This definitely is not kids' stuff.
Chicago's Urban Sandbox is an adult winner. It has been judged one of the best housing designs in the Midwest.
The whimsically named Urban Sandbox actually is a new four-story house in the city's Bucktown neighborhood. One of its unusual features is a sandbox on the terrace over the garage.
The modernistic house on a 24-foot-wide lot won the grand prize in the Midwest region in the Best in American Living Awards, sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders in Washington D.C., and Professional Builder magazine, based in Oak Brook.
The annual competition has helped set the standard for outstanding design in residential construction for the last 25 years. The 46 winners were selected from 351 entries from every region of the nation. These design stars were announced at the home builders' annual convention in Las Vegas in January.
"The winners are the best of the best of the best of the best across the country," said Jack McLaurin, one of the eight judges who are experts in the housing industry.
All the winners exhibited seven criteria for success, according to McLaurin, principal of the Lessard Group, an architectural firm in Vienna, Va.
The seven criteria for success, as determined by the judges, tell what's currently hot and point the way to future trends:
- Outdoor living spaces continue to evolve. The judges said they are seeing more private outdoor living spaces as well as outdoor rooms with living space above. Carefully crafted outside environments range from courtyards, side yards and backyards to front porches, screened porches and fully furnished living/dining rooms with fireplaces, seating and chandeliers.
- Modern/contemporary design elements, materials and forms are more prevalent. The influence of modern design is evident in all regions. Features include open floor plans, broad expanses of glass and an increased use of alternative materials such as metals, stone and brick, both inside and out.
- Fresh solutions to multi-story design are emerging, especially in urban areas. Multi-story living has evolved with many configurations—flats over flats, triplexes and three-story single-family homes with elevators. Building exteriors are fresh and glamorous, and amenities are more expensive.
- Heightened attention to details and materials provides visual interest. Ceiling beams that accentuate architectural detailing are seen in all regions. Exteriors acquire more visual interest through the use of such details as turrets and window trim.
- Well-appointed floor plans have a good balance of public and private spaces. For example, there should be balance between open great rooms and private sanctuary spaces such as spas and master balconies. In general, today's floor plans are more casual to facilitate entertaining and family interaction.
- Architecture with an authentic style and character still is popular. Most winning homes bring stylistic elements of the façade indoors. Traditional materials and details are being rethought to bring a more contemporary look.
- Massive windows, floor-to-ceiling glass and rustic materials help bring the outdoors inside. Large windows erase the boundaries between indoors and outdoors.
In addition to the seven criteria for success, McLaurin said other trends are shaping housing design: "Builders are downsizing the product because of the economy. Down-costing also is affecting exterior elevations."
He predicts a resurgence of cottage architecture. "The country was founded on Cape Cods and bungalows. This nostalgic, timeless architecture can be brought back in the 21st Century."
McLaurin noted that many members of Generation Y, the offspring of the Baby Boomers, want to live where the action is and may prefer multi-story apartments and condos.
McLaurin praised the Urban Sandbox for being a great design, in part because of its interior courtyard that brings natural light into the narrow lot. The courtyard will be shared with another residence that's now under construction on an adjoining lot.
Designed by Osterhaus McCarthy Architects of Chicago and built by Jodi Development of Chicago, the 5,000-square-foot Urban Sandbox, at 1625 N. Wolcott, has four bedrooms, an elevator, 2,000 square feet of terraces, views of downtown Chicago, a four-car garage and, of course, a real sandbox for kids.
"I think the house won because we were able to get so much on the narrow lot," said architect John McCarthy.
Two other residential projects in the Chicago area were finalists in the awards. They are the 9,000-square-foot Scottish Manor, a 14-room single-family home built in Bannockburn by Orren Pickell Builders & Designers; and the Fairbanks at Cityfront Plaza, a 31-story condominium with 281 units built by Centrum Properties at 240 E. Illinois St. in Chicago.
According to Pickell, president of his Lincolnshire-based firm, "Good design sells and it's the only thing that sells in bad times."
He agreed with McLaurin about the downsizing trend: "People want a house that's not too big but fills all their needs in the smallest space at the smallest budget. They want what has absolute practical value."
Architect Al Bloom noted that the outdoor living trend is gaining popularity, even in Chicago's climate. "Outdoor living is a lot more than the old Weber grill. Some people want outdoor kitchens that may be covered. If you brave the elements, you can use them eight months of the year."
Bloom, president of Bloom-Fiorino Architects in Oak Brook, noted that "winning designs don't always translate into the best seller." He added that housing designs have to solve lifestyle choices, including convenient floor plans, circulation and public and private areas.
He said some McMansions can't be considered design winners because they are out of proportion, being too high for their width. "Streetscapes are important. Facades should present a friendly face."
In recent years, new downtown Chicago high-rise condos have reflected the increasing trend toward modern architecture. The Fairbanks at Cityfront Plaza is just one of the glass-and-steel towers that have sprouted up.
The modern look wasn't always the norm. "Everybody used to think that brick and limestone buildings were required in order to follow Chicago's architectural heritage," said Colin Kihnke, president of CMK Companies, builders of the ultra-modern Contemporaine condo and a new one at 235 W. Van Buren.
"Younger buyers, especially those in the 25-to-35 age group, prefer more modern, urban-looking buildings," Kihnke said.
He added that other hot high-rise trends include higher ceilings up to 10 feet with floor-to-ceiling windows, and computer alcoves.
Architect/developer David Hovey confirms the increasing popularity of modern architecture.
"I don't see any return to historical styles. All-glass buildings make sense today because people want natural light. The most luxurious units have the most windows," said Hovey, president of Optima Inc. in Glencoe.
"Buyers in downtown Chicago expect the architecture to be contemporary," he said. "People want interiors with a sense of spaciousness. Units with smaller windows are harder to sell. Modern architecture is consumer-driven. At the turn of the century, structurally it wasn't possible to build like we do today. Now we can take advantage of 21st Century materials and techniques."
Hovey said his firm currently is designing a 55-story rental building at the corner of Illinois and St. Clair, just a short walk from the Fairbanks. Construction, however, will be delayed until the economy improves.
Looking into a crystal ball, he predicts that buildings in five years will be improved by technology, just as buildings today are better than those built five years ago.Copyright © 2015, CT Now