April 10, 2013

Some Insight into Victor Gardens Architectural Review Process

I've been working with Victor Gardens' Architectural Review Committee for a few years now. Over that time, the ARC has reviewed many new home designs. Although the committee's membership has changed over time, the group takes it's responsibilities seriously and reviews each proposal with care.

The ARC has met monthly, and sometimes more often with potential owners and builders to review new home designs. Those who seem to make it through the process with the least amount of difficulty meet early-on with the ARC. The process is both objective and subjective, and this initial "concept" meeting helps builders get a sense of what the ARC's looking for. Alternatively, potential home buyers work with a builder who's very familiar with ARC's process.

Builders who propose homes that are easily identified as one of Victor Gardens "preferred styles" seem to get through the approval process easier. Victor Gardens Application Package for New Home Construction instructs builders to "design [home plans] using modern floor plans with an architectural theme." Preferred home styles include "Colonial, Victorian, Federal, Farmhouse, Cape Cod, Tudor, Stick, Shingle, (early) Prairie School, and Arts & Crafts Bungalow."

To be sure, the ARC's process is selective, and building in Victor Gardens is definitely not for everyone. Builders who propose superficially modified suburban tract-style homes have walked away from the ARC review process in frustration. They avoid the expense and time required to modify their off-the-shelf plans into something Victor Gardens' ARC would approve. Some have given up altogether to concentrate on building in neighborhoods with different architectural standards.

For anyone new to Victor Gardens' ARC process, I'd strongly suggest picking up a copy of A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia & Lee McAlester. Published by Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-394-73969-8. Each ARC member is issued this book. It is used principally as a reference to Victor Gardens "preferred styles". Most builders and architects seem to be familiar with the book.

The ARC process can be complicated, but there are ways to make it go more smoothly. Choosing a particular "preferred style" in my opinion is the most important aspect of building a new home in this neighborhood. Once a home style is chosen, an architect/designer can use that style's specific conventions, massing, forms, rooflines, and architectural detail, etc. to start designing an appropriate home. For example, a Victorian home will have very different forms and rooflines than an Arts & Crafts / Bungalow home. A Prairie Style home will look very different than a Colonial or a Cape Cod. Style choices go well beyond siding choices, window styling, or column selection. Style is the root of design. A Field Guide to American Houses really helps illustrate that point, and I believe it's the key to building a stylistically appropriate home and getting through the ARC process easily.

A word of advice: beware of plans that call themselves "craftsman", "victorian", "tudor", etc. Many off-the-shelf plans or builders in the market use these buzzwords and some marginal amount of stylistic ornamentation to disguise suburban tract-style forms. Understand that adding wide stone columns to a tract home do not make it an Arts & Crafts style home.

My advice in a nutshell: Research home styles- choose a distinctive style- and the rest of the decisions will come easy.

- MV