Challenges can arise as residents are often concerned about the introduction of a modern home to the community, while most preservation guidelines encourage new construction to be distinct and clearly discernible as new—as to not devalue the historic homes. While it's important to be well-educated in the specific guidelines of your local historic preservation office or governing entity, we've gathered a few examples of design strategies to help you successfully introduce a modern home into a historic neighborhood.
Consider the Neighborhood's Proportions
Many established historic areas are relatively urban, which increases the importance of maintaining proportions that are familiar to the community. The townhomes shown below in the historic Mount Vernon Square neighborhood of Washington, DC continue the approximate width, height, and opening ratios of the adjacent townhomes in the front, before stepping back to the more modern facade.
Follow the Form of Neighboring Homes
Using a common layout found in neighboring homes creates a pleasing pattern from the street and a connection to the adjacent neighbors. Following the form of the historic homes can also help you successfully implement passive design strategies. An example is shown below, with a modern interpretation of the vernacular courtyard house in the American southwest. The new design elements create passive cooling and shade to escape from the desert sun.
Consider Materials and the Textures They Create
How exterior materials are used effects the way we perceive a home—from the way they look and feel to the way they age—and can be a defining aspect of a neighborhood. Sea Ranch is a great example of a place where new, modern homes are consistently introduced while maintaining the original principles of the community.
Try Massing to Find a Common Connector
An effective way to design a compatible home is to find a common theme throughout the three-dimensional composition of the local houses. Below, a distillation of neighboring post-war homes led to a modern elevation with a similar protruded front that has a single opening with a long-recessed volume behind it.
Don't Forget the Importance of Craftsmanship
Architectural compatibility covers more than just how a building looks, but also how it works, what it stands for, and how it's put together. Louis Cherry focused on reinterpreting the Arts and Crafts movement by using local materials in his home that was the subject of a lengthy court battle.
The contextual design strategies above are used in historic neighborhoods, but can also be applied to all modern infill homes. Understanding composition, character, community, connections, and compatibility is critical to successfully enriching existing neighborhoods while introducing another chapter to their history.