CNU 22 Atypical Building Types

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front porch and street lights glow, illuminating sidewalk patches along Buffalo's Summer Street

All photos on this and subsequent CNU22 session posts are from Buffalo,

but aren’t necessarily related directly to the post.



   The following are tweet-casts of the Atypical Building Types session at CNU22 in Buffalo last week. I’ve edited the tweets lightly whenever I remembered something else the speaker said.


David Kim

Mayfair Lane in Buffalo builds a charming pedestrian lane above the vehicular street, glowing here at night against an amber-grey sky

Mayfair Lane is Buffalo’s most valuable building type per acre.
Nothing else comes close.
Read more about it in this post on Three Dog Night.

• Simple, flexible, & replicable: those are our new flex-building ideals.

• We want to be able to aggregate buildings in small increments because that’s what makes financing work in today’s market.

• The keys to making incremental buildings work are paying attention to fronts, backs, & shared courtyards.

• The most adaptable buildings are a designed on a single chassis that allows many buildouts over time.


Murphy Antoine

tiny brick Buffalo cottage stands with black gables against the nightfall sky, feathering to a soft warm glow where it meets the landscape behind a light-sprinkled wrought iron fence

This tiny cottage is probably Buffalo’s

second most valuable real estate per acre,

showing once again that small ≠ shack.

Even so, getting small types built

is tough in some markets.

• I'll talk about Baldwin Park and several types we use that have good vertical mix.

• We're all about getting stuff implemented, not just being theoretical.

• Building type choice is one of the most important, if not the single most important, decision we ever make in place-making.

• New types need to be "better than market" to really show the success of the type, otherwise nobody will take a chance on building them if they’re not more compelling.

• “Individual entry stacked flats” is a term we use for units that are similar to a mansion apartment… so long as it’s the type of mansion apartment that has only one front door.

• Individual entry stacked flats are a great way of integrating 1 bedroom units into an existing larger-home context because it doesn’t seem like you’re building out of character with the neighborhood.

• Individual entry stacked flats can look just like townhouses when they’re attached.

• Individual entry stacked flats bulk out to fit in a street full of larger row houses.

• Multi-entry stacked flats are great corner units because they can have entries on each frontage.

• Flex units can attune well to the market because of their adaptability to today's market.

• Flex units are designed to easily morph from their inaugural residential condition to retail when the time is right.

• The first level of a flex building should be a 1-story flat because that's what converts to retail later on.

• The podium building is most far-reaching & evolving type in our toolbox today. It mixes construction types, pushing wood to its limits in the code.

• CNU should take a lot of credit with the push for podium buildings, which let us build 5-6 story buildings.

• A podium building is typically concrete on the main level, with a 4-level wood building above.

• SuperWood buildings are a new type of podium building composed of 5 stories of wood construction (type 3A) on a concrete podium with upgraded fire rating on all exterior walls.

• SuperWood buildings can put bigger box retail in the concrete base.

• The concrete first level of podium buildings can be extra-tall for large tenants who need tall ceilings.

• Viewed from downhill, our new SuperWood building is an amazing thing to see, with a tall main level and two lower parking decks. All told, it looks like 9-story mostly-wood building!


Eric Moser

simple white brick Italianate cottage sits close between its neighbors on a Buffalo street at nightfall, a single porch light aglow

This isn’t one of Julie’s Edge Dwellers, but it’s as small

as some of them.

• Let's look at Julie Sanford's Edge Dwellers.

• In America, we've created construction where we can't live in buildings without outside air.

• There are many international sources of design inspiration for these case study houses.

• Edge dwellers are designed to produce more energy than they use.

• All of these case study houses are meant to be built of locally available materials.

• The tent dweller is a model of disengagement with the land, hovering lightly above it.

• The eco-dweller admits natural light & amplifies breezes, and is meant to live off the grid.

• Eco-dwellers are raised on piers, treading very lightly on the land, preserving existing drainage patterns.

• Our Belize project aims to reinvigorate local traditions of hardwood construction.

• These Belize cottages have no insulation in exterior walls, and are built without highly skilled labor.

• The Belize cottages reduce the number of layers we typically build in a building. What you see is what you get: studs, sheathing, and siding.

• We want to build a much smaller conditioned core of the building.


Steve Maun

warm yellow glow of the porch light illuminates this tiny cottages front porch, painted a festive red and green, while night draws close around

When financing is tougher to get,

it should be easier to get a loan

on a small cottage than a McMansion.

• After the meltdown, the lenders weren't there any more, so builders could no longer build spec houses. In some ways, this was a good thing.

• The problem is, you can't get the pace of construction to sustain a project without the financing of individual buildings.

• One of the greatest puzzles to American construction today is how to increase the capacity of building without the financing we once had.

• We are now looking at modular construction to boost our capacity.

• Modular is not less expensive than good stick construction - it's about the same. The bonus is speed.

• We're doing Marianne Cusato modular designs by Clayton Homes.

• One really interesting thing about modular is that it fits great on the tiny lots of old towns because the modules have to be small enough to travel down the highway.

• Going from the staging area to the building site in an existing town with a modular house can be an adventure. We have a special subcontractor for that.

• “Lift off” is that moment when your heart's in your throat with a modular house in the air and destined to go between two existing houses.

• The smallest cottages have porches built with the house in the factory. Larger houses have site-built porches.


Robert Orr

carriage house dissolves into the warm glow of the street light at the right edge of this scene, while two neighboring houses stand watch at the end of the street late on a Buffalo evening

Buffalo’s old streets are filled with building types that

aren’t typical today.

• This presentation is mainly about the building types I'm not allowed to build.

• My idea for this new type began with English leasehold from the Middle Ages.

• Today, the threshold of an urban development is to have a pro forma that's better than surface parking.

• Here’s the core question: How do you get the price down so low you don't need a public-private partnership for an urban infill?

• You can get tremendous variation along a street just by making the boxes a little larger or smaller than the ones next door.

• Our tiny incremental $300,000 building in New Haven has 6 tiny units & flex space on street… and still, the landowner elected to keep his surface parking!


Andrew Frey

festive light strings adorn the fence top and leap from eave to eave between two close-set brick cottages on a Buffalo evening

• My day job is to work for a luxury apartment developer. At night, I do townhousecenter.org.

• T4 didn't really exist before Miami21. It now applies to about 1,000 acres in the city.

• If we can figure out T4 in Miami, we can build quite a lot of it as successional upzoning occurs.

• We designed a 25' wide row house type to fit two abreast on Miami’s typical 50’ lots.

• Our Miami townhouse type doesn't have parking. Miami21 requires 1.5 spaces/unit, which is a problem.

• We're working on an exemption to off-street parking for small buildings near transit in Miami.


Steve Mouzon

I will write up my presentation and post it sometime soon.


Panel Discussion

Buffalo houses sit in the gathering evening light at a bend in the street, all porch lights aglow

• Roughly ⅔ of the buildings once existing in New England have been torn down.

• It is interesting that parking is considered part of the burden of the lot rather than part of transport system.

• Someone should initiate a parking credit for blocks with Zipcars.

• The key to the best new building types is funding that doesn't require Wall Street.

• The biggest problems with live-works are fire codes & finance.

• CNU is working with the FHA to get the allowable percentage of work area in live/works increased.

• Working at home should be a basic human right.


   ~Steve Mouzon



© The Guild Foundation 2013