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Building Articulation


Building articulation refers to the many street frontage design elements, both horizontal and vertical, that help create a streetscape of interest. The appropriate scale for articulation is often a function of the size of the building and the adjacent public spaces including sidewalks, planting zones, and roadways. Ground-floor building articulation is critical in creating a great street that welcomes and supports pedestrian activity by providing visual interest and a sense of security and community identity.

The importance of articulation on the upper stories of a building varies with the height of the building. Although skyscrapers usually include important design elements on the top stories, this type of articulation does not contribute to the streetscape or the pedestrian experience. Articulation on the upper stories of low and mid-rise buildings can help frame the street and create visual interest.

Building materials, special ground-floor design treatments, facade modulation, corner treatments, building setbacks for upper stories, and facade elements such as transparency, building entries, and other architectural details help define the public realm as a welcoming place. 

The impact of building articulation is best illustrated through images. In the image below, at left, the complete lack of articulation results in an environment that is perceived as unfriendly and possibly unsafe, and discourages pedestrian activity. In the image below, at right, the pedestrian-scale design of the building frontage supports and encourages pedestrian activity. There is visual interest, and the engagement of pedestrians through the use of storefront windows keeps eyes on the street and supports a safer, friendlier pedestrian environment.

Poorly articulated
Credit: Charlier Associates
Highly articulated
Credit: Ryan Snyder Associates

In conjunction with massing, building articulation helps to direct pedestrians, create spaces and frame views of the corridor. The greatest streets are ones that support the movement of pedestrians by extending a street wall with visual interest.

Highly articulated
Credit: Ryan Snyder Associates

The same design principles that create these elements of design also create identity for a community.

Creating a highly visible public realm through the use of storefront windows and public spaces for gathering also enhances safety and security for pedestrians.

Building articulation directives may exist as part of urban design standards and guidelines, or may be applied as part of an architectural review process.