Monday, July 19, 2010

Form-based codes

"A form-based code homogenizes the city's form. Sometimes, the change of form from neighborhood to neighborhood as a result of architectural evolution is something that's one of the best assets of a place. It's not based on a vision or a master plan - it's based on making easy regulation. The result for architects is that they become the decorators of forms that are imposed." - Bernard Zyscovich
 The quote (slightly modified) is from "Brave New Codes" by Nate Berg, Architect, July 2010, page 53. The topic interests me. As a graduate student, I spent four months at SAR, John Habraken's research institute in Eindhoven, which had developed a quite sophisticated form-based code geared for the (to me incredibly diagrammatic) nature of Dutch housing at the time. The San Francisco architect Joseph Esherick once told me that the Swiss have a code based on building envelope, and this was more or less Habraken's idea: to give it limits within which designers could do whatever they wanted. (The Dutch limits were quite constrictive.) Mr. Zyscovich, a Miami architect, is probably right that "easy regulation" is a selling point for the code. Still, it could be an improvement over the current situation in San Francisco, where the Planning Department (I'm told) insists that working drawings reflect concept drawings, a complete misunderstanding of the design process. A form-based code would at least remind these officials where their authority ought to end.

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