A Charrette of Polymeric Exterior Designs in Erie, CO

by Fernando Pages Ruiz

At a charrette in Erie, Colorado, with DPZ CoDesign and a few local architects in attendance, the Town of Erie devoted seven, twelve-hour days to planning the future of a new downtown. If you're not familiar with a “charrette”, it is a term adopted from the French, which means a little cart – as in shopping cart. In the city planning context, it entails much more. I'll explain it. During final exams, aspiring French architects had to develop an architectural assignment within a few hours. When the time was up, professors circulated with little carts collecting final drawings from their students. In planning, the term charrette has come to mean rapid designs done under a strict timeline. At Erie, the town had commissioned the New Urbanist planning and architectural firm DPZ for a seven-day intensive project to create an aspiring vision for the development of their new site, Four Corners Town Center.

I participated in two of the seven days where I observed eight architects drawing furiously, as if it was a final examination, under the watchful eye and direction of Andrés Duany, Founder of DPZ. In detail, three architects were placed at one desk, two at another, and Josef, the personal assistant to Andrés, sat at a third desk, projecting drawings on a large screen for the public to see the work in progress. The atmosphere was a little like a cooking channel contest with the clock ticking and contestants furiously preparing their plates for the judges.  At each of the drawing tables, instead of a cookbook, I saw copies of the book VSI sponsored, "Architectural Design for Traditional Neighborhoods," which many architects were using as a reference.

Beyond a marketing tool, our recently launched book has become a resourceful guide for city planners creating traditional neighborhood developments (TNDs).  The simple but straightforward prescriptive language and beautiful architectural models make the publication a convenient guide for planners and architects creating a design code.  For instance, how do you combine various architectural styles on one block? See page 7. Need examples of porch characteristics? See page 40.  Want to know more about vinyl siding and its benefits? Turn to Chapter 4., New Horizons in Building Materials.

In October, following a vinyl design class I delivered at DPZ in Miami, the architects working on a traditional neighborhood development for a client in Oregon requested specific language from me to apply to their strict design guidelines permitting vinyl siding. Leveraging work done last year with Steve Mouzon on VSI’s Traditional Construction Products initiative, I composed a five-page “Polymeric Materials Code” for the project. Presented within the context of critical developmental work on the architecture of traditional neighborhoods, permitting vinyl siding and other polymeric products has become acceptable. So much so that the new vinyl code is under consideration at Kentlands, Gaithersburg, Maryland, one of the first and most inspiring traditional neighborhoods designed by DPZ.

The charrette in Erie concluded on Tuesday, November 12 with a fully designed, 390-acre town center, featuring higher-density residential, mixed-use commercial, and civic facilities for public events. The new Four Corners Town Center aims to revive Boulder’s Pearl Street for pedestrian activity.  Will the design guidelines permit vinyl siding’s admittance? Since the town wants to add many more affordable residences and the local architectural firms engaged in the drawings are now familiar with and open to polymeric claddings, it appears the chances of vinyl’s acceptance are more likely than before.

Topics: design   inspiration   architect   benefits of vinyl   tips   new urbanism