Criticism of Middleton Hills Development

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PrairieMod
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Criticism of Middleton Hills Development

Post by PrairieMod »

There is a posting about Middleton Hills on our blog with a small album of recent pictures:

http://www.prairiemod.com/prairiemod/20 ... hills.html



Can anyone weigh in on this topic? Is Middleton Hills a good idea and only a good idea? Or does it only add to the urban sprawl it is trying to counteract?
Last edited by PrairieMod on Thu Sep 07, 2006 5:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

JimM
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Post by JimM »

Wow; I'm trying my best to suppress my initial reaction......



Ok. Obviously it's nice to see an alternative to prevailing urban sprawl design, and it appears the designers have a decent eye for the "(W)right" detailing. That said; it's terrible, even if better than most. As long as they still cram people together for the same financial considerations, even a more appealing design ethic does not necessarily improve the quality of life of those living there or address needed change in how we build communities.



Ironically, when the Heurtley House was thrust upon "suburban" Oak Park, it was a revelation. When they put faux-Frank side by side today, it robs any one structure of any uniqueness it may posess and each becomes indistinguishable from the next one 10 feet away, cheapening any distinction the development intended.



Twombly was probably right; only Frank could live in a landscape of his own design.

DRN
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Post by DRN »

Give the commercial component time to develop..it is always slower than the residential. If the daily retail needs of the residents are provided for within a 10 minute walk of their homes, people will reduce some of their short trip car usage. If public transit is convenient, frequent, and goes to the desired destination it will be used. If any of these is not provided for, the community will become well ordered sprawl.

Like most things in life, there are no absolutes..while I'm a proponent for smart growth, walkable public transit oriented communities, and thoughtfully designed public spaces, and I've attended DPZ charrettes and agree with many of their concepts, I find the New Urbanist's strict architectural guidelines and deed restrictions a bit paternalistic and narrow in view at times.

Don't get me wrong, in an urban environment, some controls are needed.. I like the NU's relegation of garages to alleys and their concepts governing streetscape scale and proportion (Transects). As these communities are being built rapidly often by a single developer or a small group of approved homebuilders, some sort of material restrictions need to be imposed to keep the place from becomming a sea of vinyl. But the rather contrived architectural theming of these communities creates the potential for the architectural blandness that appears to be the case in Middleton Hills more so than in less themed "Main Street circa 1925" NU communities.

What if "style" wasn't dictated. What if only materials used (dictate a WIDE range of GOOD sustainable materials) and streetscape related issues were dictated? We might get a walkable community where a car is not needed for every move one makes, where the streetscape has a sense of enclosure punctuated by memorable places to pause, and architecturally there is a rhythm of buildings each with their own character, but conforming to the "rules of the street"; sometimes punctuated by a gem by a truly talented designer not constrained by style restrictions. Sounds like Oak Park or River Forest to me.

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

There is nothing new about this development. These planned communities have been around for a long time, and very few have ever worked, even on a small scale. Placing constraints on design usually has the unintended consequence of eliminating the most interesting designs in place of which there is an endless sameness. A famous court case from the mid-60s forced a family to demolish their modern, flat-roofed house because it didn't comply with the Colonial style mandated by restrictive design standards that had the force of law. They could have correctly contended that none of the houses in the division did; Colonial houses don't have 4/12 pitched roofs, picture windows, fake shutters, double garages or lawns covered with ivy, and none of them were built in California. Even with the most careful planning to ensure a successful outcome, the results are uneven. Pleasantville, NY has some fine houses and others not so fine. Bureaucracies should never dictate design.

allwrightythen1
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Post by allwrightythen1 »

Just for Kicks.



What do you all feel the likelihood of a developer actually executing Broadacre City as an actual town would be? Is it an impossibility given today's politics and economics? Is Broadacre City even a good idea worth developing? I'd love to hear all of your thoughts.

JimM
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Post by JimM »

It's likely that Broadacre today would be just another Middleton Hills except that all the buildings might be Wright or "Taliesin" designs. However, the name would have to be changed due to a major problem with this whole issue: the word "acre". Maybe an acre is too much to ask, but until they put more land between these houses sprawl is sprawl no matter who designs it. I think most people would rather have more personal privacy than the ubiquitous "common area" or "open space". But that would mean less profit ("viability").



Ever see an aerial view of a new development? 100's of coffins lined up, and then a distinct line separating them from miles and miles of open desert or countryside. That's the problem.

Mobius
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Kickin' it old-skool

Post by Mobius »

Middleton Hills: Kickin' it old-skool McPrairie Style. :lol:
How many escape pods are there? "NONE, SIR!" You counted them? "TWICE, SIR!"

