Rethinking community development with Community Design Prototypes
Crescent Communities, 2022

Supernormal worked with Crescent Communities, a real estate development company from Charlotte, NC, to create a research and development platform for better community design and development. This 2017 strategic design and R&D process re-thinks the current “community development” model to meet changes in culture, market demand, technology, and climate through systematic innovation and incremental bets on housing types and flexible development patterns that mitigate long term risk to accommodate future change.

Better community development requires increased diversity, a more social public realm, intelligent speculation about public life in the sharing economy, and improved access to local (and public) amenities. Flexibility and openness to change over time enable a clear plan for immediate, interim, and future use with respect to parking, open space, gradually increasing density, and the injection of non-residential uses into residential settings.

Scale, an essential mechanism to minimize risk in modern real estate development projects, commonly leads to the replication of sameness within existing formulas for design and planning in community development. In the 21st century context, American suburbs take a familiar form, filled with large, single-family, detached homes and a pattern of picturesque, winding, discontinuous streets. Improving upon this requires optimization and “future-proofing” to hedge against changes in culture, market demand, and technological and climatic change.

In addition to a strategic plan for implementing innovative design as small bets within each Crescent project, Supernormal developed a set of design prototypes at the block and building scale to set the course for socially sustainable community development now and into the future.Flexible block structures may be utilized to fill existing gaps and respond to 21st century living patterns. A square block, designed as the initial prototype for implementation in a specific community development project in Charlotte, NC, enables greater social diversity and a pathway to accommodate shifts in mobility patterns and cultural change. The alley-loaded block hosts parking and shared landscapes at mid-block in the immediate future, and plans for a time when vehicular automation will free up the block to provide an even richer set of uses and semi-private productive landscapes.

Providing a mix of housing types within a single block encourages greater age and economic diversity within a given community. For example, the bighouse type, commonly developed as an island surrounded by parking and self-similar building types, can be broken out for use among smaller types. By combining intelligent architectural design and block-scale groupings, a revised bighouse design holds the potential to provide both young professionals and an aging population with shared amenities that currently characterize millennial co-living or retired communities using the Greenhouse model.

A diagram of block structures that bridge the significant gap between detached single family types and large multifamily and commercial mixed use development presents a range of opportunities for the development of (currently absent) transitional patterns that can fluidly host a wider range of uses, demographics, and housing types. A neighborhood street network built from these block types can accommodate variations in context and product type, and can prioritize pedestrian access in a healthy relationship with bike and car transit.

Leveraging the manufacturing and construction delivery systematization already achieved in the production of single family homes, a family of rowhouses and compact types achieves a vast amount of diversity through very few and simple plan layouts. Simple rectangular types with a range of roof and porch structures, and interior finishes, allow properties at different price points to co-exist side by side.

Elizabeth Christoforetti, Will Cohen, Claire Djang, Anna Falvello, Nate Fash, Chris Ryan, and Snoweria Zhang