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Architectural Review Boards


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March 23, 2006

Architectural Review Boards

Peter Coy

It's not enough that you spent $2 million for a bare lot and you have to spend another $6 million to build your dream house on it. Now you're forced to contend with an architectural review board that will decide whether your proposed design fits into the neighborhood.

My BW colleague Lauren Young just passed along a press release from DPS Development Co., which uses architectural review boards in its way-upscale "sporting club communities." The release quotes Dan Paquette, DPS vice-president for planning and development, about how not everyone fully appreciates the boards' judgments. Says Paquette: It's like being told, "Your baby is ugly." On the other hand, at least your tasteless neighbors have to go through the same painful process.

For fun, here are the Architectural Review Board guidelines for Greenbrier Sporting Club in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

Hey, at least the board might be able to prevent glass foreheads.

10:39 AM

Architecture

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I found your comment on the architectural review boards interesting, because it seemed negative when actually it could be a very good thing. For the most part, I don't think real estate writers ever consider the poor quality of construction when writing about real estate boom or bust. Here in Chicago, a great majority of the construction is so incredibly poorly built, often by people with no real training or experience, only a get-rich-quick attitude, that in ten years it will all start falling apart. This poor construction is across all levels, from my niece's small suburban new house to the most upscale condo building in Chicago, where the residents are suing the developer for poorly done construction.

Custom residential architects like us are marginalized in this booming environment because the builders are buying all the land, teardowns, and lots, whether in the suburbs or city, hiring house designers or architects that you can't imagine ever passing through a rigorous architecture school, to design a building for a couple thousand dollars or give a plan out of a drawer. So there are very few situations where homeowners can get hold of land or house and hire their own architect--and generally they are not willing to take the time to go through that process anyway. Even the wealthiest and well educated are not taught to evaluate construction quality or design intent--they only look to see if there is a Wolf range or a Subzero refrigerator.

Which gets back to the point about the Architectural Review Boards. We are modernists, and may not personally love designing a traditional house as per the guidelines for the Greenbrier that you published, but we certainly could do a good job--as any well-trained architect could--under any such constraints. We can appreciate any "style" as long as it is well done. The alternative would be to let the builders have their way and build more of the monstrosities that are now defining America. We have found that in every case that we have worked within such codes, it doesn't limit us, but it does limit the bad builders(though not entirely, unfortunately). Here in Chicago, we have Landmarked areas in which the buildings have to go through a similar review process, and it does definitely result in better quality buildings, materials and design. In a perfect world perhaps, such guidelines wouldn't be necessary, but in our aesthetically challenged environment they are a small attempt at quality control.

Posted by: Claudia Skylar at April 1, 2006 02:13 AM


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