Infill and new construction within designated historic districts is an opportunity to enhance the integrity of existing historic architecture with complementary yet, decidedly new structural contributions. Yet, few projects create more tension than the onus of a brand new building amongst century old bricks! Just as owners within the district have the right to maintain and enjoy their existing historic homes and commercial buildings, new owners of vacant lots and existing commercial buildings also have rights.  Both are to be respected and honored as contributing to our overall success as a premier historic district in the United States.

In German Village, we currently have three significant construction projects undergoing conceptual review by the Historic District Commission. These proposals are located at City Park and Livingston, Livingston and Grant and at Thurman and Fourth St. There have been no Certificates of Appropriateness granted any of these projects as of this writing.

Have you ever wondered just how these proposals are evaluated in a historic district? What criteria does the Commission use? Based on what? Is there a national standard?

In 2008, the Columbus City Council approved New Construction Guidelines for German Village. These were very thoughtfully created by professionals in the field, individuals familiar with the district as well as the Secretary of Interiors Standards for Rehabilitation, the national standards upon which all historic district guidelines are based.

Context, massing, spacing, materials, building shape and height all are of vital importance when evaluating each proposal. Let’s take a look at each in more detail.


New construction should complement the existing contributing or architecturally significant buildings in the area. It should reflect current design trends and compliment but be readily discernible from the existing historic buildings


The most important element in new construction design. includes the overall shape, size, and proportion of the structure. Massing also involves how the building is positioned on the lot, the building setbacks, lot coverage, and the spacing between the buildings on the street.


Close spacing between buildings contributes to the historic density of German Village, resulting in narrow side yards.  Zoning and building codes regulate side yard setback, or how close a building can be to the side property lines.  Lot coverage and green space is also a consideration. In German Village, there is a long tradition of garden space to the side and rear of many German Village homes. This characteristic is a defining feature of the district.


Materials are an important design consideration, along with massing and details. The materials, textures, and colors found throughout German Village combine to create the character of both old and new architecture. The traditional materials used in the construction of a typical German Village home are today considered ‘green’ building materials, adding to their contemporary value as a defining element of the district. Such materials include stone, brick, old growth wood and slate. The German Village Commission encourages the creative use of traditional materials in new construction and will carefully consider the use of new materials.

Shape and Height

Distinctive roof shapes define German Village: straight gable, flat, hipped, pyramidal, and the occasional mansard roof. Some hipped roofs display that unique German touch, the ‘clipped gable’ or ‘Jerkinhead’. New construction reflecting this family of roof styles is desirable.  Height is also a defining feature and plays a strong role as an identifying feature, communicating to the visitor that yes, you are in the Village!  The tallest residential structure is 4 stories, the home known as Schwartz Castle on Third St. at the northern end of the district. German Village was a working-class neighborhood, many homes were built originally as one or two rooms, single story, then added on to as economic success was achieved. Excessive height is not characteristic of the neighborhood and detracts from the historical context of the district as a whole. New construction guidelines state that, generally, new buildings should not be taller than the tallest building nor shorter than the shortest building.

Want to learn more? You can read the Guidelines as adopted in 2007 by the City of Columbus HERE

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