These entries present ideas about how buildings, cities, and landscapes can be made into better places for humans. Humane Design is published by Jeremy Fretts, and is committed to "improving the human habitat." Jeremy Fretts is a designer and project architect at Niles Bolton Associates, and a member of the Congress for New Urbanism.    RSS/XML

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Open Source Architecture

I am continually frustrated by the overly proprietary nature of so much within the practice of architecture.  On the legal front, the very codes that govern construction are usually proprietary, when they should be public domain.  On the practice front, I do not understand why architects have not embraced open-source collaboration more akin to the tech world.

Building Codes, enacted by law, often refer to proprietary Codes and Standards, which must be purchased, or, at the least, accessed in a library.  How can the very Law itself be so inaccessible?  It's one thing to charge for printingcosts, but in this day and age, the entire text of any legal document (such as building codes) should be online and free for public access.

Regarding the profession, we take our (justifiable) paranoia about intellectual property a bit too far.  Organizations like CSI and the AIA certainly offer valuable resources, prepared at great expense.  But why aren't ordinary architects and specification writers posting to open-source communities, continually bettering one another?  Why is MasterSpec still the standard, rather than an architect's version of Wikipedia or Sourceforge?  



Charlotte - Most Humane airport



I am stuck at Charlotte-Douglas airport waiting for my plane to arrive.  I just finished an authentic BBQ dinner, sitting under a ficus tree.  There's a piano playing, and I'm watching for one of the rocking chairs to free up.  There's an endless stream of interesting people walking past.  And did I mention the free wireless?

For these reasons, I once again award Charlotte the title of Most Humane airport.  It's a delight to be here.  I normally have to pay to be in an environment like this--Starbucks, or a resort.





Portfolio update on

I just completed a major upgrade to the picture galleries in the Portfolio section of .  Projects now pictured in the gallery include Hoosier Hills Credit Union, Bedford Federal Savings Bank, McKay Farm Professional Building, Ludlow Apartments, Crossroads Community Church, Henry County YMCA, Switzerland County YMCA, Boys' & Girls' clubs, and numerous site planning projects.

Click on "Buildings and Interiors" or "Site Planning and Urban Design" at right to view these photos and renderings.


Site Visit: South Dunn Street, Bloomington

sds-140.gifOn Wednesday, I had the opportunity to visit South Dunn Street, an urban infill project in Bloomington, Indiana.  This is the first project for local developer Matt Press, but it has proven highly successful.  In fact, the project has already been published in American Bungalow magazine (No. 52, Winter 2006).

The site was an undeveloped 2-block parcel, platted but never built out, within the urban core.  Matt installed the street infrastructure, and commissioned the design of updated foursquares and bungalows, designed by Kirkwood Design Studios of Bloomington. Of the homes built and sold, the sale prices have ranged from the $190's to $650,000 for a fully customized plan.  This is one of the hallmarks of a great urban neighborhood -- price diversity.  It is also proof-positive that there is a market for the traditional approach to neighborhood design and homebuilding.


Finally, I should say that the houses and the street just look great!  They have all the benefits of the historic neighborhood, including mature trees, but brand-new construction.  The immediate neighborhood, mostly small ranch-style homes, will surely receive increased valuation as a result of the handsome new neighbors.


Next up: mixed-use retail buildings at the end of the street, fronting busy Hillside Drive. 

Matt Press owns Neighborhood Solutions, and is a member of the Congress for the New Urbanism.

Pictured below: Surrounding neighborhood on Hillside Drive, and the site of the future retail/apartment component.




Creative options for school expansion

Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, in North Carolina, is investigation a "Katrina-Cottage"-inspired approach to school buildings.  These small cottages will provide an alternative to the bland trailers often used for school overflow.

Read more, and see the picture here:

Also, I've always been amused by the people movers at Dulles Airport.  They are large, rolling "rooms" that dock into the building.  It would be interesting to see these used for schools needing only a temporary expansion, then drive them to the next need.  (a bit silly....but I still like the idea.)


rolling room dulles.jpg


Best & worst new appliances

With Christmas just past, I am left with warm memories of the cool new products I discovered while gift-hunting.

I should offer this disclaimer to start: my kudos and concerns are based solely on the product idea and design...I have no idea if they actually work.

toaster poacher.jpgWorst best idea: The Toaster / Poacher

Back to Basics offers this toaster - egg poacher - egg boiler - meat warmer combination. 

I love this!  Except for the fact that it feels like a toy, and has too many loose plastic parts. 

This is a good idea...but it needs to built of stainless steel and have a Cuisinart nameplate. And somehow, it needs fewer parts.

Buy it here.




lg toaster microwave.jpgGreat Hybrid: Microwave /  Toaster

For those of us with too little counter space, and too many appliances, this does a beautiful job of providing toast within the discreet, elegant, stainless steel envelope of a microwave. From LG.

Buy it here.






philips frame.jpg Simply Superior: Philips Digital Photo Frames

I looked at a lot of these, and did some research before buying one as a gift.  This product I can attest to -- it's awesome!   Beautifully designed (an award winner), high quality, and pretty user friendly.  The picture quality and resolution are magnificent.