*Plotting to take over the world since 1965

Eric Saed
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Post by Eric Saed »

I haven't posted here for awhile because, between the out-of-control spam messages, and the self-aggrandizing "What Would FLLW Do" criticism of anything new, this BB has been dangerously raising my blood pressure for the last year or so.



I've read all the criticism of the Massaro house, the Life Dream House, and now Middleton Hills.



What would you big-architectural-babies rather have? The predominant McMansionization and ignorance of any architectural inspiration in new construction, or something, even remotely, sympathetic to the prairie and organic architecture we here all love?



For ______ (fill in your own deity)'s sake. Just enjoy something being designed that is out of the modern ordinary.

Deke
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Post by Deke »

I agree with Eric. Judging from the photos, the homes in this community are far more appealing than the typical boxes put up in most new development. The New Urbanists, however, have yet to address the issue of economic segregation in such communities. Where are the poor people going to live? Are there any apartments, condos, or subsidized units?

EJ
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Post by EJ »

Well said, Eric. I agree.



Having been to the Middleton Hills development, I can honestly say it was very refreshing in comparison to the gaudy McMansions we see everywhere today. These houses have character and are (to me) very attractive neighborhoods. I suspect someone who buys a house in that development would do so because they want that house, and not because its the house they hate the least (to paraphrase Robert A.M. Stern).
"It all goes to show the danger of entrusting anything spiritual to the clergy" - FLLW, on the Chicago Theological Seminary's plans to tear down the Robie House in 1957

Mobius
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Post by Mobius »

Po' Peepul? What are you talking about man?



People who earn less than $100,000 a year you mean?



We can reserve the *real* prairie for them! ;)
How many escape pods are there? "NONE, SIR!" You counted them? "TWICE, SIR!"

*Plotting to take over the world since 1965

PrairieMod
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Post by PrairieMod »

Eric Saed wrote:What would you big-architectural-babies rather have? The predominant McMansionization and ignorance of any architectural inspiration in new construction, or something, even remotely, sympathetic to the prairie and organic architecture we here all love?



For ______ (fill in your own deity)'s sake. Just enjoy something being designed that is out of the modern ordinary.


Eric makes an excellent point. However, the problem is this. Middleton Hills is a community that is supposed to have a vision. It is based upon New Urbanist ideals and even Broadacre City (in a sense). Marshall Erdman was a Wright apprentice and wanted residents of this development to rediscover the sense of community that has been lost over the last decades in the sprawl of isolated housing tracts, shopping developments and office parks. The emphasis is on people; on quality of life in a self sufficient neighborhood.



This isn't a case of some developer just putting up another tract of homes. If you have set out to accomplish something intentionally, doesn't that open the project to honest criticism? The PrairieMod Squad just wants to openly evaluate the idea. The neighborhood is something that we passionatly feel has merit, but wonder if Middleton Hills really is what its set out to be.

DRN
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Post by DRN »

My earlier post was not to diminish what has been accomplished at Middleton Hills. As new housing goes, it is light years ahead of the run of the mill developments of the last 40 years. The quality of design of what has been built, both architecturally and in the infrastructure itself, is superior to standard residential development. My primary criticism is the dictation of a style of architecture.

NU communities are, according to the NU manifesto, supposed to offer housing for a wide variety of income groups through the planning for a wide variety of housing types, much like a real town. Apartments over shops, apartments over garages, row houses, twins, single houses, apartment buildings..all are ideally to be accomodated. Middleton Hills appears to have an elegant site plan, some commercial development, and an over abundance of middle and upper middle class single family homes.

Unfortunately, an NU development in its first 10 or 15 years, is a money driven enterprise, not an organic (pun not intended) process of town growth. Returns on investments must be realized and what results is largely market driven. Middle and upper middle class home buyers have the money (resources to afford the mortgage, cars to supplement the inadaquate public transit system, and monthly or annual resident fees, upkeep, etc.) to move in. These communities are so desireable to the home buying public that home values often escalate rapidly such that the intended economic focus group of residents is quickly priced out of the market.

On a related topic...

I personally think Broadacre City was Wright's response to Le Corbusier's Citroen and Radiant City plans, as well as Neutra's Rush City. It was anti-European, very American, and I believe not very sustainable in our current petro chemical based economy. Our current economy requires most families to have their wage earner(s) to commute to a job and we do not have the financial ability (no one does) to create a public transit system to accommodate a very diffuse population. As a result, most people living in suburban or country settings are required to drive a personal vehicle to work or other needs. The costs of this reduce the amount of capital a citizen can spend on shelter. That is why in rural areas one predominently finds the housing stock to be: older farm houses, occasional displaced tract type housing, or too often, substandard manufactured housing.

