Cobblestone Lake Development

October 19th, 2005 by Peter Schmelzer

Architectural Detail applied to Residential Design

Last week Mary and I toured Cobblestone Lake Development in Apple Valley, and we were pleasantly impressed.

The place used to be a gravel pit, but is being converted into a lake-centered residential development. The lake is complete with gazebo and pier, with views across the water from many of the homes. By clustering the dwellings on small lots, public open space remains around the lake for walking, fishing, biking, and playground activities. Shops are planned to allow walkable shopping for day to day items.

As an architect, I was drawn to the careful detail of the custom homes and their pleasing variety. All of the homes nod toward traditional forms in a variety of styles. The proportion, texture and balance to these homes is quiet nice. The same ideas carry into the higher density housing, which is a mix of twinhomes and townhomes.

Generally, the development seems to follow the precepts of New Urbanism, an community planning idea suggesting a return to more historical, pedestrian-friendly, sustainable, mass-transit-supported neighborhoods.

New Urbanism is the revival of our lost art of place-making, and is essentially a re-ordering of the built environment into the form of complete cities, towns, villages, and neighborhoods – the way communities have been built for centuries around the world. New Urbanism involves fixing and infilling cities, as well as the creation of compact new towns and villages.

This project is a terrific example of taking an underdeveloped eyesore (gravel pit) and converting it into a beautiful place. Kudos to the developer for that. As we pulled out, I was aware how new and clean Cobblestone Lake was. This is a good thing, but it felt a bit packaged: too new: no sense of history (despite the historical architectural gestures). Could it be that there is no substitute for the true historical patina of time? The gravel pit had no trees, so the trees are still young; somehow historical forms seem to call for big, old, gnarly oaks, well-established hedges, and moss on the stone retaining walls. Given time, these things will come to be.

Yet as an architect and a human being in this place in time, I sense an incongruity that is a little unsettling after leaving the place. Clearly, the throwback was attractive to me on many levels. In fact, I have designed homes that would fit well into this development, and hope to design many more. There is a point at which architecture, like people, can become more about projecting an image than being true to its own nature. For example, applying rafter tails under an eave may look like real rafter tails (which are a true expression of structure rather than mere eye candy,) but aren’t. The image is more important than the reality, a superficial way of being.

This is a particular challenge, since modern construction materials, methods and energy-efficiency goals do not lend themselves to many of the old ways and vice versa. Still, good design brings together form, proportion, and detailing in an honest, civilized way. It acknowledges and is shaped by its controlling parameters.

Visit the place. I’d love to hear your comments.

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