DESIGN: How to Create Community Identities through Architecture

By Keat Foong, Executive EditorEstablishing a community identity is one of the critical elements of a successful project, and it can be accomplished through design. Not only does a well articulated and attractive identity differentiate a development from its competitors, but it also makes it more warm and inviting to prospects and therefore delivers clear marketing benefits.“Always try to create an identity from the time the prospects approach the project all the way to the time they enter their homes,” advises Ken Tobin, principal in the Celebration, Fla.-based Kenneth L. Tobin Architects, which is part of a collaboration with BCArchitects, Coral Gardens and Celebration, Fla. “Think about what are you saying, what are you telling the public.” One of the most fashionable community identity today is that of an urban development and that means a residential property that also contain retail and possibly offices and and walkable streets. “Creating a development with multiple uses is a great way to develop an identity through architecture and design,” says David Obitz, principal of KTGY Group, Irvine, Calif. Such environments provide a certain amount of energy given the presence of pedestrians and continuous levels of activities, he suggests. Also do not shy away from being a pioneer in a neighborhood in terms of creating a new identity that breaks with the past, opines Marvin Melter, principal of the New York-based Meltzer/Mandl Architect, PC. Meltzer gives the example of one of his firm’s projects, 57 Bond Street, in New York City. At first, the client wanted the project to be contextual with the historic warehouses that were located in the area north of Soho. But Meltzer suggested starting a new vocabulary since the building’s use—a new ground-up residence construction—was different, and the project was designed as a modern glass building. All the residential new construction in that area has since followed the same contemporary design scheme. “I like to feel I was instrumental in establishing a new identity for that part of town,” says Meltzer. In creating a high-energy urban identity, Obitz recommends that “the sidewalk needs to be highly amenitized,” not only with retail, but also architectural elements such as enriched façade, landscaping, canopies, signage, light fixtures, that “that draws and attracts you and makes you want to stay there for a while.” According to Tobin, of Kenneth L. Tobin Architects, in creating an identity, the development should “establish a point of view that the prospect has arrived at some place and it is different.” In such respect, the developer can pay attention to the treatment common amenities. One of the trends in recent years is to create a path to a common amenity so as to create a sense of destination and to prioritize natural amenities such as wetlands or natural lakes. So for example instead of “going through a gatehouse and smack into the clubhouse,” the clubhouse will be pushed to the other side of a lake. Prospects will then have to travel around that lake to get to the clubhouse. And instead of residences backing up into a golf course, the golf course will be at the front of the homes, not their backyards. Also, instead of centralizing amenities such as clubhouses, they can be decentralized, such that there are various amenities—basketball courts, barbecue pits—scattered about the development.And in creating a common identity, common threads can be established by unifying the street light fixtures, paving patterns, public furniture, and architectural elements “so that you know regardless of where you are in the community, you are still in the community,” says Tobin.  “Establishing a community identity is important from a marketing perspective. If you have a sense of community, you feel like you are a part of the community  and a sense of pride. A community is like a neighborhood where people know each other. You can set it up such that residents can take advantage of the community.”