Charlotte’s new apartments are routinely called bland, beige or even reminiscent of Soviet barracks. In many cases, that reputation is well-earned.
Some talented architects say they don’t want to bother building here.
The city seems to view this as an art problem. An aesthetic problem. But business-first Charlotte should absolutely recognize this complaint as a capitalist problem.
A business-attracting problem.
A millennial-retaining problem.
You can sell Charlotte as a dynamic community. Sell it as a place for business innovation, for start-ups, for creativity.
But that message is undermined when our own buildings don’t look like innovation. They don’t look like creativity in action.
The appetite for better apartment buildings exists in Charlotte.
Here are five specific things I want to see here soon — and other cities easily beat us on.
(1) Sustainability-focused apartment buildings
Yes, we’ve got a few green roofs, communal gardens and LEED certifications out there. A good start, but not remotely enough, nor far-reaching enough in execution.
We need more like this:
Stream Fifteen bills itself as ‘built with a zero carbon footprint.’ It features Energy Star high-efficiency appliances, passive cooling, low-or-no volatile organic compounds in paints and carpets, reclaimed stormwater and wind-generated power.
The Hassalo on Eighth apartment community complex claims to have the “largest community water processing system in the United States” and that “every used drop of water from sinks, toilets, showers and laundry” is cleaned and processed on-site. The treated water is then used to irrigate landscape and flush toilets.
(2) Repurposing mid-century modern buildings
Charlotte leaders pretty much blew it with the city’s old-old buildings. That hurts the city when people talk about a sense of place, history and character.
But there’s still hope that some of the newer-old buildings — including office and industrial spaces from the 1960s and 1970s — will find new life as mod apartments.
Inspiration to bring here: These micro apartments in Denver, built in a 50-year-old revamped hotel. Check out that groovy exterior of Turntable Studios in Denver.
(3) Fresh building shapes
We’ve got “beige box with corrugated-metal flourish” covered.
How about waves like The Aqua in Chicago
Glass like Franklin Place in Tribeca, NYC
Or a crazy donut-square like 325 Kent in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
(4) Better, bolder signs
There are websites and social media accounts devoted to awesome building signs, especially quirky vintage and neon ones, precisely because they add so much character to a place. Charlotte’s apartment buildings (and businesses) could go so much bigger and bolder here, shedding the city’s boring stereotype one twinkling light at a time.
The best local apartment signage: Plaza-Midwood’s The Gibson. More like this, please!
Nationally, here’s an apartment sign standout to beat: This street-straddling signage at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Lofts.
(5) At the very least: A cool garage
You’ll hear some of the more mindful urban planners and architects in the city complain about Charlotte’s “cars behind bars.”
They’re right. We should have retail and restaurants at street level. Streetlife makes a city buzz. Apartment and condo buildings’ ground floor parking lots are squashing one of the best shots at vibrant streetlife.
Until that starts changing, could the garages not be completely depressing to look at?
Steal this idea:
I love the Santa Monica Civic Parking Garage, which made Architectural Digest’s 2017 list of the 13 most colorful buildings in the world.