There’s no doubt that zoning, building codes and city based overlays are important. They serve a public need for protection from unseen disasters that can occur in our structures as well as help create and retain identities of neighborhoods. Mandates on height, frontage, plants, and even smaller details like signage more often than not challenge design decisions of the architect. As a result, sometimes as a student of architecture there is a strong association with codes as necessary evils that really serve to stifle the ability to create. But why is that?
Conceptual is comfortable
Architect students spend a lot of time developing concepts through drawings and modeling charrettes. Often in the studio these concepts become so precious to the point that changing directions entirely is comparable to pulling teeth. Yet, through all of this they know that the project they are working on will in most circumstances remain a conceptual design. Consequentially they can settle into a comfort zone which frames adhering to codes as an exercise for later practice.
The smart approach would be to take them seriously with the understanding that they can be challenged and may change in time. By taking them seriously it asks the idea to become a reality. In that respect, the codes become passable obstacle that only serve to enhance the students design by pressuring them to critically problem solve.
Fear of red tape
Red tape can become complicated, appear contradictory, and cause confusion. In our initiative to design a food hub in downtown Las Vegas we’ve discovered three primary levels of ordinances and codes: zoning and land use, the city’s centennial plan, and form based codes. When to use which one and what trumps the other, we’re common questions that arose.
Our work around? Split the work and take the time to sift through an synthesize the information into digestible chunks. There’s no use in speed reading through the material or you will simply be forced to carry a manual around. Instead, give it a thorough read so at least you become familiar with the terms and make some guidelines that indicate where to find more information.