Neighborhoods Don't Like the Snout House

by Dom Nozzi

June 2002

 

Snout House. A house with the garage thrust to the front of the main body of the building. The garage size often overwhelms the size of the house, and usually projects out closer to the street than the house façade. Such a projecting, dominating garage creates an impression that the house has a large "snout" protruding from its "face."

Why Communities Restrict or Prohibit Snout Houses

A street lined with snout houses sends a powerful message to a person that walks on its sidewalks: "Cars live here." Or, the structure is a "garage with an attached house."

The snout house de-emphasizes architectural interest on the street, and reduces the level of citizen surveillance-neighbors looking out their windows who thereby reduce crime activity by looking out for their collective security. Snout houses turn their backs to the street. They often "embrace a nesting pair of monster-sized sport utility vehicles and little else." Houses that don't give clues about where the front door might be found.

When the garage is architecturally subordinate, the visually interesting features of the house-and what is inside of it-are able to be emphasized in the streetscape. As a result, there is a street-scape instead of a "garage-scape." "The house has no connection to the public realm. It is all about the car."

The pedestrian experience is diminished because such "front-loaded garages cannot express potentially interesting human activity as might a window, door or porch."

Today, most new homes have walkways that lead from the driveway to the front door, instead of front the street or streetside sidewalk.

Such factors discourage neighborhood walks, because the walk is less safe and less interesting. For pedestrians, a snout house creates "curb unappeal."

The City of Gainesville has recently established rules in its "Traditional City" area that prohibits the use of development features that dishonor the sidewalk and public realm. Outdoor mechanical equipment, loading docks, dumpsters, surface parking and blank walls are now prohibited when near and facing the street and sidewalk. Buildings that drain energy and interest away from the sidewalk by moving the entrance away from the front of the building Snout houses are also not allowed. Similarly, snout houses essentially make the sidewalk a "dumping ground," or a place of neglect, and a number of communities which promote a walkable character are seeking to put an end to this undesirable trend by ruling out snout houses, as a step toward restoring a pleasant, safe and interesting walking environment.

One example of the growing dominance of the garage is that in 1989, 10 percent of all American homes had 3-car garages. Today, over 30 percent do. In 1999, Portland, by a unanimous vote, adopted to regulate snout houses after a study found that nearly 70 percent of all homes built in Portland had such a design. One commissioner who supported the regulation was quoted as saying: "Basically, we want a house to pass the 'trick or treat test.' So when kids come around to trick or treat, they...can find the door." The commissioners want to avoid homes that seem to "look down their noses at passersby, foster a mindset that turns inward-away from the street-at the expense of community spirit." The snout house designs are emblems of an auto-dominated lifestyle and a "slap in the face to a city that actively encourages walking and bicycling."

Portland commissioners say they are "not anti-automobile so much as...pro-pedestrian...who is really practicing social engineering here? The people who design communities where you can't do anything but drive? Or the people who give you a choice of getting away from your car?"

The program has been extremely popular with the neighborhoods, according to a Portland planner.

"You can still build an ugly house in Portland," says one commissioner, "but now you just have to work at it a lot harder."

Anton Nelessen conducted a Visual Preference Survey in York; a Toronto suburb. This recent study made the following finding:"In the most positive residential images garages are either recessed behind the front facade or are located off rear lanes. The overwhelming presence of the automobile lowers the value of the image." This is illustrated with an image of house with a four-door garage and a huge paved are in the front (image 2.70) rated at -.10 as opposed to the traditional front porch house (image 2.71) rated at +5.64.

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency (RPA) conducted a county wide visual preference survey in 1997. A total of about 3000 people responded to the survey. It was broad-based, not specifically aimed at the "snout house" issue, but images of shout houses and streets with front-facing garage doors received consistently low scores.

 

Back to Dom's Urban Design home page.