The Garden Walls of Providence

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   I promised Providence stories after the DPZ-designed community won the NAHB’s National Community of the Year… let’s start off with something Providence does well that breaks rules. Frontage fences are typically limited to a height of 40 inches or less in traditional neighborhoods across the US, but I noticed on a trip to Charleston several years ago that houses there often have brick garden walls up to eight feet tall or sometimes more that come right up to the sidewalk.


Charleston garden wall

   When I see something that breaks rules but looks good, I have to ask myself “why is that OK?” What I realized was that if there had been wood stockade fences that tall right on the sidewalk, they would have been oppressive. But because they were well-detailed brick or stucco garden walls, they compensated for their height by being beautiful.

   There was another benefit it took me longer to figure out: because a good garden wall has piers every few feet, it modulates the view every 2-3 steps as you walk along, making the walk more interesting than a continuous smooth wall. An 8’ wall right beside the sidewalk also creates as much enclosure as a 30’ tall building standing 25’ away. So a good garden wall enhances Walk Appeal in at least these two ways, making the street a more interesting place to walk.


Providence garden wall

   When I returned from Charleston, I decided to try out the lessons I’d learned there at Providence, where I’ve served as Town Architect almost since the beginning. Town Founders David and Todd Slyman have always had a keen interest in getting the fences right from the very beginning, so I was confident they would listen. I was right. We started with Todd’s house, which was just being designed at the time. We decided to allow garden walls only on side streets to begin with, in case we didn’t get it right. A side street is one where the sides of the buildings meet the street; a front street is one where the fronts of the buildings meet the streets.

   It was a great success. We now have several garden walls on side streets at Providence, and the lessons learned there are informing the next neighborhood on the hilltop across the stream. There, because a lot of the houses are built on the brow of the hill overlooking the stream below, it is necessary to have motor court entries on those streets. And because we’ve gotten gotten good at garden walls in the valley, we’ve done a pretty good job on the hilltop from the very beginning.

   ~Steve Mouzon

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