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At Northside, there is a public/private element with a large pedestrian corridor known as “the spine” connecting the university campus, student housing, and terminating at what will be a light rail station in the near future. While privacy is still important, a pedestrian boulevard is different than a busy city street and there are opportunities to offer small glimpses through trees or columns into the bustle of the pool area.
On the public side, the spine can be blocked off to set up food trucks, tents, etc., and create a public festival space. Part of the public/private challenge was how to create flexibility for public use and also maintain traffic flow when the spine is closed, which they were able to navigate very well with thoughtful planning and design. Another challenge was to maintain the privacy of residents whose units fronted the spine. There are stoops along the spine in Phase One and Two with small gates. The gates are not for security, per se, but they do provide definition of boundary and demark this as the resident’s territory.
When public transit enters into the picture, as in the Northside example, there are a host of new design considerations to accommodate both residents and commuters. Mitigating the noise of the train becomes a design consideration when rail is added to the neighborhood. Multiple buildings on a site allow residents to integrate into outdoor circulation paths to walk to public transit. Parking is less of an issue where there is access to public transportation, but there is heavier use of bicycles, mopeds, and scooters, with special parking needs.
Student housing has a unique ratio of parking spaces to occupants because of multiple driving-age adults living together as roommates. Not all students have vehicles, however, so the ratio usually ends up being about 0.75 parking spaces per bed. These anomalies are familiar to many municipalities that have incorporated student housing into zoning in the past and understand that the parking needs are different from typical single- or multi-family developments.
Cities that are less experienced with student housing might try to apply the multi-family approach to it, which results in parking disparities and unused space that could be put to better use. Many Texas cities are designed on the automobile scale, with larger roads than are common in small towns or older cities designed prior to the advent of the vehicle. In newer developments, there are giant barriers of large roads and longer distances to travel for basics. Public transit is getting better but not quite sufficient to encourage people to give up their vehicles in favor of public transit, so parking and auto traffic are still a prevailing concern.
Northside is situated on university land, separated from the main campus by a large, busy road, but still immediately proximate. The campus is good-sized, yet embodies a pleasant, walkable pedestrian experience. Aware of transportation trends, anticipation of students’ unique needs, and appropriate planning amidst zoning requirements were the keys to successful utilization of the space.
When biking to proximate public transport becomes a key part of the community, bike storage is suddenly a real priority — otherwise there will be bikes hauled in and out of buildings, causing additional wear and tear. With the proximity to campus, bikes are very common as an easy mode of transportation to get across campus. Many off-campus housing projects include a bike repair shop, which is a unique and valued amenity.
Providing plenty of secure places for bike storage and access points that are appropriately sized for bikes signals the neighborhood is embracing public transit influences to encourage healthier, more sustainable lifestyles. Such features may seem like small details to developers but are very appealing to a certain demographic and a bike-friendly atmosphere creates a more desirable and responsive community for those tenants’ needs.
Whenever a project fronts a rail line, there is a lot of discussion around the amount of sound generated by the rail line and how to mitigate it for residents. In most applications, the solid walls are sufficient to block the periodic noise from the rail line, however the choices for windows, doors, and other penetrations along those facades can make or break a project.
With windows, it’s mainly a quality issue, but doors naturally have a gap at the threshold which can be compromised through natural settling of the building or thermal differences. Air blocks on the door, such as gaskets, are also subject to such shifting. Generally, developers are willing and decisive to spend a little extra money on the windows and doors that cut down on nuisance noise. There are also more subtle methods of sound attenuation through the walls, including strategically placing outlets and light switches so that the interior and exterior openings do not inadvertently create pathways for sound to travel through the walls. In addition to the placement, gaskets and fittings can help reduce the amount of sound that can transmit through the wall as well as sound-dampening insulation materials. The biggest impact comes from using higher quality windows.
Doors — even the highest quality — are meant to be openings so they will always be the greatest point of sound infiltration. Some developers go as far as to remove doors from the side of the building closest to the nuisance noise, although that also precludes access to balconies and other outdoor spaces. Typically, an acoustical engineer is engaged to give recommendations so project designers can make informed decisions based on the circumstances and what the budget allows. In some cases, an exemption to the traditional train horn rules may be an option under the right circumstances.
The Northside Project is located just across a major corridor from University of Texas at Dallas and has a unique circulation pattern. There is no vehicular access into the campus past the corridor, which is a defined border for vehicles but permeable by pedestrians and bikers. Providing clear vehicular access to the community itself was important because it is located in an area where people need to drive to restaurants, shopping, and other consumer market needs not available on campus. There is a light rail option coming soon and design of the site included many opportunities for retail space along the major street and the pedestrian “spine” to dovetail with the rail station and encourage passengers to stay and shop or dine, while still preserving the privacy and security of residents at nearby Northside.
Scott Roberson is Partner and Studio Director for Architecture Demarest. He can be reached at SRoberson@architecturedemarest.com.
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