The Ideal Community Center

Imagine if every town had a community center that combined a senior center, a daycare center, and a no-kill animal shelter

I have an idea: what if we created a community center in every town that accommodated three public needs — a senior center, a daycare center for underprivileged kids (or any kid for that matter), and a no-kill animal shelter? They all share two things — a vital need for human connection and companionship, and an abundance of unstructured time.

Studies prove that animal companions can improve health and ease depression, that children require love and attention to thrive, and that seniors who feel connected or have a role in society live longer, happier lives. Less adoptable animals that might otherwise live their years out in a shelter, have a new community of animal lovers to share their days with. Kids love an audience as they play and run around. When they yell, “look at me!” someone might actually be watching, someone who might even acknowledge their amazing feats with praise. A lonely senior might actually enjoy a child’s long-winded story that others might otherwise brush off, and vice versa.

The synergy could impact the entire community.

Parents leaving their children in daycare all day would find comfort in knowing they are part of a community, getting the attention they need, when the parents aren’t around. Kids would bring home stories of things they learned from the seniors that might entertain or enlighten their parents. Most adults with elderly parents would be pleased to see them in a community where they could engaged with a range of people, and not exclusively other seniors. Such a center would benefit all the town’s residents through the positive, synergetic energy spread by the families of its users.

We build senior centers, daycare centers and animal shelters, why have we never thought of combining them? Forget liability issues, forget special needs, forget the issues of cost and politics, and anything else that could inevitably stall such a project — just make it happen! The determined soul finds solutions, whether through architectural design and technology; space layouts and security cameras; screened and properly trained staff and administration; educational or civic policy; soliciting, lobbying, and fundraising.

There’s an obvious cost savings in combining activities in a single structure — in terms of reduced square footage, avoiding duplication of amenities like toilet rooms, staff lounge, kitchenette, office space, reception area and common space. Energy, supplies and administrative and operational costs would all be reduced. There could be less parking, especially if there was a drive through drop-off, and if scheduling could circumvent rush hour overlaps. Parents living with extended family could drop seniors and children at same location before work.

The architecture could work to both foster connections and accommodate necessary separation of activities. Each group would need its own identity and activity areas, but the common areas could accommodate both structured and chance interactions, with park benches on the perimeter of the play area, or protected window over looks, shared TV lounges and dining areas with a variety of seating and tables. It could even include a community garden.

So, then, if there are major social, developmental, health and wellbeing benefits, and costs could be contained or even reduced from what we do now, isn’t it an idea worth exploring further?



The new modern home possesses an elegant simplicity and harmony in design

The new modern home promotes chosen lifestyle patterns, and allots resources to enrich those choices

The new modern home advances the unique and essential qualities of the individual

The new modern home inspires the imagination and preserves our best memories

The new modern home engages the heart and shares in the desires and passions of the family

The new modern home expands our intellect and summons our greater purpose

The new modern home removes the superfluous and moves toward clarity and balance

The new modern home, by compartmentalizing, lessens unnecessary choices and reduces chaos

The new modern home is a respectful and engaging neighbor

The new modern home is archetypal in form, yet modern in style

The new modern home evokes an overall mood, yet allows for areas of deviation and distinction

The new modern home allows for undisturbed retreat, spiritual sanctuary and safe shelter

The new modern home encourages fun, camaraderie, family gatherings, and entertaining

The new modern home reinforces active exploration and discovery in the outside world

The new modern home is smart and sustainable, but does not allow technology to dominate living spaces

The new modern home engages the land locally, and conserves resources globally

The new modern home makes homeownership a positive, worthy and significant experience

The new modern home adds to the intricate tapestry of life

Posted by Shannon Scarlett on Friday, April 8, 2016



project in progress

Needham MA. In a pleasant neighborhood of early twentieth century homes, made up of an eclectic assortment of styles and sizes, is a small simple Cape perched on a hill. The house is well sited overlooking the neighborhood, however is a bit small and too plain for the fun and interesting family who lives there. After living in the house for a while they decided they needed something new. They really like their neighbors and that particular location in town, so rather than moving they decided they wanted to add on and renovate. That’s when they contacted me.

