Community Design Prototypes

Family tree lineup

Supernormal worked with Crescent Communities, a real estate development company from Charlotte, NC, to create a research and development platform for community design and development. This design, development, and assessment process is designed to meet changes in culture, market demand, technology, and climate through systematic innovation and incremental bets on housing types as well as flexible development patterns that mitigate long term risk to accommodate future change.

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.

Status quo

Within the boom and bust cycles of residential real estate, and the cultural shifting of tastes—between desires for suburban amenities on one hand, and urban access and convenience on the other, a more systematic mechanism for testing market leading development types is needed.

Crescent Communities, a developer of single, multifamily, and commercial mixed use, understands that design that is both successful by immediate market standards, and agile enough to accommodate changing demand and the needs of the future, is an essential but difficult goal to mitigate long-term risk. To this end, Supernormal worked with Crescent leadership to design, and create the first instance of, a research and development cycle that will better align design and development patterns with brand values in the face of our changing external context.

Research and development cycle

In addition to a strategic plan for implementing innovative design as small bets within each Crescent project, Supernormal developed a set of design prototypes to set the course for socially sustainable community development now and into the future.

Flexible block structures

Future-proofing 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. 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.

Housing types

Spectrum of residential types in community development

Transitional building types bridge existing gaps

Providing a mix of housing types within a single block will encourage 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.

Crescent family tree

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.

A 21st Century Cul-de-sac

Cul de sac

The block below is one example of how flexible block structures may be utilized to fill existing gaps and respond to 21st century living patterns. This 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.

This fundamentally urban strategy encourages a new type of sharing and community life at mid-block – a new take on the suburban cul-de-sac for the 21st century.

Mid block render


Crescent Communities


Charlotte, NC


Completed 2017


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