In governing built form, the street elevation deserves a stronger presence in the approvals process. Able to depict street-viewable height, it also has the benefit of illustrating modulation of massing and the impact of topography. Of course, the plan will almost always be the starting point for design, but a number or colour-coded shapes only encourages people’s worst built imaginings regarding built form outcomes. A concept elevation burns off this miasma of community trepidation. Less costly than a 3D CAD rendering, it is also scalable and, unlike an axonometric view, is a good approximation of what will be perceived from the street.
This idea sits well with the idea of blended densities and combination building typologies presented by USA-based CNU founder, Stefanos Polyzoides. His examples of Californian courtyard apartment/townhouse hybrids fill a desirable gap in the transect of density between small lot housing and apartments. Moreover, these hybrids achieve genuine density, while retaining a streetscape which is sympathetic to neighbours, both adjacent and on the opposite side of the street.
A layered concept elevation, complete with trees (existing and proposed), people, and cars provides incentive for strong landscape design. Great trees can effortlessly conceal mediocre architecture and, as such, the retention of existing mature trees or a commitment to significant, established new street tree planting should be recognised in the approvals process for inflicting less ‘architectural risk’ on the street.
While it may only seek to govern streetwall height, envelopes and modulation, an approvable concept elevation pre-configures a consideration of the local vernacular and local building typologies at the early stages of design. What are the common local materials, predominant architectural styles, building typologies and relative rate of aberration? How does the project fit into the street rhythm? Need a street be symmetrical in terms of total development, if it is asymmetrical in terms of development opportunity? That there are well-loved, large and possibly heritage-listed homes on the other side of the street should not undermine the cumulative density rationale of the project site.
The importance of plans is unquestioned for design and understanding of the project in its entirety. However, a solely planbased approval process with numeric 3D envelope controls in no way guards against the spaceships of placeless international modernism landing in a suburb near you.