to the neighborhood until he leaves the next day. Wide front porches and windows help create a connection that serves an important role in establishing community. However, once the connection is made to the neighborhood, you have to still find a way to protect the private realm for the homeowner. Elevating the house so that windows are not at eye-level help provide privacy from the street. Also, the role of interior courtyards helps promote an outdoor private realm that homeowners can enjoy without the hassles or expense of large yards. With the increasing importance of water conservation, smaller yards are an important asset to the home. People need to be able to enjoy the outdoors so the location of recreational elements was an important feature of the overall design of the community.

Opinions were shared and designs were modified. Each day, the design would be “posted” on boards that people could stop by, review and comment. We were surprised at the number of people that truly followed this process and took the time to try and understand why a building was faced in a particular way. The design of Brytan was to be open and inviting to its neighbors, not a fenced or walled off subdivision that is frequently built. It was interesting to see how some of the neighbors wanted to be able to visit Brytan and interact with the community but others wanted to have Brytan separated and completely unconnected from their land. Through the give-and-take of the charrette process, a compromise of sorts was reached. Brytan has been designed so that future connections could be established if those neighboring groups so decided.

After a week of intensive meetings and design work, two plans emerged from the charrette. Duany wanted to tweak both plans for a bit and then allow a determination as to which one best met the overall objectives.

Remember, at this time, the regulations of our County did not allow mixing uses vertically nor were TNDs encouraged.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Price versus Value

As an architect, I have never understood the market's fascination with “price per square foot.” When you purchased your last car, did you ask the dealer the price per cubic foot of space in the passenger compartment? I don't think that anyone would argue that there are huge differences between owning a Porsche, a Mercedes, a Ford, or Toyota. No doubt, you could add optional leather seats to any of these; but it would not change the fundamentals of the car. People make their choice of vehicle not based on the price of the air space but on whether or not it fits their needs. Price is obviously one of the factors to consider; but so is fuel efficiency, style, reliability, durability, and design. For most people, having a cup holder in the right place or a spot to put their iPod is much more useful than another cubic foot of air with nowhere to put your coffee cup.

What figures into the “price per square foot” ?

The price per square foot of any given new building is the sum total of all of the creative energy, efforts, labor and materials that it takes to deliver that structure in that location. So, it is affected by a lot more factors than just the floor finish or the wall type. It includes the costs associated with the quality of the whole development as well as those associated with the design and construction of the house. Additionally, “price per square foot” only counts the conditioned area of the building in its calculation; it does not take into account any of the covered porch areas, courtyard spaces, patios, decks, storage or garage areas. So, a house with 1500 square feet of interior space and 1000 square feet of covered porch would have a much high price per square foot than the same house with no porch.

So what is different in a square foot of a Brytan house?

Every home in Brytan is influenced by the sum total of efforts made by the Developer, the Designers, the Green Consultants, and the Builders. These things have come together to make the quality of the neighborhood extraordinarily high. That quality, care, and knowledge comes with the Brytan home. Some specifics:

Brytan was master planned by a world renown New Urbanist firm, Duany Plater-Zyberk, to be a complete community, not just a sub-division.

Brytan's homes were custom designed by a licensed architect. The styles are Craftsman- inspired and are detailed to a high level of authenticity. The homeowner has access to the Town Architect (that would be me) as a resource to answer questions about their homes, design, construction and vision for other phases of the neighborhood.

Brtyan has a neighborhood Green Consultant, Mary Alford, P.E., a licensed Environmental Engineer. She guides the LEED for Homes (including Energy Star) process in Brytan. She has inspected every home multiple times, from plans to construction, to ensure that the prescribed sustainability elements were implemented. The homeowner also has access to Mary should they have any questions regarding the various green certification that each home has achieved.

Each completed home has achieved LEED certification and is registered with the National Green Building Council and comes with an Owner's Handbook with all the information about the materials in the home.

There is a great deal of individuality to these homes; but each includes high-quality, traditional double-hung windows, low VOC content and high indoor air quality, carefully designed HVAC systems, water saving measures, low-maintenance landscaping, structured wiring and fiber optics with free internet service, built-in work stations and an electronics docking station so there is a place for your laptop, cell phone, and even your iPod.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Process begins…

We selected our town planner and now it was time for the charrette. Right? Wrong!! Now it was time to prepare for the charrette. Having never been through this process, I was completely unaware of the amount of pre-charrette planning that was required. Needless to say, it was an experience.

First, Duany worked with us to assemble the “Brytan Design Team.” This group of professionals consisted of his team from DPZ plus civil engineers, retail consultant, a residential consultant as well as local engineers, architects, surveyors and land planners. The qualifications of the local team members had to be acceptable to and approved by Duany. Bob Gibbs of Gibbs Planning Group and Todd Zimmerman of Zimmerman/Volk worked on our retail analysis and residential analysis, respectively. These men were wonderful to work with and their contribution was invaluable.

