Ten thousand fences make good neighbors

Good communities come from something that is shared along with the freedom to be different. A Fence Toolkit shows how design can help to achieve that goal.

Robert Steuteville, Better! Cities & Towns

Memorable cities and towns have consistency in design combined with a tremendous depth of detail, explains Steve Mouzon, an architect based in Miami Beach. Examples are Nantucket, The French Quarter, historic Charleston, and Paris. The consistent architecture of buildings within these places makes them immediately recognizable, yet the individual buildings offer seemingly infinite details. Mouzon calls this "great variety within a narrow range," and explains that this is the hallmark of great places.

In our world we tend to get the opposite — great range and little variety. At the supermarket you can buy house designs from all across the country (if not the world) — so we tend to get a wide range of architecture. But the details, manufactured and distributed by huge chains like Home Depot and Lowe's, tend to lack individuality.

How do we get to that wide variety and narrow range that offers both character and consistency? Is this an unattainable dream in the modern world? On the contrary, it is perhaps easier than anyone could imagine. Mouzon recently put together a brief, six-page Fence Toolkit that explains how this goal can be achieved — at least with regards to one design element, the humble and much-maligned picket fence.

The picket fence is a symbol of conformity and we tend to assume that they all look alike. But in Nantucket, Mouzon says, most of the houses have them and no two are exactly alike.

In the toolkit, Mouzon offers just a few types of fences that allow for 13,824 possible combinations. Yet none of them are weird, ugly, or incompatible. When you think about it, that's what makes good neighbors and communities — something that is shared along with the freedom to be different.

This system used in the toolkit is thought-provoking because it could be applied to many building aspects to create a richness of detail that is the hallmark of a memorable place.

Mouzon has not covered all of the possible ideas for picket fences and I'm sure there are millions if you put your mind to it — but this toolkit offers a lot of practical ideas. Just about everybody, not just builders and architects, needs fence ideas at some point in their lives. After all, as Robert Frost said, good fences make good neighbors.

Download the Fence Toolkit below.

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Fence Toolkit.pdf832.99 KB