Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Letter to the Newhall Neighborhood, Looking Back

Several years ago, I authored an architectural design pattern book which was intended to guide new development in my neighborhood, the Newhall Neighborhood in San Jose, CA.  I have since regrettably moved away from my beloved home in this wonderful neighborhood, and I offer this summary as a letter which reveals my fond feelings for this wonderful place.

One’s native ground is the place where, since before you had words for such knowledge, you have known the smells, the seasons, the birds and beasts, the human voices, the houses, the ways of working, the lay of the land, and the quality of light.  It is the landscape you learn before you retreat inside the illusion of your skin.

Real estate ads offer houses for sale, not homes.  A house is a garment, easily put off or on, casually bought and sold; a home is skin.  Merely change houses and you will be disoriented; change homes and you bleed.  When the shell you live in has taken on the savor of your love, when your dwelling has become a taproot, then your house is a home.
 - Scott Russell Sanders

Our neighborhood is not only comprised of its buildings as objects, but it is, moreover, the sum of the uses of the buildings, porches, sidewalks, streets, and neighborhood amenities.  The language of any neighborhood is both collective memory and collective aspiration.  While history concerns the past, tradition concerns the thresholds from heritage into the future.  This notion of tradition, of urban evolution, and of creating and recreating wholeness should be our primary focus while adding to this neighborhood.  We thus offer this pattern book as a way of revealing both our collective memory and our collective aspiration to help designers, developers and the City to create beautiful homes and public urban space which complement the existing surrounding neighborhood.   

Pattern books were commonly used at the time of our neighborhood’s first construction, and throughout history.  They offered local builders and craftsmen essential details to construct an architecturally correct house.  Pattern books were offered in several forms: classical treatises or manuals, plan books that could be replicated, catalogs for building products, or plans for pre-manufactured houses.

Our pattern book serves more as a data and idea file.  We give the user a glimpse of the project sites from those who have a history and direct connection with them, and who have a direct stake in the projects’ success.  Consequently, we urge users to plan for this particular urban space by paying special attention to the surrounding details at three scales: (1) the overall plan for the development suiting the layout of the existing land; (2) the image of typical urban spaces within the plan complementing the existing urban spaces within the neighborhood; and (3) the individual buildings with their architectural details echoing the architectural styles of the surrounding homes.  The pattern book has three essential sections: Project Overview and Neighbor Concerns, which explains our understanding of the proposed development projects and our reaction to the proposals; Our Collective Memory, which reveals the existing neighborhood character, including the most prevalent architectural styles; and Our Collective Aspirations, which illustrates our hopes for the additions to our neighborhood, citing examples of recent developments of similar scale.

Our neighborhood derives much of its character from its diversity of architectural styles and textures.  We, therefore, encourage any development which pursues a similar mixture of styles and textures at a modern density which blends well with our existing density. In the final product, we would like to achieve a balance between the  individual expression of each building and a unity of all of the architectural styles.  Color should also be used to enliven the development and to harken to the surrounding neighborhood.  As in any composition, a symphony is created from notes which harmonize, take one on a journey, and tell a story.  Repetitions and patterns are present, but are accented and blended into the composition whole.

Finally, we urge all who use this book to study our concerns, familiarize themselves with our history and architecture, and understand and implement our prescriptions for quality developments to enhance our existing neighborhood.  Examine each section as a whole, and go back and come to know the details.  The overall layout of the neighborhood is important, the size of our streets, the positioning of our homes on their lots, our street amenities, street trees, and landscaping.  The massing of our buildings is integral to determining and recreating the proper architectural styles.  Door and window placement and dimensions are important, as is exterior detailing.  All of these elements combine together to develop the special place that our neighborhood has evolved into. 

Our residences within the Newhall Neighborhood are truly homes, and our neighborhood, consequently, offers us all a place of comfort and belonging, a place away from harm.  We stroll along our sidewalks beside tree-lined streets in couples holding hands, with our children, walking our dogs, or solo commuting to work.  Our streets are pedestrian friendly, and we feel safe. 

The Newhall Neighborhood has seen many new residents, but others have lived here for many years, and raised families within our grounds.  After so many years of intimacy, the neighborhood dwells in us as surely as we dwell in the neighborhood.  Those of us who have made a connection with this place continue to work to improve upon it.  Our efforts have accomplished the construction of new sidewalks, the planting of new trees, a traffic calming street closure, a park, and a prospering neighborhood organization which continues to address issues important to our residents. 

We dwell in a neighborhood of diversity, and this is exemplified by the variety of our homes’architectural styles. We draw the reader’s attention to five particular architectural styles which are prevalent within our neighborhood, and we discuss them in alphabetical order: (1) European Romantic, (2) Minimal Traditional, (3) Spanish Revival, (4) Vernacular, and (5) Victorian Farmhouse and Cottage.  We highlight exemplars from primarily a one mile radius of the project sites, and have secondarily looked to examples within a three mile radius.  After citing the characteristics which distinguish each architectural style, we then point to special features such as doors, windows, rooflines, chimneys, materials, details, and landscaping.  It is important to see these elements dimensioned individually as well as placed within the whole composition of the house to achieve scale.

 It is our belief that the special quality achieved by this architectural multiplicity draws a particular type of resident who will laude our diversity.  This is an important characteristic of our neighborhood, and although we are open to change, we support change which will respect this special distinction, and draw future neighbors who will contribute to our special place.

No comments:

Post a Comment