From discussions, questionnaires and images shared through dropbox, we developed a detailed program for everything they wanted to acheive—modern but sensitive to the existing, bigger but not a lot bigger area, improved circulation and spatial connections, plus a few specialty items like a small tandem garage space to accomodate 2 cars squeezed in in a snow storm; big front sitting porch; tons of storage (everyone wants that); a nice spacious sunny laundry room; a convertable first floor study/guest room with Murphy bed; a golf-swing room; a green monster wall in the sons room, and if he was getting that, then the daughter would need a fairy princess wall… 

Then after we brought builders in to review the early plans, to get us in the ballpark in terms of budget, we embarked on the design. The goal was to maintain the existing character both of the original home and streetscape, and at the same time, it should develop its own personal style. The owners had clipped an image of a house they really liked, and I agreed it was a good model, so we used that as a starting point. We looked back to the model a couple of time when the owners struggled to clarify some aspect of the design they wanted to modify. The final front elevation as we begin the construction drawings is shown above. The existing house and the image they clipped are shown below.

I will post periodic updates for anyone who might be interested in the process and resulting product that comes out of it…


 model image: 

more than just curb appeal

March 7, 2013 Street Smarts The homes and communities that sell aim for more than just curb appeal. Marianne Cusato What’s an easy way to add value to a development of new homes? Build homes that create great places, where cars share the road with pedestrians and bicyclists, and where streets become gathering spaces. Creating a great place is easier that you might think. It starts with two basic design moves. First, design homes that play well with others. Start by pushing the garage back behind the face of the house. This sends a clear message: here, the car is secondary to people. Add a full-depth porch to allow residents to engage with their neighbors. And keep rooflines uncluttered to ensure that the design stays simple. All of these decisions work in concert with each other to create a streetscape where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Second, build sidewalks and plant street trees. Not only will both of these provide a protected place for pedestrians to feel safe walking, they also translate to real value. A recent study at the U.S. Forest Service in Portland, Ore., found that street trees can add close to $9,000 to the price of a home.
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evoking the heart and soul of place

“Man stands in his own shadow and wonders why it’s dark.” ~Zen Proverb

There is a mystery woven into the very fabric of modern life that is rarely given more than momentary pause. Captured in a homebuyer’s casual question, the enigma is basically this: “What makes the older homes we see consistently more appealing than the newer ones?”

It is generally agreed that the quality of our homes, neighborhoods and towns has diminished significantly since World War II, yet the cause of this decline mystifies even the professionals. Surprisingly, this frustration over creeping mediocrity is not new. From the earliest days of modernism, in articles dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries, architects lamented a decline in aesthetic appreciation and building quality. Each generation believed the previous one had built with more care and forethought, and that older homes were intrinsically more beautiful than their newer counterparts.

Traditionally, the genius loci, or spirit of place was linked to man’s awe of an omnipotent power—whether God, nature or inner essence. Industry however, with its grand marvels of energized iron, seized that elusive power and made it material. And expediency—the Achilles’ heel of the machine age—eventually dethroned Mother Nature altogether.

The techno-industrial machine driving our current economy may be the leading culprit in the character loss of the built environment, but still deeper causes remain. The progress paradigm of modernism inadvertently created this colorless environment, yet it also sits on the necessary tonic.

Western society has come to believe that progress moves always forward along a linear path, but frequently it follows the cyclical pattern of the East, which views extremes not as ends but as mere shades of a single attribute or concept. Light and dark are only relative to their opposites—as are good and bad, poor and rich. Thus it is in ancient wisdom, the polar extreme of modernism, that we find a golden key, with the potential to lay bare some of the mystery surrounding character of place.

Historic documents based almost exclusively on mysterious arcana of design knowledge and lost building traditions, pointed overwhelming to one conclusion; that eloquent designs, natural or manmade, originated from and were regulated by a very small number of creative principles.

Even a partial understanding of the significance of the architectural orders can help shape future environmental policy; make stronger neighborhoods; reduce construction waste; and add a new level of beauty and harmony to our living places. Enhancing the meaning of place could be as simple as overlaying currently uninspired suburbs with ancient ordering systems, and harnessing rich traditions of the past to energize current building practices.

A collective knowledge, gained from a global survey of sacred canons and key architectural models, when made accessible to the public holds the potential to impact not only how we build today, but how we inhabit our homes in the future—how we relax, eat, bathe, play, entertain—and how we start and end each and every day of our lives.


The archetype exists outside of time and place. Myths and legends are both particular and universal; while they transform in context and detail to reflect the temperament of a particular culture, their archetypal meanings remain unchanged.The wisdom expressed by the ancients in their philosophies and myths open the door to a vast array of patterns, themes and symbols; investigation into the meanings behind these archetypes has lead the individual to fresh perspectives on life and cultures to new worldviews. By tapping into this wellspring of ancient wisdom we carve a path for novel ideas, drawing images and essential truths from the depth of their words. Myths and metaphors provide the structure for making the modern home meaningful. As a design tool they probe the depths of the earth and the highest potential of the heavens, they present the mechanism for enriching an empty husk of a house with vitality and personality.
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