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

Click to switch to Index view


Viewsheds - Preserving vistas

For years, we have concerned ourselves with watersheds--those areas of land that feed into our drinking water.  But as our towns and cities sprawl ever outward, viewsheds will gain importance.  With each individual home that strives to have two acres and a view, that home is likely polluting a neighboring suburban home's pristine view of nature.  Even moreso the visual "pollution" caused by an entire subdivision in what was once a farm field.

Viewsheds need to be considered by municipalities and developers.  For municipalities, it is important to preserving the character that attracts people to the area.  For developers, it is important to extracting the maximum dollar from prospective buyers.  It is fact that homebuyers will pay more for homes fronting parkland. It is a strong selling point when the developer can guarantee an unchanging view.

We need more developments that feature "villages" clustered close together, but with shared ownership of greenbelts and parkland.

More to follow...



Where are the Delis?

Allow me to bemoan the lack of delis in Indianapolis.

(As published in the Indianapolis Business Journal, December, 2006)

I am writing to challenge Indianapolis' entrepreneurial restaurateurs.


I come from deli country.  Perhaps not so much so as a New Yorker, but obviously moreso than the average Hoosier who appears oblivious to the void in his life.  A void that can be filled with meat.  And cheese.  And pasta. And pasta salad. All homemade, at prices lower than Marsh charges.

But seriously, the ready-to-eat delicatessen seems to be an underdeveloped asset in Hoosierland.  As I write this, I'm sitting in Shapiros.  Despite its legitimate claim to delihood, it seems more like a cafeteria to me, with overcooked spaghetti steaming all afternoon.  It is expensive, and the service is slow.  Further, it is not at all obvious how I would buy an entree to take home, by the pound.

McAlisters is busting at the seams, and quick to serve, but let's be honest, it's a sandwich shop. 

Contrast that with a New York deli. Servers standing at the ready behind cases filled with beautiful and various delights.  Salad bars that would make Ruby Tuesday and Golden Corral blush with shame.  Excellent pizza by-the-slice.  Pastries. It's Everyman's culinary heaven, with truly good food served fast at reasonable prices.

Compare it to a Pittsburgh deli, with world-class rigatoni beckoning, and pierogies, and sub sandwiches, and an endless array of ready-to-slice meats.  And don't forget the creamy salads that are actually worth eating.  Here, the deli is part meat market and part caterer. The cookies even smile.

Finally, compare it to my favorite cafe in Laguna Beach, where the entrees in the case are elegantly upscale--more likely garnished with flowers and microgreens than parsley and pineapple.  They're available by the pound or by the slab, and the aroma of gourmet coffee fills the air. 

Indianapolis has a few landmark places that are worthy of similar praise.  But in New York, Western Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, there seem to be many more such places.  They are the norm rather than the exception.

So, hear me Indianapolis entrepreneurs - I'm hungry for some authentic food!  Until someone responds to my call, make sure to patronize Midday Deli (homemade soup!), Taste Cafe (you might spot a microgreen garnish!), Illinois Street Food Emporium, Taylor's Bakery, and your other favorite neighborhood eateries. 


New York City Deli on Amsterdam Ave.



Made to order breakfast in New York City


Breakfast, lunch, or dinner...the glow of the pastry case beckons from inside.


Pizza Rustica in South Beach, Miami, Florida


The Architecture of the Ordinary - Jeremy teaches at Ball State

I had the great honor of guest lecturing at Ball State University on Thursday.  My lecture "The Architecture of the Ordinary" was presented to Arch 100 students as the final lecture of the semester. 

My goal was to introduce students to realities of practice, and to get them thinking about the role of "fabric" buildings, rather than trying to all become design stars.

The lecture was peppered with architectural cartoons from Roger K. Lewis and Steve Shaecher, quotes from Andres Duany and Steve Mouzon, and a "Rogues Gallery" of terrible, though well intentioned, historicist architecture from central Indiana.  I also introduced the students to the heretical idea that, when designing a historically inspired building, there are actually "right" and "WRONG" ways to design. 

