Mississippi moves forward on house designs and SmartCode

APattern Book for Gulf Coast Neighborhoods, containing 70 generously illustrated pages that tell how to design houses and other buildings in the traditional styles of southern Mississippi, is the latest style guide compiled by Urban Design Associates (UDA) of Pittsburgh. The Pattern Book’s aim is to help people “rebuild the Coast in a time-honored way,” Gov. Haley Barbour says in an introduction to the large-format color publication, which is being distributed in large numbers by the Governor’s Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal.

The guidebook is organized into four sections: overview, neighborhood patterns, architectural patterns, and landscape patterns. It gives a clear explanation of how communities, neighborhoods, and houses on the Gulf Coast were put together decades ago and how they might be again. From roof massing, doorways, and windows to columns and eave details, the publication should prove useful in building homes and neighborhoods that reinforce the region’s character, which suffered heavily in Hurricane Katrina.

Handsome though the publication isa skeptic might question the Pattern Book’s recommendation that mixed-use buildings in commercial areas be designed to resemble those of a century or more ago, right down to using historical elements such as parapet walls with ornamental cornices. Although traditional house styles remain valid and largely functional from one century to another, commercial buildings evolve, sometimes quickly, as decades go by. It could be argued that the incorporation of contemporary fashion gives a commercial building an air of freshness at the outset — which can be good for marketing — and later gives the building a period allure. (The building must also endure a difficult intermediate stage during which the style, no longer new, becomes utterly out of sync with prevailing taste.) All of this happened to buildings in the 1930s streamline Moderne style, for example.

focus on affordability

New urbanists have remained intensely involved in reconstruction since the conclusion of the Congress for the New Urbanism charrette for 11 Gulf Coast communities on Oct. 17. One focus has been on furnishing Mississippi with designs for inexpensive houses — especially panelized or modular houses in carefully detailed traditional styles. The Pattern Book includes 10 pages of house designs produced by participants in the charrette. The designs range from small temporary dwellings to permanent residences of about 2,000 square feet. The New Urban Guild is taking this effort to the next stage by assembling three different compilations of house plans appropriate to the Gulf Coast. The first compilation, available in mid-January, will consist of a dozen plans for tiny cottages and “thin houses” — “shotgun houses except you don’t have to walk through one room to get to another,” according to architect Stephen Mouzon in Miami Beach. Those “emergency housing” designs can be downloaded from the Guild’s website, www.new

urbanguild.com. Construction documents will be available by mail.

By early spring the Guild expects to publish a magazine-format collection — similar to a Southern Living plan book — made up of those designs and two dozen or so others, including “mid-market” replacement housing. Siding manufacturer James Hardie donated money to pay for organizing that compilation. Purchasers who want construction drawings can order them. By early summer the Guild hopes to publish the third compilation — a magazine-style collection of larger houses. The compilations will present work by Guild members, Mississippi Renewal Forum designers, and UDA. Robert Davis, the developer of Seaside, Florida, donated $75,000 toward construction of the first five panelized houses that the Habitat for Humanity chapter in Walton County, Florida, is building in the hamet of Pearlington, Mississippi.

The first such house in Pearlington was constructed for Suzie Burton and Josh Ward, a grateful couple in their seventies who celebrated their good fortune by getting married on its front porch Dec. 21. The house was in preparation before ideas from the charrette could be fully incorporated into it. Future houses from the Walton County chapter, using components produced by New Hope Construction of Hendersonville, Tennessee, are expected to hew more closely to charrette-generated designs.

Ray Gindroz of UDA said that through a collaboration between Habitat for Humanity and the Institute for Classical Architecture & Classical America, prototype houses are being designed by: Richard Cameron for the Rochester, New York, chapter; Mason Andrews for the Norfolk, Virginia, chapter; and Scott Merrill for the Savannah, Georgia, chapter. Separately, New York architect and charrette participant Marianne Cusato has worked on the “Katrina Cottage,” a prototype manufactured house that is to be displayed at the National Association of Home Builders convention Jan. 11-14 in Orlando and then put into production. It is 300 square feet in size and is estimated to cost between $25,000 and $30,000 (see photo on previous page).

Craftsman Cottages, a manufacturer headed by Bevan Suits in Decatur, Georgia, has produced a systems-built “Acadian Cottage” (originally developed in Nova Scotia but adapted for the Gulf Coast), which is being produced at a factory in Lucedale, Mississippi. The 16-by-24-foot cottage is ready for move-in at under $40,000. Another organization active on the Gulf Coast is the Enterprise Foundation, which has started two projects involving modular houses for Biloxi and Pass Christian.

Meanwhile, the Board of Aldermen in Pass Christian accepted a charrette team’s proposal to prepare a version of the SmartCode for that city of 6,700. Team leader Laura Hall says a SmartCode charrette has been tentatively scheduled for Feb. 4-8. The 18,000-population city of Ocean Springs has conducted a SmartCode workshop and reportedly intends to adopt the Transect-based code early this year. Other Gulf Coast communities are also considering the SmartCode or Transect-based codes.