Suburban tract developments are an economical compromise for most of the middle class desirous of rural living. We need to recognize the economics of it all and work to improve the built environment on the fronts of transportation, quality of construction, sensible zoning, and educating the public to these issues and to the fact that there are choices.



I'll stop ranting now.

JimM
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Post by JimM »

Eric Saed wrote:this BB has been dangerously raising my blood pressure for the last year or so.



What would you big-architectural-babies rather have?


Name calling aside, I'm concerned for your health! Perhaps you should avoid subjecting yourself to differing opinions than yours. Read on at your own peril, but I'll undertand if you don't.



I hesitated to respond to this post, but enjoy an argument too much not to. Especially if in defense of my opinion. The problem with these developments is not whether they are marketed for the picket fence crowd (Celebration, Fla.) or unrequited Frank (M. Hill's). Consider why Wright chose the name "Broadacre City". Acre. Did you ever see an aerial view of a typical "planned community"? Row after row of coffins, regardless of style-de jour, and separated by a clearly distinguishable line from miles and miles of open desert or countryside.



Maybe an acre is too much to expect, but until they incorporate more than 10' of breathing room between houses, they will never improve the quality of life of those living there or address the fundamental problems concerning how we plan our communities.



Even if these designs are improvements over the typical fare (and I do agree they are), to me, any uniqueness dissipates when you and your neighbor are staring at each other through each others windows. I think most people would prefer more privacy (as Wright intended) than to have access to "common areas" or "open spaces" down the block. Of course, doing so would not make these developments "viable". Not enough profit.



So who is M. Hill's ultimately for? What really makes it any different than any other development (no matter the marketed style) when you consider it's lack of what should be the most important, defining element? That's my criticism, Broadlot vs. Broadacre.



Oh, and if I may self-aggrandize; I like plenty of "new" creative organic architecture. There's lot's of it out there. Much of it better, in my opinion, than most championed here. So what? I just don't get why a strong opinion of such a subjective thing as personal taste is intolerable to you. How all of this relates to Wright is what should make interaction here interesting, at least to me. If someone publicly posts they like this or that house, or anything for that matter, I have a right to respond. If this site becomes as bland as Better Homes and Gardens, I assure you, you can safely return to reading this board without risk to your health.



I look forward to reading all the posts, and only wish there were more attempts at offering thoughts behind opinions and points of view, rather than knee jerk criticism (without substantive support) of other opinions.

Eric Saed
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Post by Eric Saed »

JimM wrote:
I hesitated to respond to this post, but enjoy an argument too much not to.


I figured that, Jim, but you've got moxy & passion, and I like that.



Here's the difference between you & me: you are a designer, you can create innovative architecture. I'm a corporate cube dweller, fortunate to have grown up as the son of an artist and nephew of an architect, but I cannot create what you can. Most of my peers cannot fathom my passion for organic architecture. When a place like Middleton Hills can take one of my peers and say "hey...I like these houses better than the stuff I see on the Parade of Homes!", I call that a victory for our camp. I would hope that those who create be more "purist" than the general populace, but if the luddites can be attracted by a tract home that has "Prairie-ish" overtones, and that prevents one more Faux-French-Tudor-Colonial-McMansion from being built, I'm going to call that a victory, too.



I guess I'm standing up for more of an architectural theme, rather than the new urbanist school. Unfortunately, the most visionary and thoughtful community ideas are unpopular with the rank-and-file homebuyer (think Usonia NY, up to the non-Wrightian but beautiful Jackson Meadow here in Minnesota by architect David Salmela). As my wife has said, most people seem to like bad wine, bad beer, ugly cars, and shop at Wal-Mart. That may be haughty, but it has more than a grain of truth. We are not the mainstream. Who we can "evangelize", we should. But, if some like a "watered down version" of what we consider ideal, that's better than nothing.



I'm not attacking you, Jim. The fact that nearly 50 years have passed since Mr. Wright's passing is a testament to the endurance of a vision he started. But, it is not a vision that died with Mr. Wright. Jack Howe, Wes Peters, Fay Jones, John Lautner, to the modern day of Arthur Dyson and "FLLW derivatives" such as Charles Stinson, all these talented people have found inspiration in the principles that Mr. Wright discovered.



Personal taste isn't what I find intolerable. It's more of those who criticize something because it isn't completely faithful to Mr. Wrights tenets. We can all like and dislike what we want, that's true. I get indignant sometimes when I read a real estate listing and they say "Frank Lloyd Wright Style" when it's not even remotely close other than having a hipped roof...but, then I remind myself: something isn't necessarily bad even if it is derivative and better than the mainstream.



Take a tour of a local Parade of Homes or builder's expo, and I think that might put it in perspective.

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