Once the Design Team was set, then our company had to gather information and materials regarding the site to allow the Design Team to prepare for the charrette. This is information that one often gets but we had never gathered all of it so early in the process. The information that we needed for the charrette included surveys, topography maps, tree surveys, floodplain information, wetland delineations, aerial photographs, soil reports, local codes and regulations and USGS maps (specifically the site and the 8 surrounding quadrants so 9 maps in total). Additionally, a place to hold the weeklong charrette had to be reserved. This place needed to include a room large enough to hold the opening and closing presentations. Fortunately, a nearby hotel and conference center was able to accommodate all of the workshop requirements. Individual meetings with neighbors, government officials, realtors, builders and other interested parties were scheduled and invitations were sent as well as notices published in the local paper. We originally had the daily work area set apart from the individual meeting areas but we learned that is not the proper way to handle the charrette process. DPZ indicated that it was extremely important for the Design Team to work in the same room where the various meetings would be held. The drafters wanted to be able to listen to the conversations, suggestions, criticisms and feedback directly from the participants. As the week progressed, it became apparent why this arrangement is so helpful to the entire charrette process.

At this point, we have the team, we have the location and now we needed the supplies. Besides a detailed list of required food for meals and snacks, there had to be an architectural supply store nearby as well as a federal express or postal service, copy center and slide processing facility. Equipment required included a specific laser jet printer, fax machine, two telephone lines, copy machine, two slide projectors, a small refrigerator, padded chairs, 3’ X 6’ banquet style tables, large trash cans and bags, twenty illustration boards, six foam-core boards, architect trace paper rolls and lots of paper.

Our office staff did a great job of organizing and working with area vendors to get all the required items. Before we knew it, we had everything and it was time for the charrette!

Next: The Charrette Begins…or does it?

Monday, February 9, 2009

One of These Things is Not Like the Other....

A reader commented on a previous blog entry:

I have driven by this Subdivision several times and the homes look like any other homes in Gainesville. What is the difference between these homes and the other Subdivisions surrounding it? Is the difference inside the walls?
Then, later, she asked:

After driving by this subdivision several times, what is the deal with your signs up front? First LEED Community in Alachua? can you explain what this means to me as a consumer?
These are great questions.....

First of all, I am going to disagree. I don't think these homes look like any other home in Gainesville - they are like homes you may find in some of the other New Urbanist developments, but they are not what you find in a typical subdivision. Obvious differences include the height off the ground (provides privacy in houses that are close to the street), higher end windows that have depth and add contour to the house (rather than the flat windows you typically see), high level design with attention to proportion and scale (these houses were designed by an architect, not a builder, with an eye towards the entire picture of the neighbhorhood and how the houses fit together), classic design details versus trendy home finishes, lack of garages on the front (garages are located off the alley behind the house), and a neighborhood planned to fit into the urban community.

Secondly, I will agree that yes, there are many differences behind the walls. The houses were planned for efficient use of wood and other materials to reduce waste -- walls use "pre-cut" lengths of wood, as well as full sheets of OSB siding materials. This not only saves money during construction, but prevents our landfills from filling up with needless waste -- did you know that 10% of the material ordered to build a house is wasted? That is a lot of garbage in our landfills, a lot of needless transportation costs, and a lot of expense in our pockets. The houses were carefully insulated and sealed -- insulation was inspected by a third party energy consulant to make sure that nothing was missed (such as behind the bathtub) and that the insulation met not just Energy Star, but the highest Energy Star standards. All houses are also prewired to be a "Smart House" and fiber optic cable is run to each house, giving these houses some of the fastest internet speeds in the country. Why is that environmental you may ask? If you can stay home and work effectively, then that is one less car on the road. Other items that are included in some of the houses include insulated hot water pipes, built in vacuums, and products treated with non-toxic chemicals to resist pests and fire.

Finally, LEED certification - what is that? The US Green Building Council, which manages the LEED programs states:

LEED is a third-party certification program and the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings. LEED gives building owners and operators the tools they need to have an immediate and measurable impact on their buildings’ performance.

There are other green building programs out there -- the better known ones in this area include programs by the Florida Green Building Coalition and the National Association of Home Builders. LEED stands out as the program that these newer programs are measured against. The USGBC, through the LEED program, not only certifies homes through the LEED for Homes program but they certify commercial and office buildings, hospitals, schools and government buildings. And, if you did not know already, the University of Florida requires all of it's buildings to be LEED certified. There is an up front cost to this certification, but there are lasting savings in energy, health care, quality of life and carbon footprint cost.

So what do those signs mean to a buyer? It means the this developer and these builders picked the most stringent and most carefully documented green program available. It means that they followed the rules, tracked the materials and waste, carefully chose their materials and paid for third party certification. It means that not just a builder built your house, but an architect, a green consultant, an engineer, a landscape architect, and an energy expert. And that benefits you because you, as a homeowner, would have a copy of all of this documentation, all of the warranties and information, and access to these experts if you have questions. What does this sign mean? It means that the builder did a "good job" -- and you do not have to take their word for it. They can prove it.