Design Guidelines

Building a Tradition
Design Review


The purpose of these standards is to sustain a high quality of development, meeting the goals and vision of the residents, while allowing the widest possible range of freedom and creativity. The regulating plan, architectural codes, landscape standards, and conservation principles will allow the community to be the work of many hands, reflecting the contribution of many imaginations, and to adapt to changing conditions while maintaining the spirit of the group’s originating vision.

In general, these standards are not intended to control architectural style, but aimed at achieving two connected goals:

  • Maintaining a certain consistency and predictability, both so that the new residents have some sense of what to expect in the future, and so that each individual house contributes to the sense of place.
  • Encouraging development of a vocabulary and grammar of forms and materials that is both expressive and appropriate to High Cove. We expect and encourage creative responses to the standards. The standards are intended to be the starting point for an architectural conversation to which each house will contribute. Standards are necessary to facilitate creative and collaborative place-making.

Architectural standards focus primarily on issues concerning the way the building sits on the site, building typology, relation to the land and neighbors, massing, and the use of appropriate building materials and technology. The guidelines positively encourage alternative building technologies oriented toward increasing energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources. With respect to architectural character, the guidelines should serve as design resources rather than restrictive definition of allowable “styles.”

Building a Tradition

Buildings should be designed to convey a “traditional” look, but it is important to understand that this doesn’t mean simply designing buildings to look as if they could have been built 100 years ago. They should be traditional in two ways:

(1) The forms and materials should relate to vernacular building of the region. This doesn’t mean that they should try to look indistinguishable from vernacular building (although some of that wouldn’t be such a bad thing). It does mean that they need to reflect an understanding of vernacular building, recognizing the differences in the needs and tastes of the residents of High Cove, and taking into account current thinking on “green” building practices.

(2) The forms, details, and use of materials in the first buildings should be aimed at establishing a High Cove vernacular. ‘Tradition,’ in this sense, is forward-looking, not backward-looking and regressive. It’s not a slavish imitation of the past, but pragmatically adaptive while recognizing the wisdom and value of vernacular forms.

Early on in our planning, we decided on two things we’d like to be characteristic of the architecture of High Cove: A predominant use of wood, stone, and glass as materials. There are three key aspects of design that we admire:

  • An architecture that reads as a composition of component parts, in which one gets some sense of the way the structure works (see, for example, the work of Green & Green).
  • Appreciation of both formal and functional simplicity. (E.g., an aesthetic that achieves its effects in the structure and the use of materials, not through elaborate applied ornament, as in Victorian kitsch.)
  • An architecture that celebrates the craft of building, and that reflects a careful attention to delightful detail.

The architectural standards are comparatively restrictive in and around the village core, making it possible for a compact mix of uses to form a picturesque composition that respects the rural character of the mountain location and protects the relative privacy of the homes in the outlying neighborhoods. In the village core, the codes are intended to encourage and guide development of a distinctive community architecture, as part of the creation of a consistent and coherent sense of place: an architecture that reflects the best of the local vernacular, that embodies the best practices in environmentally responsible building, and which is sensitive to the form and character of the land.

The code encourages a less rustic look on Castanea Street and otherwise in the village center. This is manifested in the following ways.

  • Very rustic materials (log structures, Carolina siding) are prohibited.
  • The buildings should be built up to the edge of the right of way, and the frontage should be relatively formal and public. Front porches are required as a way to bring life to the street.
  • The overall massing should be more vertical and contained (whereas houses might ‘ramble’ in the village neighborhood, where they respond primarily to slope).
  • Buildings should be designed to accommodate a mix of uses, as a future possibility if not a present condition.
  • A central concern (and goal of the code) is to establish some level of spatial definition along the main streets of the village center. Orientation to the street is less important in the village neighborhood.

Architectural guidelines will be looser for the edge lots, but will still provide guidelines for massing, building typology, appropriate relationship to the site and neighbors, and relationship to natural surroundings. Landscape guidelines, on the other hand, are more restrictive as one moves out to the edges, more closely linked to issues of conserving native plant and animal habitat.


One common definition of ‘sustainability’ involves meeting the needs of the present without destroying the resources that will be needed in the future. The intention of High Cove is to take that principle one step further: to meet the needs of the present in a way that actually enhances the value and quality of a place in the future. This is to be accomplished by setting in place infrastructure and institutional conditions necessary to govern development and building so that each addition adds to the quality of the whole. The architectural and landscape standards are central components of this. The community documents, the Community Architect, Community Ecologist, and the design and building review committee will provide additional resources in helping residents to interpret and apply the standards.

The architectural and development guidelines will make use of the North Carolina Healthy Built Homes standards for energy efficient and environmentally responsible construction. We understand that there are sometimes trade-offs between scoring well on these checklists and affordability, and we are working to adapt these standards to reflect the specific conditions of High Cove.

The High Cove team is working to implement the latest best practices in low impact development, and also to develop and continually update information resources that will help High Cove home owners make the best decisions.

Design Review

All building designs are subject to a design review process. However, the Community Architect and design review committee will be set up to play a tutelary rather than purely restrictive role, working closely with homeowners and builders to meet the spirit and not just the letter of the codes. The purpose is not to restrict creativity, but to elevate the art of building to a common standard. We intend the architectural code to be more a resource for creative and sustainable building than a constraint. The function of the code should never be to stand in the way of architectural excellence. The task of the Community Architect will be to insure that the codes are not applied in a rigid or irrational manner that actually violates their spirit and the vision they are intended to serve.

Architectural coding is crucial to the ability of the community to maintain the right balance between privacy and community, between the protection of natural beauty and the common project of place-making. Architectural coding enables buildings to be part of a common conversation, to contribute to the definition and amenity of common spaces, and provides some of the crucial grammar and syntax necessary to enable each new building to contribute to the distinctive sense of place, and each individual building project to be a part of the cooperative project of place-making and community building.

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