The only improvement the unit could use is a DVD-style navigator.  The buttons are a little counterintuitive.  (but they are clearly labeled, so it's only a minor point).  Buy it here.




Favorite chairs for office, cafe, and home

I may be pickier about chairs than any other product. These are my favorites. I've specified them, I've purchased them myself.  They are comfortable, durable, and handsome. And all but one of them are reasonably priced.  Most of these are available through Continental Office Environments in Indianapolis.  Ask for Jennifer, and tell her I sent you.

Ergonomic Desk Chairs

skye chair.jpg

  • Skye Chair, by Kimball - After test driving outstanding chairs from Herman Miller and Humanscale, this is the one I bought.  Elegant, comfortable, highly adjustable. This is a premium desk chair for full-time desk jockeys, or corporate execs who want to look like they're sitting in an expensive chair.




Stacking Chairs

reva chair.jpg

  • Carlo Chair, by Holsag Canada - What a great wooden stacking chair. Incredibly comfortable, and nearly indestructible. And, at a price point well below the average for a stacker of this quality...about $45 each.  I used these for large group meeting rooms at Community Mental Health Centers, Inc., and they have since ordered more.
  • Reva Chair / Barstool, by Thonet - Plastic clamshell on chrome legs.  A simple formula, but Thonet executes with more style and comfort than most with their Reva series.  These come in stacking chairs, barstools, and rolling armchairs. They are well-priced, with chairs costing less than $100 each (how much less depends on who you know.) I use these for dining & bar chairs in my house. (I don't understand why Americans, generally, buy lousy wooden dining furniture that's not comfortable and is easily damaged.)

(This is also posted in the Product Recommendations section)


Un-planned obsolescence

What happens when large tracts of homes or apartments become dated or decrepit, en masse? Large projects - that is, those that cover large horizontal areas of land with private streets - may be tolerable or even pleasant when first constructed, but too often they are arranged in a fashion that will insure that they are the slums of tomorrow. 

Consider a large complex of apartments, with a single entrance, and a meandering network of private streets.  As the cheaply built buildings age, the apartments furthest from the entry have the double curse of being run-down, and deep within the slum.  On a conventional street grid, this unit could easily be sold off or demolished.  As is, it will likely continue to decay and become more dangerous until the entire complex is razed.

Urbanists argure for a more traditional block and alley street grid because it creates "good bones."  Infrastructure needs to be planned for the long term.  Then, it is financially and logistically easier to renovate or replace individual buildings within a development.

(Case study photos forthcoming...Pickwick Farms, Mollenkopf)


Affordable real estate for small business

As redevelopment replaces old, decaying buildings, local business is often replaced with large chains and franchises.  I would speculate that this is in part because the new construction demands much higher rents. Similarly, I would speculate that many cherished local retailers might be hard pressed to stay in business if they had to pay rent--that is, if they hadn't already owned their buildings for generations.

Likewise, in new development, we often find only large corporate retailers, at least until certain spaces prove to be unleasable.

As an example, in my town of Fishers, on the fringe of Indianapolis, one can rent a storefront in an old building for about $12/sf.  In a new building, you'd pay twice that, even in cases where the new construction has a higher density.

So, how can developers and urbanists be proactive in providing affordable places for entrepreneurs, mom-and-pops, ethnic/immigrant restaurants, and the like?

1) Business incubators, or for-profit office suites.  In downtown Fishers, Yeager Construction has built a two-story office suite building with 200 sf rooms available with six-month leases and shared conference rooms.  It has been a huge success.  Among the more typical tenants is a hair salon...not your usual "office suite" occupant.

2) Farmer's Markets.  Farmer's Markets are a great way to offer a low barrier-to-entry for startup businesses.

3) Live-Work Units.  While retail below housing isn't always a low-rent opportunity, retail below YOUR housing is a better deal.  Live Work units are gaining momentum.  While the demand for them is somewhat low in comparison to the entire market, the supply is far lower.   These have become quite successful in Kentlands, MD; San Francisco; and are even being built in Carmel, Indiana.

4) Parking Lot Liners. Narrow "liner" buildings can create the street wall around a parking lot, and provide small spaces for rent to small business.  Likewise, the first floor street facade of any (and all) parking garages is a great opportunity for narrow, low-rent spaces.


Left: "Block 7" at Belmar, Colorado.  The Parking Garage is wrapped with small artist studios.  The studios make the street front safer and more lively.



Left: This simple arcade in Leesburg, Virginia, serves as a Farmers' Market and surrounds a public green.  On this side of the green, it is simply a lean-to structure against a historic building.


New idea for a coffee shop - "Alone Together"

I'm about to head over to Starbucks.  I've been camped out in my house for the weekend, and I'm going nuts.  I need to be around other people.  Not that I will necessarily talk to strangers there (I might), but I need to be "alone together." 

Which brings me to this thought...that would be a great name for a Coffee Shop or some other sort of communal gathering place "Alone Together."

Hmmm...let's consider that a servicemark of Humane Design.  That means you can't open one without my permission :)


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