Comment of the Day: What Should a New Building in a Historic District Look Like?

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT SHOULD A NEW BUILDING IN A HISTORIC DISTRICT LOOK LIKE? Modern Building in Historic District“There’s good and bad in historic preservation. The best historic preservation differentiates between neighborhoods and buildings. At the neighborhood level, there are strict strict controls on lot subdivision, building heights, setbacks, tree preservation, and sidewalks – so that new construction fits in the urban fabric. In Paris, France, you can design a totally new and modern building on a boulevard, as long as it continues the street wall and meets the mansard roof setbacks of its neighbors. (At least, it’s how it was 20 years ago when I was studying architecture in Paris.) For certain historic buildings, there are strict requirements for style and color and all of that. But it doesn’t extend through the whole historical neighborhood. Unfortunately, the differentiation seems lost here in the States. In other cities (New York in particular) they strictly control the details of any building that gets built in a historical district. It’s a real pain in the ass for the architects, and expensive for the owners.” [ZAW, commenting on Tiny Starkweather Becomes Houston’s Second Outside-the-Loop Historic District] Illustration: Lulu

16 Comment

  • I really don’t know why you don’t just hire ZAW, I’ll be the first to say he/she/it adds some very interesting comments however give me a break it’s like his comments are constantly deemed “Comments of the Day”–it’s like the nerdy dull teachers pet who never creates the least ripple and can be counted upon to write witless, dry textbook like tomes that lull the erase we to sleep like a Henry James novel–I’m tired just thinking about it

  • And I have an iPhone and every time I go to make a comment the site jumps so I tap one of those fucking ads, it’s annoying as hell–can you please get your web engineer to fix this–thx

  • I disagree completely –I appreciate how areas like Greenwich Village require developers to keep to the original historic aesthetic, it gives cohesion and beauty to the area and frankly it’s what you expect in a historic neighborhood. I too have spent time in Paris and thankfully the vast majority of Haussmann’s great mansard roof structures still stand just as they did during the Second Empire. I’m sorry architects such as the commenter are annoyed at these rules, however those of us who love historic neighborhoods appreciate the rules on historic aesthetics and look forward to our strolls thru Beacon Hill and historic Philadelphia —

  • Sometimes, proofreading helps.

  • Historic preservation at the neighborhood level is a sham, and here’s the proof of it: historically, people built what they wanted to with the best materials that they could afford and that were available. Restrictions and artifice detract from and pay disrespect to historical circumstances and motivations; furthermore, it is easier to see the floating equilibrium of supply and demand over time in unrestricted neighborhoods where the old is mixed in with the new.

    If the “neighborhood-level preservationists” were willing to abandon the red herring of preservation, and meekly declare that they have personal preferences about what would make a neighborhood look nice and that they should seek to impose their preferences upon people often to their detriment, then perhaps I would have some degree of respect for them. Although still horrid nasty people, untrustworthy thieves and scoundrels, at least they would be honest about their nature with themselves and others. That is wishful thinking, though, a pipe dream of mine.

  • Clearly, all of inner Houston needs to impose limits to require painfully low roofs, cinderblock pier foundations, cheap plank siding, and a 713 square foot max floor plan. Seems like Tuff-sheds meet all of the requirements of a Houston historic district building. I actually think Houston city leadership should tour historic districts around the country like DC, Boston, and NY, find the best looking ones, and then impose those limits on future construction in certain Houston neighborhoods. It will create a new exciting historic feel for Houston that everyone can appreciate

  • John C.–totally agree, though frankly I am dubious that the powers that be at City Hall want preservation of any kind–Houston loves the market to rule all, hence for the most part the city is pretty ugly –the best parts are the old parts–Hermann and Memorial Park, River Oaks and Southampton Place, etc–Houston actually has some pretty old neighborhoods but most are in grave danger, particularly Montrose (see bulldozer tear down great old house on Lovett for exhibit A)–oh and as always I completely disagree with TheNiche.

  • Well Shannon I disagree with you. I think there is room for historic and modern architecture to coexist as long as the scale, setbacks and proportion of the buildings are in line with the rest of the neighborhood. Here in the Heights we are being bombarded with developments of 4-5 houses in a row, and the only difference is the color scheme and a few trim details. I know it saves the developer money, but that’s not really what we had in mind. If I wanted to live on a street where all the houses look the same I’d move to the suburbs.

  • At the rate the Heights is bulldozing blocks and blocks building faux Victorians that look just alike you’ll be living in the suburbs –I couldn’t disagree more with you –look at Boston NYC–even Atlanta –Houston is far behind the curve on Preservation it’s a joke –you think a townhome next to a bungalow next to a garden nursery next to a tire shop next to a faux Victorian next to a real Victorian looks good then I don’t know what to say but I completely and totally disagree with you.

  • You know Shannon I have noticed quite a few of your comments on this board and they are always very aggressive and negative. Your favorite line seems to be “I couldn’t disagree with you more” followed by the only opinion that counts – yours. You are either very thin skinned or have low self esteem.

  • “If the “neighborhood-level preservationists” were willing to abandon the red herring of preservation, and meekly declare that they have personal preferences about what would make a neighborhood look nice and that they should seek to impose their preferences upon people often to their detriment, then perhaps I would have some degree of respect for them. Although still horrid nasty people, untrustworthy thieves and scoundrels …”

    If the anti-preservation crowd would admit they’re the useful idiots of the libertarian wing of the Republican party, deluded into thinking they’re perpetually re-enacting the battles of Lexington and Concord, which gives them the illusion they are something like men, and keeps them from getting truly restless, I would probably have more respect for them. It is myopic or fraudulent to pretend that important principles, either political or economic, are at stake in these neighborhood-level dramas. The destruction of America, we may at least comfort ourselves, is happening at a much grander scale; this ceased to be a nation of rugged individualists a long time ago; and though they are fond of quoting it, there can be no more than four or five people left who really believe “how small of all that human hearts endure, that part which kings or laws can cure.”

  • Though I appreciate your arm chair psychology (I’d go with the former not the latter) let’s stick to responding to the thread and leave the psychology to Freud.

  • Maybe it’s time for some form based zoning that includes superficial external regulations for housing stock but also backed up with some serious building codes such as, for example, LEED Platinum. I would be interested to see what happens.

  • Anon: a form based code would help address high rises and mid-rises in low-rise neighborhoods, as well as cramalot developments. But it wouldn’t help poorer neighborhoods fend off things like concrete crushing plants or waste transfer stations.
    I wonder, however, if a form based code could be coupled with land-use buffer zone requirements to solve both problems. The buffer zone requirements would help in the case of concrete crushing plants and waste transfer stations, and other things that are obnoxious because of what they do and not their form.

  • Well I just meant in historic districts, not in the rest of the city. You’d think a historic district would be able to fend off high rises and waste transfer stations or any of these things you’re talking about.

  • Paris is beautiful, plus the power lines are buried. Houston’s few historic neighborhoods remain only to remind us of what is lost forever.