UIC Revises De Tonty Infill, Introduces Larger Street Facing Live/Work Units

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De Tonty Close - by UIC

Last month nextSTL wrote about the UIC proposal for the long vacant block of 4100 De Tonty in the city's Shaw neighborhood. The site sits within the Shaw Local Historic District and is therefore subject to a number of design requirements. The site also faces I-44, elevated on an earthen berm. I highlighted that the aesthetic sought by the historic district code and the reality on the ground were not only different, but were set nearly half a century apart.

While different in some important ways from the historic residential courts of the Shaw neighborhood, there is precedent for varied housing alignments within the otherwise rigid city street grid. The initial De Tonty Commons design appeared to have supporters and detractors and now UIC has substantially revised their design, hoping to win support from the neighborhood, alderman and the city's Preservation Board.

De Tonty Close - by UIC
{the transition proposed at the west end of 4100 De Tonty}

The most significant change is the introduction of a larger, taller building face on the four De Tonty facing sites. Offered as a live/work unit, a rental option, or for traditional use by the homeowner, the added space pushes the total home size to 2,600 sf. The proposed homes appear to be nearer in line with existing homes on the block—that is, set back a few additional feet from the street. Detached garages for De Tonty fronting homes are set back a few feet further still and some additional brick fencing is proposed. The remaining homes do not include brick facades and the southern most homes are available with an optional attached garage.

This proposal will go back in front of the Preservation Board at its August 26 meeting (preliminary agenda here).

De Tonty Close - by UIC
{floor plan for De Tonty facing homes include a live/work unit}

De Tonty Close - by UIC
{aerial view of De Tonty Close proposal}

De Tonty Close - by UIC
{the transition proposed at the east end of 4100 De Tonty

De Tonty Commons - old proposal
{previous infill profile facing De Tonty}

De Tonty Close - by UIC
{site plan – up is north}

De Tonty Commons - UIC
{previous site plan for De Tonty Commons}

De Tonty Close - by UIC

De Tonty Close - by UIC

De Tonty Close - by UIC

De Tonty Commons - UIC
{a view of the previous proposal for De Tonty Commons}

De Tonty Close - by UIC
{full De Tonty profile of revised proposal}

De Tonty Street
{the block of 4100 De Tonty today}

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  • T-Leb

    I know little about design/architecture… can someone tell me if this is something that has a lot of time/thought put into it?

    • guest

      Time? Yes. Far more than you’d imagine.
      Thought? No. Far less than you’d imagine.

      The vast majority of the effort went into creating nice pictures, rather than finding the best solution for the site. No question about that.

    • Presbyterian

      I’m not on the same page as guest, I guess. I’m no architecture critic, but my undergrad was in architecture (UVa, 1994). It seems obvious to me these are well thought-out designs, as is most of the UIC work I’ve encountered.

      1) Notice in the floor plan how the service elements (kitchen cabinets, baths, laundry and storage) create a solid volume dropped into the rectangle of the house. This one central volume creates a narrow threshold on either side, which finds further resolution in a simultaneous level change. That same volume defines both the eating space and the living space without the addition of any walls. It’s geometric and clean… a simple solution to several problems, all gained through the use of one simple volume.

      2) Also notice the way these sort of “watchtowers” repeat themselves as a motif, each one essentially an enclosed room with a wall and/or ceiling missing. Then observe how the interior colors of these outdoor rooms vary between green and taupe and how the undersides of the overhangs are painted sky blue–a throwback to an old St. Louis tradition of painting porch ceilings blue. That’s brilliant compared to the standard pressure-treated back-deck-as-afterthought with uniformly off-white siding.

      3) Also see some of the creative solutions to detailing. Instead of banisters or wrought iron railings, the balconies use a panel with horizontal slots cut out. Instead of boring front steps, some of them are orange, yellow or charcoal gray, and all with a contrasting color on top. Those colors pick up in door colors.

      4) Then notice the way the triangles of the roof structures vary. Those angles contrast with the rectangles used throughout the design, adding interest and fostering an overall village-effect.

      That’s my two cents, anyway.

      • guest

        ^ All valid points. No disagreement there… I like and appreciate those elements. But none of those speak to the planning decisions that led to this design. What other alternatives were studied? Why was this selected as the best scheme? Were there diagrams?

