Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Newfields Cluster Housing and a Suburban Road Not Traveled

This final Newfields post will look at some of the housing and ponder a bit on this suburban road not traveled.

The village center was at the southern edge of the development area, connected to some of the first housing via a path, either for walking or cycling. The path passes through common-use open fields defined by forests and preserved tree lines along old fences. The following marked-up aeriel illustrates these features:

The original housing illustrates both the mixing of single- and multi-family units and the concept of cluster housing.

Cluster Housing & Open Space

Cluster housing was another suburban innovation coming out of the 1960s in reaction to the uniform sprawling plats of the postwar era, with their chain link fenced back yards and lack of parkland. The concept was to cluster the houses closer together, freeing up land for common open space, which could be left wild or developed for recreation

Illustrating the concept: Settlers’ Point was a cluster housing development of the early 1970s in exurban Oldham County, KY, outside of Louisville. One can see the housing clusters arranged around landscaped cul-de-sacs, with the adjacent common open space. As one can see Newfields followed very similar concept, with even more generous open space.

The difference being that Newfields was apparently to have a connecting pathway system and was planned to have those mixed-used village centers.

So lets follow that path, from the village center into the first housing cluster.

Looking back over the lake at the village center.

….and then encountering the multi-family housing, perhaps townhouse condominiums. The exteriors are done up in a rustic style using wood siding, but with nice big windows and accent landscaping. This condo development was at the entrance to the housing cluster. Apparently each housing cluster would have this mix of multi- and single-family units, so a mix of age groups and lifestyles and perhaps incomes in each little neighborhood.

The path curves past these into the common open space (presumably to be maintained by the New Community Authority) and passes the backs of the housing clusters.

The original houses here made use of the change in grade, overlooking the open space with big windows and a mix of wood and brick materials in a no-fuss modern design. The side facing the street would probably appear as split levels or a one story ranch. The little wing-wall on the lower floor patio gives a bit of privacy.

The path curves along the edge of the green space, housing nestled into the landscaping, and in the background, and a line of mature trees defining the space in the background.

Finally the paths curves between the houses via a common open space between the backyards

This is a very convincing approach to improving suburbia…if one is a landscape architect. The relentless uniformity and repetition of a typical suburban plat would be avoided, and houses would either open onto green space, almost like living in a farm pasture or big park, or be very close to it via the path system.

Some other Newfields housing. Different types of single family houses...

…and apartments and condominiums, one set at the edge of a forest.

Much of it in the woodsy-shedsy early-mid 1970s style, fairly restrained architecture compared to the suburban bloat and "revivalist" design references of today. A modernist rustic aesthetic would be quite appropriate for an innovative community designed around generous open space.

The Suburban Road Not Travelled.

One can imagine the rest of the property developed like this, accommodating 30,000 people via a landscape plan that would fairly successfully merge housing of various densities, business, and retail into a matrix of landscaped highways, greenways, fields, forests, and creek valleys.

Newfields would be a true green suburb, similar in intent to Milton Keynes, the “city as forest”
(or in this case city as "Midwest rural landscape") . Although designed around the car, the nature of the planning implies some degree of walkability or bikeability via the pathway system and mixed use of offices, shopping, and recreation in the village centers, as well as mixed incomes and lifestyles in the housing areas.

As such Newfields seems an interesting counterexample to New Urbanism, demonstrating that certain intentions of that movement can be achieved within the modernist paradigm, sans the somewhat ersatz and nostalgic trademark aesthetic.

About the only nostalgia in Newfields was the stated intention to preserve some of the old farmsteads, with their great bank barns. These remnants of the Midwest cultural landscape would be preseved as focal points for the various new developments, either as community centers or as businessess. In this case as a doctors office.

No More Experiments?

Newfields was the last suburban experiment in Dayton until the Village of North Clayton (which seems to be developing very slowly).

Though not really experiments perhaps golf course communities could be following some of the concepts here, with houses arranged around open space; fairways, tees, and greens. The bike and walking paths become golf cart paths. But these are cold coffee compared to the ambitious and greenway concept illustrated at Newfields.

The only local development to incorporate an open space system of greenways (vs. a golf course) is Stonehill Village in Beavercreek, being developed by the Nutters of Nutter Center fame.

This development on the other side of town from Newfields might make good on the promise of an improved form of suburbia.


Anonymous said...

Newfields 'New Town' concept was a very progressive community. In the early 1970s for the Dayton Ohio area it was probably too progressive of a lifestyle.

The growth pattern for Montgomery County was toward the southeast sector. So with Trotwood and surrounding community slow to enbrace the concept and the new home growth going elsewhere, the concept died.

I built a home in this community and have fond memories. But eventually moved our children to the Washington Township area based on school's rating.

Now live along the Little Miami bike trail and rural setting, which was the dream for Newfields.

architect914 said...

My Architectural firm (then Shafor-Brown-Johnson Inc.) designed most of the single family, multi-family garden apartments and cluster condo units for Huber Development in 1974 and 1975. If anyone is interested in reviewing these plans please make contact.
Gerald Johnson Architect
Shafor-Johnson LLC Architects