City Comforts: Make the Building Front Permeable

Based on David Sucher’s, City Comforts, we continue our series on fundamental urban design elements. Sucher selects “Three Rules of Urban Design” as the central tenets of the book, “to preserve and create walkable commercial areas.”

1. Build to the Sidewalk

2. Make the Building Front Permeable

3. Prohibit Parking Lots in Front of the Building

Now that you’ve built to the sidewalk, you also need to make sure that the building front is PERMEABLE. You need windows and doors in order to make the pedestrian experience along the sidewalk worthwhile and enjoyable.  If you’ve pulled your building right up to the sidewalk, then left a blank wall, you’re just wasting your time.

This building in downtown Salt Lake is sending a message loud and clear: keep out. Despite being in what is considered on of the few walkable areas of the city, just a block off Main Street, this building’s ground floor has a single entrance, and a solid brick wall at the ground level.

This building is in the heart of Sugar House, one of the more walkable neighborhoods of the city. Despite following Rule #1: Build to the Sidewalk, this building’s facade is completely impermeable. What we have here is opaque glass, and service entrances for the restaurants inside.  The main entrances to these restaurants are located off the street, on the parking lot side of the building,  making access from the parking lot easy, but contributing in no way to the overall “City Comfort” of the urban environment.  This also rules out streetside dining (a highly effective “advertising” mechanism for restaurants), because while people enjoy dining outdoors on wide, streetside sidewalks where they can watch the world go by, they do not feel the same way about outdoor “streetside” dining facing large, interior parking lots.

This building is on Exchange Place in downtown Salt Lake City. The tall, clear 15′ glass windows make the building quite permeable, and with primary entrances to the building located every 30 feet along the sidewalk, the urban fabric of the city is enhanced.

“Window shopping” is a concept that has been largely discarded in modern America.  These highly permeable buildings in Sugar House provide the casual passerby the chance to see what’s for sale in the home store on the right, and see what’s going on in the personal training gym on the left.