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How to Work with Architectural Review Boards

Posted on June 27, 2018 by Karin • Filed under: , ,

Founded in 1827, Greenwich Academy provides college preparatory education for girls at a day school on a 39-acre campus in Greenwich, CT. When the school decided to build a new multi-use facility with classrooms on the ground floor and a faculty apartment on the second floor, the school’s leadership chose Patriquin Architects to create the design.

Using an interactive design approach that relies on collaboration and iteration, we produced plans for the new building that worked within the client’s program, budget, and design intent. However, in addition to meeting the client’s needs, we also had to work the local architectural review board to get approval for the project’s traditional front façade and forecourt with a more nature-inspired, whimsical take on the classrooms and play areas.

The Role of the Architectural Review Board

Connecticut’s historic buildings, like historic buildings everywhere, are a national treasure. From their incredible architecture to their often pivotal roles in important events, it is critical that we preserve their legacy.

That effort involves more than just protecting and maintaining the structures themselves, however. We have to be thoughtful about their surroundings as well. Nobody wants to see an iconic farmhouse built in the 1800s surrounded by fast food restaurants and strip malls.

Enter the architectural review board. Connecticut towns often have these committees, which are tasked with ensuring that new buildings or renovations meet certain aesthetic requirements within their neighborhoods. Committee members have an in-depth understanding of, and appreciation for:

  • The town’s historical roots and character
  • The defining qualities of a structure’s immediate neighborhood
  • Any zoning restrictions
  • General architectural standards
  • Construction methods and what they can and cannot achieve

Based on these insights, committees are tasked to make suggestions on how a new project can align with the community’s standards.

Achieving Approval: The Best Place to Start is at the Beginning

With property development projects, nothing is more time-consuming, costly, and frustrating than having to backtrack on progress that has been made in order to meet the requirements of an architectural review board. That’s why at Patriquin Architects, we make it a top priority to work with a town’s board right from the outset to understand its perspective on new construction.

We do extensive research on an area, photograph neighboring buildings, and immerse ourselves in the community to fully understand its character. Using what we learn, we collaborate with the client to find a solution that meets their needs while also properly interpreting and incorporating the board’s input to ensure adherence to its standards and avoid costly modifications during construction.

One of the keys to functioning as the go-between who helps a client and the architectural review board come to a consensus is making the proposed design easy to understand and visualize. We do that by producing everything from detailed renderings to 3D models so that all stakeholders are clear on the look and feel for which we are seeking approval.

Greenwich Academy elevations

The rendering on the left depicts the design of the entry of the new building before the Architectural Review Committee (ARC) meeting. Taking into consideration the comments of the ARC, the right rendering shows the final design.

Greenwich Academy entries

The rendering on the left depicts the design before the Architectural Review Committee (ARC) meeting. It shows the front of the new building, and how it relates to the existing kindergarten building. Taking into consideration the comments from the ARC, the right rendering shows the final design.

A Deep Appreciation of the Difficult Task Faced by Architectural Review Boards

As Principal at Patriquin Architects, a member of the Guilford Design Review Committee, and for five years the chair of that committee, I understand the challenges that architectural review boards face. The committee exists to maintain and enforce its community’s design standards, but members also understand the wants and needs of property owners and the burden that these standards sometimes impose.

Our firm’s combination of expertise and empathy has been critical in allowing us to help stakeholders walk that line and execute projects that produce buildings that blend seamlessly with their surroundings. Such was the outcome with Greenwich Academy. Not only were the client and the review board pleased with the final proposed design, the neighbors liked it as well.

Greenwich Academy classroom connector

These renderings are showing the connection between the federalist style front building, and the more modern classrooms. The image on the left depicts the design before the ARC meeting. One comment from the ARC was that the connection between the two styles seemed a bit abrupt. The rendering on the right is showing our solution to this, by placing a lower roof connecting wing, with large windows and detailing above. These elements tie the two styles together in a smooth transition.

Old Meets New: Putting Your Project on the (Approved) Path to Success

If you have a project planned and are looking for guidance from architects who have had extensive experience with architectural review boards, we would be happy to share our insights. Please get in touch at your convenience.