        Is the central volume a nice move? Sure, but while it’s an efficient use of space and resources, it does nothing to deal with the interstate. It’s not even oriented the right direction to be helpful in blocking sound. So how do they propose to deal with the interstate again? I’m talking about a different scale than building details and color now.

        Architecture is thought out and studied through the use of diagrams. They are an absolutely critical step to analyzing a situation and testing out ideas. *Always remember: Diagrams are a thinking tool. Renderings are presentation tool.* If they had honestly diagrammed this scheme, it’s flaws would be very clear to them. That being said, it is an improvement over the previous scheme.

        If the biggest challenge of the site is dealing with the interstate (it is), then why not prove that this design is the best scheme for dealing with the interstate? Again, there are living spaces with no southern light, and a spatial layout that does nothing to block the sound from said interstate. It’s all backwards if you’re actually trying to solve the problem at hand.

        How is this layout of the outside houses any different from the traditional house layout? Besides the fact that these houses have even more linear feet facing the interstate, and are even closer to the interstate than their neighbors. For these homeowners, the problem is even worse. How is this good again? More importantly, why don’t more people see this?

        So, we’re being told that this design is the solution for the interstate, yet it doesn’t actually solve the problem. Even worse, they don’t even attempt to prove that it does. Quick, look at these pretty pictures that we spent so much time on!

        • T-Leb

          This is a good point: “Diagrams are a thinking tool. Renderings are presentation tool” and kind of where I was leaning. I read through the article above and was left wondering about other alternatives and how they arrived at this solution/design. As someone who doesn’t know where to begin, I found myself asking more questions than being satisfied that this is the best design/layout to fill in the vacant land.

          • Presbyterian

            My sense is that the larger objections to this design will not relate to the idea of the courtyard arrangement. I think the larger objections will relate to the question of whether the overall look is too much of a contrast to the look and feel of the Shaw district, given the visibility of the site.

  • guest

    The design is an improvement over the previous. But, as a way to deal with the interstate, it seems odd to increase the length that faces it by turning the homes 90 degrees, and then putting living spaces on the side of the house facing the highway. Would have been better to shift the closets and bathrooms to the north to provide a buffer. That way, the living spaces could get some southern light and have extra sound protection. Still, certainly an improved design trying to deal with a tricky site.

  • SikofFalln

    I prefer the first site plan over the revision, it was a creative way of addressing the I44 issue. As some one else commented, this proposal reminds me of apartments or 80s/90s styled condos. I also

    think the area should have special consideration regarding historic code to address the highway. I am a resident and homeowner in Shaw and would love to see this chunk of land put to good use, and I think the first site plan did just that.

  • guest

    I guess I’m not seeing the creativity.

    The elevations facing the courtyards remind me of apartments straight out of the 80’s, esp. the sections that face the street. Maybe it’s the renderings giving it a cheap and dated look, so I’ll try and reserve judgement until I see more.

    I actually like the courtyard concept a lot, just not 100% sold on the design of the housing.

  • Don

    I like the new designs. Very creative and a major improvement over the previous designs.

    I’m still concerned regarding the proximity to I-44 making these homes undesirable. A failure of these homes to sell would be very bad for the neighborhood and future developments of this sort.

    • Kevin McKinney

      Houses on the northside of I-44 sold for more.

      • Don

        Good to know although I didn’t see any pricing on this development. Thanks.

        • Kevin McKinney

          North of I-44 high 200,00 and 300,00.
          New proposed project, I saw around 180,000 to 200,000 I think, I will have to check.

  • Elmo

    Pretty good overall, but unless that vinyl goes, they can never be truly beautiful or valuable homes. That material alone on any building is enough to make me decide not to buy or rent it, period. Too ugly.

    • Eric

      In general, I’m not a fan of vinyl. I specifically dislike when it’s used in houses that are “historic” replicas (see McBride homes across the highway). These homes, on the other hand, aren’t trying to be anything other than what they are – and what they are is very creative.

    • Presbyterian

      Do we know that the siding in vinyl? I thought I heard something about painted cementboard.

    • Jason Lacoss-Arnold

      I think I read in a previous article that it’s cementboard, not vinyl. I’d agree about vinyl but cementboard is more tolerable. I still prefer brick though.