“What land planning needs is more H.I. (Human Intelligence) and less A.I.” says Rick Harrison
“Today, all one needs to do is select ‘typical modules’ on your CAD program to quickly come up with a house or apartment design. This is one reason why most new homes by different builders all look like the same designer was hired,” says Rick Harrison, founder and President of Rick Harrison Site Design Studio (RHSD) and Neighborhood Innovations. In a recent article that appeared in New Geography Harrison says the software industry has also dumbed down the entire land development industry.
Harrison relates how in the 1970’s software reduced tasks that could take days or weeks to just minutes or hours. Then in the 1980’s and 90’s technology allowed those tasks to be reduced to minutes or hours to seconds. But he says that’s when he began to notice land development patterns getting worse–not better–compared to the days when a draftsman drew by hand on paper a subdivision plat.
When Engineers Became CAD Operators the Land-Planning Industry Changed
Instead of creating better designs with the tech, they were merely faster subdivision plats, Harrison says. Land planning became mathematical subdividing to regulatory minimums. Mindlessly cranked-out neighborhood plans left nothing to define the neighborhood as unique. All were designed exactly like others in the region.
Before computers, an engineer would painstakingly work the grades of every home pad and experiment with street grades. The final grading and utilities design could take weeks or months. But it could reduce construction costs by many millions of dollars. “But it would not be unusual that earthwork could be reduced by $10,000 to $20,000 per lot! Indeed, ever since engineers became CAD operators that merely press automated buttons, I’ve heard developers complain about the excessive earthwork costs, which is ultimately passed onto the home buyer.”
Harrison says conventional platting is about numbers – minimum setbacks, minimum square footage, minimum widths and depths… no character-building traits that create views of space or assure that property values are sustainable. Civil engineering or land surveying CAD based software automates lot and street generation using regulatory minimums and typical configurations. Design is reduced to squeezing as many building sites allowed by regulation and encouraging monotony.
“Coving” breaks away from the strict relationship between home and street
Harrison’s Prefurbia design technology harnesses technology that is specifically developed to encourage great design instead of mindless automation. With coves alternating along both sides of the street and created by the setbacks of the homes, the curved pattern separates each home from the street. This eliminates a parallel line of home fronts and gives each home site a different yard shape. The visual impact of parked vehicles is softened by the coved design. Overall, it creates an openness that feels much less dense than conventionally planned neighborhoods of similar densities.
“Architectural Shaping” and “Blending” methods in the Prefurbia design lead the consumer to think that a home is much bigger than actual size and maximize view-shed opportunities from within the home to the outside. Curved roads with meandering sidewalks add curb appeal that increases home values. The streets are designed to slow traffic, but with as few stops and starts as possible throughout the neighborhood. Designs strive to minimize large expanses of concrete, with fewer roadways and more narrow driveways. Many of these measures not only create a neighborhood with unique character, but also save the developer on infrastructure costs.
The “I” in A.I Cannot Stand for Intelligence
“In my opinion, the problem with A.I. is that it’s certainly not ‘artificial intelligence.’ It’s a master of plagiarism of information out there on the web. To be intelligent would require coming up with an entirely new idea that has never before been invented; that it is not,” says Harrison.
Below is an overview the innovations brought to the land development industry by Rick Harrison Site Design Studio & Neighborhood Innovations, LLC.
Here, Harrison explains design solutions for Sitterle Homes’ first townhome development, Emerald Forest, in San Antonio.
Believing that a homeowner’s quality of life should not be compromised because of affordability concerns, the Perfurbia concept adds space without increasing cost.
Desirable attainable housing is impossible with convention design thinking says the Harrison team. This video features a neighborhood in Edinburg, Texas where thoughtful design reduces money and avoids any semblance of a “cookie-cutter” neighborhood.