It was suggested that I submit a post to the Incremental Sprawl Repair (ISR) Working Group’s site about designing single story commercial buildings because I happen to be designing a façade renovation for a building in uptown New Orleans.
I’ve noticed that most of the traditional commercial buildings located downtown or within the denser neighborhoods, with a few exceptions, are usually two or more floors high. The commercial space is on the first floor where it is readily accessible to pedestrians walking along the sidewalk, while the upper floor is residential, often the living quarters for the shop owner, or is used as storage/back of house spaces that are off limits to visitors. Scattered among all the multi-floor commercial buildings there are a few single story commercial buildings, but most of those are new modern commercial buildings that were inserted into the neighborhood. Occasionally you find some historic commercial buildings that were designed as single story commercial buildings, and they provide good inspiration for designing commercial buildings out in suburbia.
Why is it important to study single story traditional commercial buildings? Because most of the commercial buildings built out in suburbia are single story structures; it’s like the inverse of the denser neighborhoods. There are a few commercial buildings with upper floors, but all the big boxes, the small chain pharmacies, the fast food outlets, the gas stations, the strip shopping centers, the car dealerships and the automobile maintenance shops are all single story structures. (By the way, I am excluding commercial office buildings, hotels, medical complexes and other larger facilities from this analogy, which are usually multi-story regardless of their location, and focusing on buildings that are used primarily for retail or dining.)
Perhaps there will come a day when developers realize the potential for building multi-use buildings. If they need to build a pharmacy at a particular suburban site, why not add a couple more floors, a separate entrance with stairs and elevators, and lease the upper floors as residential units or office suites? In the mean time here are examples of single story traditional commercial buildings found around New Orleans. Also included are three design schemes for a façade renovation in uptown New Orleans for a chain pharmacy.