ordinance sculptors – mammoth // building nothing out of something

ordinance sculptors

[Manhattan skyscraper zoning ordinances, given visual form by Hugh Ferriss; image from Kosmograd’s flickr account]

1 The tricky thing with Duany is sorting out what is a genuine attempt to improve cities and what might be a carefully-constructed shield for the extension of the corporate real estate economy (so long as Duany says things like “we don’t ask you to do what’s right because it’s ethical; we ask you because it works better” and translates the latter as “it sells more real estate”, he’ll be vulnerable to the latter critique).

I’m not always the biggest fan of Andres Duany’s work1, but he throws out some interesting ideas in this interview with Builder Magazine: McMansions renovated as “11-bedroom, 11-bath boarding houses for senior citizens”, agricultural subdivisions (in which “the same crews that would ordinarily maintain the ornamental landscape in a golf community are instead assigned to the heavy work of the agriculture”; insert commentary a la Mike Davis here, your appetite for which will be whetted by visiting the website of Sky Florida, one of said agricultural subdivisions), and, perhaps most usefully, talks about urban design primarily in terms of alterations to legal structures — codes and zoning ordinances. Of course, the latter has been an essential component of the New Urbanist agenda for years and is not so different from how urban planners talk about building cities, but the usefulness comes from an architect talking in that fashion.

Regardless, there’s no reason to think that New Urbanism’s techniques, usually employed in service of things often better but still banal, couldn’t be deployed in a far more interesting manner. The idea that urban design can consist primarily of offering alternatives codes, downloadable and offered freely to small towns from Florida to California, constructing a sort of competitive marketplace for design guidelines, or guerrilla zoning ordinances, pieces of apparently innocuous legalese injected (perhaps figuratively, through democratic process, or perhaps literally, as municipal file servers are hacked at night by teams of rogue architects) into the DNA of nondescript suburban outposts in order to enable mutant aberrations in the form and function of both greenfield developments and detached single-family homes, is at the very least the kernel of a fascinating project, as I expect the results would be quite different if you asked a group of architects to execute an alternative code than they are when planners do the same.

[Related and previously on mammoth: The house is not a machine for living, but for making money; also, if you did begin the hack the DNA of building regulations and zoning codes, you’d want a practice like BIG around to exploit your hacking, to bring the legal strictures to life by “inflat[ing] [their] buildings” until they “hit the invisible immaterial boundaries” you’ve altered, revealing that the lines of ordinance you wrote were in fact a sort of negative sculpture (quotes from Will Wiles’s review of Yes is More in Icon); Spillway recently mentioned Ferriss’s drawings as a precedent for BIG’s architecture.]

7 Responses to “ordinance sculptors”

  1. namhenderson says:

    Ha, this isn’t far from where I am. Maybe i should try and check it out.

    As for Duany I had a couple of recent (like in the last 10 mins) Tweets by me on his talk at GSD eco-urbanism conference. What is interesting is that he mentions a few of the points you said makes in the article.
    I actually liked his presentation best out of all the presenters in that session (Mobility, Infrastructure and Society).

  2. rholmes says:

    Better than Morrish?!

  3. namhenderson says:

    Morrish wasn’t on that session. Just
    Andrés Duany, William J. Mitchell, Federico Parolotto and Niels Schulz. I like the smart cities lab work but have seen it/heard it before.
    I like Duany’s idea of devolving power over codes ordinances to the more localized/affected group/power block. From municipality to block etc.
    He was also going on about this Citizen participation in the planning process is probably the biggest roadblock. During his presentation.
    And i love this term “freeware smart codes”

  4. rholmes says:

    Oops. Yeah, I meant Mitchell. Old news or not, I think Mitchell’s much closer to solving some very big problems than just about anyone else.

    I agree, the notion of “freeware smart codes” is fascinating.

  5. namhenderson says:

    I agree. I think the ideas especially related to the nexus of smart mobility/smart energy is a key area of the coming urban informatics revolution.
    However, the difference is that as Duany points out in his session (and I swear i never thought I would be discussing Duany positively) is that as he said America’s middle class is the problem. And as much as the stuff Smart Cities is doing is great i don’t think it will ever impact that large section of the population in America (and other places world wide as we export our old model) that are sub/ex urban or rural etc..
    The Smart City solutions make cities better.
    But what about addressing those areas that aren’t truly dense and urban?
    And here I don’t mean to be implying a strict urban and non urban dichotomy..

    That is why “freeware smart codes” and the like I think are very interesting.

  6. Brett says:

    “I expect the results would be quite different if you asked a group of architects to execute an alternative code than they are when planners do the same”

    We may indeed be on the verge of avante architects going to code and planning… I’m remembering from the Koolhaas (referencing your “previously on mammoth” post) Lagos documentary video where Koolhaas looks at all the horrible sci-fi-esque effects of his beloved capitalism gone unmuzzled and unleashed in Africa and he reflects that all the planning he had foresaken might need to be revisited in a new form….
    I think the same sentiment came up in his lecture at the Ecological cities conference.

  7. […] zoning ordinances (and having then speculated on the possibility that architects might design by sculpting ordinances), I think it worth mentioning Steven Holl’s “Sliced Porosity Block”.  In […]