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Thread: Heritage conservation districts and massing

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    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Heritage conservation districts and massing

    Anyone have any good studies that establish massing standards for new development in heritage areas? Also looking for good explanantions of why massing is important when reviewing development and methods in which to judge if a building is too "massive".
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    Member Wulf9's avatar
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    My opinion. New buildings should be equal or smaller than the heritage buildings. It's common practice to allow buildings "just a little bit larger" than the heritage structures. You always notice the new buildings in that circumstance.

    The purpose of heritage preservation is to show off the heritage. Often that increases value, and the district becomes an investment target. That's when the preservation usually loses. Phrases like "I'll build you a building that is more historic than the historic ones" will then abound.

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    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    One of my favorite techniques for demonstrating the concept of massing is to use a model. It does not have to be anything more elaborate than styrafoam blocks cut to scale. On a small scale you can even place these on an aerial photo.

    I attended a seminar on visualization recently, where the presenters were all ga-ga over 3-D fly-through software. There are times when it has value, but all-in-all, I think it is overrated as a technique. The old-style models are something far more tangible to most people.
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    Massing and scale have two very different definitions, IMO. Scale is the broader sense of the size of the building, whereas massing is the arrangement of the constituent parts of the whole building. Perhaps I'm wrong, however.

    I agree with Wulf9 - new buildings always stick out if they are allowed to subvert existing buildings in height. The exception would be a corner site where a sense of anchoring is desirable.
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    We don't have any "standards" per se but we have design guidelines. Our strucutres vary so much that one standard would not work. Simply stated they must be similar in mass and size as the surrounding structures...our architectural review board reviews every structure for compliance, along with neighborhood groups. We have little infill and a few additions going on to these strucutres. There have been a few mistakes made but for the most part the developers of the recent past projects really try to match surrounding structures.

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    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gedunker
    Massing and scale have two very different definitions, IMO. Scale is the broader sense of the size of the building, whereas massing is the arrangement of the constituent parts of the whole building. Perhaps I'm wrong, however.
    .
    I have also heard/read the same thing, but opposite to how you have it. Any good studies/guidlines on developing appropriate scale of buildings?
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    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by donk
    I have also heard/read the same thing, but opposite to how you have it. Any good studies/guidlines on developing appropriate scale of buildings?
    Actually, I'm Gedunker has it right.

    But I think there is a difference between "mass" and "massing".
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

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    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman
    But I think there is a difference between "mass" and "massing".
    Please describe the difference.

    For more info, I am "managing" a "massing study" for a heritage community and don't really understand the concept, other than I know when something looks to big.

    I also understand the relationships between existing buildings and proposed buildings when they abut one another,but what about non infill?
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    Quote Originally posted by donk
    Please describe the difference.

    For more info, I am "managing" a "massing study" for a heritage community and don't really understand the concept, other than I know when something looks to big.

    I also understand the relationships between existing buildings and proposed buildings when they abut one another,but what about non infill?
    What do you mean "non-infill"? New construction not between existing structures?? We have an entire end of Main Street that has recently developed where there were very small structures. Thos have since been removed and the new structures are in scale with other structures along Main Street. I wouldn't consider it infill, but am not sure thats what you are talking about.
    Our districts are probably set up much different but I would be happy to get you a copy of our design guidelines. Don't know how much they would help but...??

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    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Jaxspra
    What do you mean "non-infill"? New construction not between existing structures?? We have an entire end of Main Street that has recently developed where there were very small structures. Thos have since been removed and the new structures are in scale with other structures along Main Street. I wouldn't consider it infill, but am not sure thats what you are talking about.
    Our districts are probably set up much different but I would be happy to get you a copy of our design guidelines. Don't know how much they would help but...??
    New development on the undeveloped fringes of an urban area. We also have som e"monster" house issues in this community as there are a few older cottages with little architectural merit that will be coming down soon. I can't imagine spending 400-500k on a 30ft by 100 foot lot.
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  11. #11
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by donk
    Please describe the difference.
    Well...I don't have a definitive definition (), but i would say that "mass" references the discrete volume/size of the building alone, and "scale" refers to "mass" in context (ie relation to existing neighborhing structures).

