Boiling down an entire corporate design ethos into one sentence or phrase is nigh-impossible, but if you ask Ben Crenshaw, Southern Land Company’s (SLC) lead designer with 25 years of experience designing iconic buildings and communities, he’d probably choose something along the lines of: bringing out the best of a place.
Learning about Ben’s design process at SLC is a case study in psychology, patience, understanding, and thoughtfulness. To understand a location where SLC plans to develop requires a deep appreciation of what makes it what it is – its history, culture, foliage, fauna, architectural character, tastes, preferences, flourishes – and using those ingredients to create a community that’s beautiful, safe, and comfortable.
Ben is in the business of creating homes. And whether he’s designing residences and community epicenters on Long Island, in Charlotte, Denver, Austin, Las Vegas, or anywhere in between, residents can rest assured that the space provides a level of authentic comfort that must be meticulously constructed, not thoughtlessly manufactured.
The difference? Taking the time to sincerely learn a place.
SLC’s proposed development at 145 West Shore Road in Port Washington is no different, but given its colorful history and multitude of nuances, it’s the perfect example of how this ardent design ethos can be beautifully realized no matter the circumstances.
How to Learn a New Place
Ben breaks down the discovery phase of SLC’s design process into three defining pillars.
#1: History. Like every SLC project, design considerations for the 145 West Shore Road project began in the same place as the rest of them: the archives. History is a massive determinant of a site’s look and feel as well as its needs.
What was originally built on this site? What about around it? How has the area grown or evolved from its original development? How has it changed over time? Answers to these historical questions set the stage for how a site’s aesthetic future is determined.
#2: Lifestyle. Equally important is spending time in the area itself. Gaining a first-person perspective of the space is essential to understanding its texture and getting a glimpse into the lives of local residents.
The SLC team observes their day-to-day activity and determines their priorities as well as a general sense of their lifestyle. Do they tend to stay inside or gravitate towards outdoor spaces? Do they travel to neighboring areas by foot or faraway areas by car or public transit?
#3: Ecology. Next is evaluating the site from a natural perspective to understand its ecology and the effects of the natural environment on the space. This is another catch-all topic that covers a swathe of considerations such as natural vegetation, sun patterns, local wildlife, and precipitation patterns. How can all of these elements be thoughtfully integrated into a design that respects and enhances the natural environment?
In Port Washington’s case, preserving and aiding existing ecosystems – like that of the beloved monarch butterfly – is central to how Ben visualizes an entire property.
Ben and his design team spend a tremendous amount of time learning these three areas. Only then can they begin to envision a building or community that complements the existing space while adhering to one overriding principle: making people feel comfortable.
After all, design is the driving force of how a space makes you feel: architecture that feels special and inviting space that fosters community and offers room for growth and progression; thoughtful entrances and exits that create a sense of safety and welcoming.
Designing thoughtfully requires a significant amount of empathy, and therefore learning a space essentially boils down to understanding the psychology of a residential experience.
How Did the Environment Influence the Design of the 145 West Shore Road Project?
Climate is a huge consideration, especially at a site such as 156 West Shore Road in Port Washington–not simply from an ecological standpoint but in terms of creating shade, maximizing sun exposure, and incorporating hydrology, trees, native flora and fauna that make the space unique.
A significant portion of planning for any project is devoted to trees and water features so residents feel more connected to nature. It’s about creating structures that blend into their environments and organically complement them. To SLC, nature is an active participant in the project that leads the design, rather than designers coming in with premature notions to impose their wills.
Horticultural preservation is paramount here. Not only does the 145 West Shore Road project protect existing plantlife, Ben is also adamant about planting as many indigenous species as possible to both support the environment and beautify the property. Monarch butterflies, which have a unique presence and status in Port Washington, are also of crucial importance, and design considerations including monarch waystations and friendly foliage will go a long way in protecting and perpetuating their existing habitats.
The 145 West Shore Road site has a unique setting with a flat waterfront parcel backed by an adjacent hillside. To emulate this decrescendo, Ben and team designed a building that terraced down toward the water, rather than a single, large, imposing building. The exterior color palette also takes cues from the environment by incorporating tones and hues seen in the surrounding area.
It also comes down to materials. On the top level of the building, for example, Ben has chosen lighter colors that help soften the appearance of the building’s height and make it feel smaller. Lower on the building you’ll find richer, darker earth tones that incorporate the history and existing environment. Being a waterfront property, there are also strong nautical influences within the design as well as flourishes of the pier throughout the exterior architecture.
Creating an impressionable “arrival sequence” – architect-speak for the feeling of seeing, passing, or entering a space – is another pillar of Ben’s, and 145 West Shore Road presented a great opportunity to create a viewing portal to the water whether you’re visiting or just driving by. Incorporating the water and providing a view to the waterfront, something previously untenable, has been central to the project’s design.
Encouraging community is core to the SLC brand, but that’s only possible with intentionally designed open space. The 145 West Shore Road project was envisioned with sizable, publicly accessible areas of waterfront access, pier access, and a completely rebuilt promenade, all of which will seamlessly integrate into the nearby trail system.
Extending the waterfront promenade was always the dream. Many people don’t even know this parcel of land exists, especially since it’s historically industrial and off the beaten path. With the extended promenade, SLC will create a more active, communal waterfront experience for residents and locals alike.
What Role Does Environmental Sustainability Play in the Design of the 145 West Shore Road Project?
There’s no two ways about it: the current condition of 145 West Shore Road is bad. An active industrial site for many years, this parcel is now a neglected collection of scrap, metal, and trash that continues to pollute and degrade the harbor. Leaching from old piling, contaminated sediment, and continued runoff causes further harm with each passing day.
A monumental environmental remediation project is being spearheaded by SLC to restore the parcel to a site that can even be considered for redevelopment. From Ben’s perspective, how can the new design help both to mitigate future environmental hazards and help enhance the sustainability of the land itself?
Water was the first consideration, both minimizing its runoff and treating it for reuse. The 145 West Shore Road project is being designed with permeable pavement and rainwater catchment systems that help accomplish both goals.
Ben is also adamant about primarily using native plants to ensure long term sustainability and a longer plant lifecycle. Non-flowering or non-native plants discourage wildlife participation, but 145 West Shore Road’s horticultural approach has prioritized birds and pollinators to foster the most symbiotic natural environment where species like the monarch butterfly can thrive.
The largest energy footprint from most any building is caused by its HVAC systems, but the 145 West Shore Road project has been designed to reduce heat gain (and therefore reliance on HVAC) wherever possible. The waterfront side of the building, for example, faces the sun and includes shading structures and coated glass to reduce the overall heat gain.
Another massive green initiative? Giving people as many alternatives as possible to using their cars. That’s why the 145 West Shore Road project was devised from the ground up to connect to neighboring walking/biking trails and to provide easy access to nearby public transportation routes by way of a shuttle service to downtown and transit centers.
Inside and out, residents can count on a meticulous level of detail that prioritizes comfort and enhances environmental health.
Ben Crenshaw has worked closely with SLC’s CEO for over 18 years, and together they maintain a steadfast commitment to providing comfort, safety, and community within enriching neighborhoods. People should feel proud of where they like and have an abundance of natural opportunities to connect with people who live nearby.
Design drives everything, but thoughtful design requires an authentic understanding of the experience of living there. The 145 West Shore Road project is a prime example of an SLC property that conforms to the needs of the environment and the locals without cutting any corners.