In the typical Texas doughnut design, apartments wrap around a central parking garage. At first glance, the design seems to solve a number of suburban planning issues: people can live near their cars, with dedicated parking places requiring a minimal additional outlay of land, yet parking is hidden to passersby.
The problem is that most Texas doughnuts are massive structures that require at least two acres of land for aboveground parking plus residences. Because of their size, these residential sites become “islands in suburban places. There’s no infrastructure for people to walk to around these developments,” says architect Emily Arden Wells, “The Texas doughnut doesn’t actually solve the problem of suburban sprawl; it just hides the parking garage.”
Now, a few forward-thinking architects are taking the best elements of Texas doughnuts to make more walkable, thoughtful, appealing projects overall. Wanting to create suburban projects where residents could have urban amenities at hand, Irvine, California-based KTGY Group, Inc., Architecture + Planning is creating a host of innovative projects that use the core idea of the Texas Doughnut in a thoroughly modern way. “Site selection is key,” says David Senden, principal with KTGY Group. “There are some developments where the city is the amenity. For others, we really need to think about how we create a sense of community.”
KTGY’s projects center on the needs of hipper, tech-savvy residents, offering services that move the typical Texas doughnut into a more relevant typology. “It’s gone past simply a club room and a little exercise closet,” Senden notes. “We’re doing things like YouTube recording studios, Xbox/PlayStation rooms, full-blown health clubs in addition to funky gathering spaces and cyber lounges.” A project in Eugene, Oregon offers plentiful indoor bicycle parking, a two-level tiered courtyard with a swimming pool, and a parking garage clad in an art installation; a Long Beach, California development has a rooftop lounge with pool, spa, and outdoor fireplaces, along with shops, cafés, and restaurants at street level that front a pedestrian-only promenade.
Wells proposes another interesting Texas doughnut idea, geared towards a demographic not generally drawn to this design type. Working with professors Keith Krumwiede and Kathleen John-Alder as part of her third-year design studio at Yale University School of Architecture, Wells reimagined the typical Texas doughnut for “a young professional family who wants a green space but doesn’t want to mow the lawn, who wants urban living with amenities in the building, but doesn’t want to give up their single-family home concept.”
In her as-yet unbuilt Texas Doughnut Redux, the apartment building and adjacent parking garage are designed with an overall layer of green, from a perimeter of street trees on the sidewalk to a mossy jungle-like ground floor. Living spaces built with high-end finishes would be separated from the garage by grassy courtyards or screens of living bamboo that would “buffer the transition from car to home,” says Wells. The garage itself would be fringed with more trees, along with LED art installation screens. A neighborhood vibe would be encouraged through rooftop pools and running tracks, communal courtyards, and street-level restaurants, shops, and cafés.
What both Wells’ and KTGY’s projects have in common is their innovative take on a traditional typology that’s become rather stale. Rather than just another oversized apartment complex, these projects take the best elements of the Texas doughnut and make them even better by creating projects that foster both community and density. “Residents can have their tomato garden and their bed of irises while also living on the fifth floor with two kids and having their car right there and dream bar downstairs,” says Wells. “It creates a lot of possibility of how we can live in a way where we get both the city and the country.” Fresh updates on a traditional building type, these ideas present the kind of urban-minded solutions that can make suburbs thrive.