Referenced texts are all available through

Rogues Gallery: Retail strip center in Fishers, Indiana


"Yes, traditional architecture appeals.  But, the fact is, most of the vast production of traditional building is dismal, ranging from the merely inept to the simply hideous."   - Andres Duany, in Traditional Construction Patterns






Liner Building: The Cap at Union Station, Columbus, Ohio


The Cap was a long time coming, but this project finally connects the Arena District and the Short North in Columbus, Ohio.  The elegantly designed retail buildings line both sides of an overpass over I-670. reminiscent of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence.  I worked in Columbus when crossing over the interstate at this spot was an unfriendly experience, and this is a major improvement.  Now, convention-goers are more likely to walk the short blocks from the convention center to the happening arts district known as the Short North.

These are also great examples of LINER BUILDINGS - long shallow retail spaces oriented parallel to the street which conceal something else, in this case concealing the fact that you're on a bridge.  Judging from the interior of Cup O'Joe, the buildings are only about 30-40' deep.  For more examples of liner buildings, see the first issue of my newsletter:


The Cap was a 2006 Charter Award recipient from the Congress for the New Urbanism.

columbus 0806_-11.JPG

columbus 0806_-12.JPG



Toll Road Indiana: The Governor's Folly

Indiana's Governor has proposed a new toll road beltway around Indianapolis. This has stunned locals who did not perceive a need for such a bold move. In fact, local planning organizations had not even suggested such a thing. (Indy Star article) It is my strong belief that a toll road is only conceivable as a secondary priority to creation of a local commuter rail system. The need for such a rail system HAS been perceived as necessary by more than a few local folks.

Here is the text of my letter to Governor Mitch Daniels , and my State Representative, Jerry Torr.

Dear Governor Daniels:

I will be the first to commend you for being proactive and forward-looking in your leadership of our state. However, I am deeply puzzled and dismayed by your suggestion of a new beltway around Indianapolis.

Though Indiana has the capacity to contribute bio-fuels to our energy needs, this is an odd time to suggest such a large investment in a system which would promote further dependency on oil of any kind. Further, this will promote more sprawl.

Our existing neighborhoods, retail, and commercial districts will decay so long as it is less expensive to build new in an outlying area. Highways are essentially government subsidizing the sprawl in these outlying areas. And, as others have commented, trucks are unlikely to use the toll road until existing highways are impassable.

Finally, it would seem that commuter rail in central Indiana would be a much higher priority for a sustainable and forward-looking state. I am perpetually astounded by the (slow) timelines I hear for commuter- and high-speed rail projects in our state. Regarding beltways, I have never heard anyone say “I wish we were more like Houston,” or “I wish we were more like Los Angeles.” Yet even these auto-centric cities are now retrofitting their communities with commuter rail systems. Even Kansas City has approved plans to develop a light rail system.

Assuming that you still intend to push forward with this plan, please allow me to suggest three co-requisite items, which should be integrated into the legislation.

1) Develop a comprehensive regional land-use policy for the affected areas, assuring a full spectrum of urban-to-rural uses. (rather than uniform sprawl, requiring extensive infrastructure development by local municipailites, and providing less variety to users)

2) Fund a dramatic increase in Farmland Preservation programs near the toll road.

3) Construct a first generation commuter rail system

These items are vital to any plan for a new toll road. They are the only way such a plan might be considered progressive and responsible.

Thank you for your consideration.



Shutters: the great USAmerican architectural cartoon

Here is a great summary of why shutters make architects shudder, by one of my favorite architectural commentators, Roger K. Lewis.



Healthcare as urban form-giver

Though the medical community now worries about diabetes, obesity, and “walkable communities,” current hospitals and medical buildings are among the worst urban-design offenders. Isolated, inward-focused campuses promote automobile dependence and separation from outdoor activity. Medical office buildings are mazes of small rooms without daylight.

