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Mix it up

November 23, 2018

STAMFORD — The city Land Use Bureau unveiled this week a plan to push developers to design more attractive buildings.

It is a common refrain among architects and laymen that some of the greatest architects made their mark on Stamford with some of their worst work, and newer buildings often appear like developers employed a copy-and-paste approach to design.

“Everybody is going to know these were built in the early 2000s in Stamford because the architecture is so similar,” said Zoning Board Member Joanna Gwozdziowski, lamenting the lack of design diversity.

The newfound eye from city officials comes at a time when they appear to be seeking to exert more power than in the past over builders, who long have claimed added costs would kill their interest in Stamford, amid the continuing building boom.

The plan, now in early forms, is to institute so-called urban-design guidelines that call for varying materials, textures, inventive massing and attention to streetscape — how the building appears to and interacts with pedestrians. It comes with several large proposals in the pipeline, said Associate Planner Vineeta Mathur.

“It’s something that can be done with most of the materials we see here,” Mathur said.

At a Zoning Board hearing this week, Mathur and Bureau Chief Ralph Blessing presented their early ideas for the guidelines and showed buildings in New York City and Boston that they said exemplified what they are after.

Most of the examples were of affordable housing projects, which Blessing picked to highlight that inventive design doesn’t have to mean exorbitant cost.

One example, a brick building with deep-set windows in Brownsville, Brooklyn, was built to house formerly homeless people, but is far from ugly, said Blessing. Many of the buildings cited had a makeup of 100 percent affordable units, rather than the 10 percent required in Stamford, but developers “make the math work,” he said.

“(The Brownsville building) is lowest affordability level you can get, and they made really good use of getting the most out of the building and keeping the price down,” Blessing said.

Board members were pleased with the idea and told the bureau to continue its work. Some lamented that a small group of builders and their architects and building designs have so-far dominated the city’s look and skyline.

Gwozdziowski said flat roofs are among her pet-peeves. Others complained of the overuse of the plastic-foam-like EIFS, which stands for exterior insulation and finish system.

Several downtown buildings, and the bulk of the new apartment complexes in the South End’s Harbor Point development make use of the material for facades.

“I would like to see more brick, manufactured stone,” said Board Chair David Stein. “Getting away from EIFS and steel.”

barry.lytton@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2263; @bglytton

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