Three points supporting Traditional Architecture as the basis for urban infill: Humanism, walkability, timelessness.
Our urban districts, neighborhoods and blocks are complex units of urban fabric. Architecture is a major element that fulfills the urban pattern. A successful urban fabric is one that is humanistic, walkable, and enduringly timeless. The urban fabric is heavily defined by architecture and thus the architecture needs to be humanistic, walkable, and timeless.
-Johnson Square, Downtown Savannah, GA
With the successful return of our urban neighborhoods, villages and cities; we often find great new development to take advantage of such financial rebirth. People are willing to pay more to live in walkable mixed use urban areas and the development community is responding by bringing a wide range of projects to market. How this is done is critically important.
Many times, infill projects are at odds with the urban pattern they are placed in. These projects end up hurting the very things that made them financially viable in the first place. The architecture is often a pseudo-modern look that lacks the DNA of place and human proportions. The scale is often overly large in terms of both form and block mass. The building frontages are often weak and not conducive for walkability. These add up to a project that doesn't really carry its burden of helping to shape the urban pattern of a particular place.
Humanistic architecture is one that responds to humans. Traditional architecture does that in many ways; materials, scale, and most importantly; in proportion. Traditional architecture is governed by a portioning system that is ageless and actually derived from the proportions of the human body and the natural world. People recognize these proportions (even if they can not articulate it) because we are hard wired to. Vernacular architecture uses local natural materials that also give a scale and groundedness to a building. No one feels at ease when you are using rough concrete or stainless steel as a wall panel.
Walkability is a hot key word these days. So what does a traditional building do better than a modern one? First, it makes the pedestrian feel better. This is from the scale of the elements on the frontage and the scale of the details on the architecture. Traditional buildings have stoops, porches, galleries, arcades, awnings and glazing on the street level just to name a few things that interest / protect the walker. Second, scale is also a big part of the walkability. A building that takes up a full 500 foot block with poor boring frontage is much less walkable than a 500 foot street that has a variety of interesting interactions.
Timelessness is hard to describe for most people, but easy for them to spot. Timelessness comes from being part of a great whole (the urban fabric), using local traditional materials (and methods), and using great traditional proportions. This doesn't mean that a building can not be modern, that is a false hood. New buildings can use new technologies and materials but they have to be used as part of moving a local based architectural DNA forward as opposed to the complete new creation of one. Sense of place comes from architectural DNA, and timelessness comes from sense of place, so this is an important link.
Bringing it all together, Traditional Architecture is the oldest design tool we have for creating great lasting cities and places. People respond to traditional architecture because it responds to them and this is why it is the best method for creating walkable, sustainable, timeless places and has been for 3000+ years.