Some communities are starting to realize that their employees and patients would be better served by attractive outdoor environments, a stroll around the block, or lunch at a sidewalk café instead of a basement cafeteria. New Urban News reports that Miami and Memphis are taking the initiative to rethink their medical districts, while Bon Secours Richmond Health System has taken a more urban approach to their own campuses in Virginia. Their suburban St. Francis Medical Center in Midlothian is arranged more like a town, and includes nature trails.   (see New Urban News, Oct/Nov 2006)

In Indianapolis’ north suburbs, however, the old paradigm persists. Clarian North Medical Center is magnificent on the inside, but outside it is just another big box along the US-31 office building corridor, completely auto-dependant and inward looking. Community Hospital North seems committed to creating its own village of extra-terrestrial objects, looking more an architectural scrapyard than any part of a human settlement.

Because of their political clout, large building programs, and requisite interest in human well-being, hospitals and medical providers are uniquely positioned to promote good urban form on their campuses and in the surrounding neighborhoods.


Asian Microlofts (sm)

talbott pagoda.jpg

There are numerous housing types that are underused.  Among the typologies apparently absent from the landscape are Asian-inspired dwellings.  Yet, in online communities like Second Life, such dwellings and gardens proliferate.  I would further speculate that many of the online-habitats are created by users from the US and Europe.   Yet, I have not found any enclaves of similar dwellings in the real world USA.

Though lofts have become popular, they are still not readily available to the mass market.  Most of the current stock is either oversized, or overpriced.  These flexible dwellings have great potential for further development.

So, in this study, I have combined the open plan and structure of the loft, with a bit of Asian styling.  This block of three "stacked flats" could fit on a traditional city lot in many historic neighborhoods, including Talbott Street in Indianapolis.

With its "hat," the whole building leans toward the oriental, with the windows taking on a shoji-screen appearance.  With a parapet, it is a Bauhaus warehouse, but still quite well suited for Asian interiors.

(Please contact me if you have a site in need of a Microloftsm building! )

talbott bauhaus.jpg

Below is my original "Japanese Loft" building from Second Life.


Below are two locations in Second Life, among many, which are inspired by Japanese and Asian architecture.



"Microloft" is a servicemark of Humane Design.



How regulations shape our houses

Most of us live with the illusion of a market economy, and "choice" of housing product.  New Urbanists know that when offered a true side-by-side choice, home buyers will often choose something quite different than what most builders have to offer. 

Through the ages, many forces besides consumer choice have shaped our buildings, including government regulations.

dutch.jpgIn Amsterdam, tall narrow houses sprung up along canals because they were taxed based on their width.


camelback shotgun.jpgIn New Orleans, the local vernacular came to include the "camelback shotgun house."  Shotgun houses were common, and suited to the available lot shapes, but the "camelback" design, with a low front facade and a taller rear section, was a result of tax based on the height at the street. 


Even the ubiquitous suburban McMansion is caused, to an extent, by regulations.  Many towns require a certain number of separately identifiable ridgelines on each house, in an effort to avoid the monotony of an endless sea of vinyl boxes.  The result, however, is added cost, visual clutter, and a remarkable amount of . . . monotony.





Courtyard Housing in Indianapolis

DSCF5790.JPGEureka!  I found a striking example of courtyard housing in Indianapolis.  Sure, I've seen plenty of 4 - 8 story apartments built around small courtyards, but this one on North Talbott Street bears the strongest resemblance to the California courtyard homes.   I've contacted the current owner to learn more about the current redevelopment, and the history of this property.

They were originally called the "Studio Court Apartments" and built in 1917.

Click here for some more historic photos.

For more information on courtyard housing, see Stefanos Polyzoides "Courtyard Housing in Los Angeles."DSCF5788.JPG


Here's the aerial view:

1912 n talbott.jpg




Page 1 ... 3 4 5 6 7 ... 10 Next 10 Entries »