    Whereas, "massing" is, as Gedunker stated, how the building's "mass" is composed/arranged in order to mask it when/if necessary.
    Last edited by mendelman; 09 Aug 2005 at 3:38 PM.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

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    Quote Originally posted by donk
    New development on the undeveloped fringes of an urban area.
    Yes, that is what I was refering too and exactly what happened at the southern end of our historic district. We were fortunate that the architect that designed it is a historian as well.
    I just went through our design guidelines and they are VERY vague, not anything of much substance (I didn't write them ) but with regard to Mass, this is what it says:

    Building Form, Mass and Scale
    The form, mass and scale of a building are some of the most important design issues in the historic district. The traditional two - to - three story scale of the district dominates much of the neighborhood and should be maintained.
    *A new building should appear similar in scale to historic structures in the area. A building should have a simple rectangular mass as its primary form.
    *A new building should appear similar in height to those seen traditionally in the district. Historically most buildings were two-and-three stories in height.
    *Employ floor-to-floor heights that appear similar to those seen historically. In particular, the first floor windows should appear similar in height to those seen traditionally. In general, exterior building elements, such as moldings, cornices or windows, should be seen to align with other buildings along a block
    *Divide larger buildings into "modules" that appear similar in scale to buildings seen traditionally. If a larger building is divided into multiple "modules", they should be expressed throughout the entire building. For example a building divided into modules should not have a single roof element. Rather they should appear as distint building elements.


    Anyway, as I said, those probably are not of much help, but here we do not regulate mass, it is on an individual basis, project by project. In my opinion it works best because these are evolving developments and sometimes a larger structure is warranted even if there are no others around, and it goes the same way in reverse, sometimes a smaller building will fit in just as well depending on the design. Our architectural review board determines what is approrpriate in the area and what isn't. And of course ther have been times that a strucutre that did not fit in got through due to politics or whatever reason, which may justify coming up with hard fast standards.

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    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    From the 40-50 websites i have reviewed the language is much the same as your. general statements of intent and desire that scale and amssing match existing developments, but nothing concrete describing what things to consider when defining scale and mass. Might work fine when you are working with knowledgable professionals, but throw a council into the mix abd I can see the guidelines going out the window, after all the building is "only 6 feet taller".
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    Quote Originally posted by donk
    From the 40-50 websites i have reviewed the language is much the same as your. general statements of intent and desire that scale and amssing match existing developments, but nothing concrete describing what things to consider when defining scale and mass. Might work fine when you are working with knowledgable professionals, but throw a council into the mix abd I can see the guidelines going out the window, after all the building is "only 6 feet taller".
    Your exactly right and the Council has done it to us a few times (THEN they see the error of their ways ) I wish I could think of a better way or definition but we simply have nothing else.
    And you are right, when working with developers and architects that are familiar with historic structures/architectures it is easy but when you got Joe Blow wanting to build one single structure the guidelines often aren't enough and the smaller developer gets very frustrated as it isn't black and white.

    I had a small real estate that got his hands on 4 very good lots, just on the edge of the historic district where a lot of development is starting. Anyway, he wanted to develop these 5 little, adjacent lots into single family homes...1 to 1-1/2 story houses, set back 25 feet from the street, large side yards, etc; across a two lane street from a new beautiful, historically accurate three story hotel...our design guidelines were just too vague and this developer could NOT understand why we kept telling him "no". Thankfully, a developer came along and bought the five lots from him and is now putting a large, 3-story mixed use structure on the five lots. Its time slike that when I get scared that the guidelines just aren't enough, especialy around here...all it takes is a "friend" on the council and I would have had a monstrosity on the street!!

    So, I hope you are able to find something more concrete!! Good luck!!

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