summer SUSTAINABILITY course in session!

Monday, April 14, 2014


"Polebridge Mercantile" (rural)
Image courtesy of MATTHOFFMAN via Flickr

Building Types we are investigating:

    1.  #005 Residential
    2. #006 Agricultural (last week)
    3. #007 Shops, Mews & Restaurants (today!)
    4.  #008 Public Buildings
    5.  #009 Commercial Buildings
    6.  #010 Industrial Buildings
    7.  #011 Sports Buildings, Theaters & Churches

    Mercantiles and Mom & Pop shops

    One of the most basic urban building types is the shop on the street with living space above.  It's worked for 
    restaurants, hardware stores, neighborhood markets, tailors, milliners, cobblers & dressmakers, jewelry stores, really all sorts of shops.  

    "the mercantile" (urban/Main street)
    Image courtesy of bradleygee via Flickr

    It's a great arrangement that makes for a very short commute, only one mortgage/lease payment, and increases the level of watchfulness over the shop when it is closed.

    When it doesn't work as well (but is still attempted):
    • the shop is too noisy/stinky for residential proximity, like a printing press or a butcher
    • the shop requires too much space for expensive real estate, like a carpentry storefront

    Mercantiles are the general store version of the same thing, just not squished next to other specialty shops on a street.  Rural mercantiles were somewhat isolated, early department stores that tried to carry everything a person might need.  Sears' & Walmart's ancestor, I suppose.  

    The buildings would be quite different (urban vs. rural), but the purpose was the same: sell stuff and live very close. 

    Japanese Restaurant in Koreatown, NYC
    Image courtesy of Jeffrey via Flickr

    "Warren Mews"
    Typical London mews
    Image courtesy of garryknight via Flickr


    First of all, what's a mew?  (No, silly, not a "mew," a "mews," not related to "mewling.")
    Although the word's etymology is pretty insane, the simple answer is that mews are based on the typology of some old London carriage houses (with living above) that front on narrow streets & alleys.

    Since the large carriage doors lend themselves to providing an open-air shop, many mews are a small-scale, urban version of what we're already talking about: shop below, living above.


    Strictly speaking, restaurants are shops, they're just a unique subset. Architecturally, the main difference is the inclusion of a kitchen, food waste removal, and restrooms.
    The Mews, Shanklin, Isle of Wight, with craft shops
    Image courtesy of garryknight via Flickr

    In many ways they are like other types of shops: 
    • they need a location for deliveries
    • their showroom is in the form of tables and seats
    • their merchandise is prepared food
    • they may have sidewalk cafe seating, but many markets and shops also use the sidewalk space for displaying items for sale

    The difference between a "commercial" building & a shop (according to me)

    "Barnes & Noble - Valley View Mall"
    Image courtesy of MikeKalasnik via Flickr

    I'll never forget the first Barnes & Noble bookstore with a cafe I went to in the early 1990's.  
    I had just returned from Italy, and was so enamored with the bookstore/coffee shop marriage that I wanted to go back and open an English language bookstore in Florence.  I loved the idea of a destination where you might spend an entire morning, afternoon or evening, where loitering was welcome.  Like a library where food & conversation were allowed.  Pretty much heaven.

    Of course, Barnes & Noble is very suburban in scale.  It's big and "big box"-y and everything that the "shop around the corner" is not.  It also makes more money, so it wins (sadly, in my book).  

    As a "big box," it fits better in a discussion of larger scale commercial buildings (lesson #009) than in one of shops.

    The Shop Around the Corner from You've Got Mail



    Homework #007: Visit a small shop or restaurant.  During your visit, notice stuff like...

    1.  circulation patterns (where you have to walk to get where you need to go): 
    • is the wayfinding clear?  (is it obvious which way you need to go, or are signs required?)
    • is there enough room to pass, or are you squished? 
    • is there enough room for the owners/employees to do their job without making you move or being in your personal space?
    • alternately, is there too much space so that the shop is unwelcoming (some high-end boutiques can be this way)?
    • can you get to accessory spaces like restrooms, dressing rooms?

    2.  lighting:
    • is the space daylit or artificially lit or both?
    • if "both," which parts of the shop/restaurant are more pleasant to be in?
    • did you know that certain types of lighting successfully encourage a customer to buy?

    3.  merchandise displays:
    • what is prominently displayed?  Is it the big ticket item or is it the clearance item?
    • once they've got you inside, how are they still advertising to you?  Is it more subtle?

    Report back.  You know the drill.

    birds taking advantage of a garbage collectors' strike.
    Image courtesy of moon angel via Flickr

    This Week's Q's & A #007

    I'm asking the questions this week, and as April 15 is Tuesday, I'm thinking taxation:

    1. Why do we have income taxes in America?
    2. Is it a good idea to tax the income of an individual, or are there other/better ways to pay for government services?  
    3. Which government services change the way buildings are built and used?

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