We perform large-eddy simulations of neutral atmospheric boundary-layer flow over a cluster of buildings surrounded by relatively flat terrain. The first investigated question is the effect of the level of building detail that can be included in the numerical model, a topic not yet addressed by any previous study. The simplest representation is found to give similar results to more refined representations for the mean flow, but not for turbulence. The wind direction on the other hand is found to be important for both mean and turbulent parameters. As many suburban areas are characterised by the clustering of buildings and homes into small areas separated by surfaces of lower roughness, we look at the adjustment of the atmospheric surface layer as it flows from the smoother terrain to the built-up area. This transition has unexpected impacts on the flow; mainly, a zone of global backscatter (energy transfer from the turbulent eddies to the mean flow) is found at the upstream edge of the built-up area.