Why we code
Andres Duany offers more than 20 reasons why urban design coding is necessary—and he hopes that someday it will no longer be needed.
Within the last half-century, some 30 million buildings have degraded cities and reduced landscapes. Must we tolerate this comprehensive disaster in exchange for the, perhaps, three thousand great buildings that great architects have produced? Such a win-loss ratio is as unacceptable in architecture as it would be in any other field. We are compelled to intervene and have found that codes are the most effective instruments of reform.
We must code because the default setting in contemporary design is mediocrity and worse. Those who object to codes imagine that they constrain architectural masterpieces (their own, usually). But great buildings are few and the more likely outcome is kitsch. Codes can assure a minimum level of urban and architectural competence, even if in so doing they constrain certain possibilities.
We use codes because those who are charged with designing, supervising and building communities tend to ignore education and avoid exhortation, but they are accustomed to following codes. It was the achievement to the mid-century generation of planners to have embedded codes in the political and legal process. We must take advantage of this.
We code because ours is a nation founded on law. We prefer to work within known rules rather than be subject to the opinion of boards, politicians and bureaucrats.
We code because bureaucracies cannot be (have never been) dismantled. They will however, willingly administer whatever codes are in hand. This has a potential for reform more efficient than education.
Codes are currently pervasive. Replacing them with a void is legally unsustainable. It is for us to re-conceive the codes so that they result in better places to live.
We must code so that the various professions that affect urbanism will act with unity of purpose. Without integrated codes, architects, civil engineers and landscape architects can undermine each others intentions. Without integrated codes, the result of development is never more than the unassembled collection of urban potential.
When architects do not control the codes, buildings are shaped by fire marshals, civil engineers, poverty advocates, market experts, accessibility standards, materials suppliers and liability attorneys. Codes written by architects clear a field of action for typological and syntactic concerns.
We code because unguided towns and cities tend, not to vitality, but to socioeconomic monocultures. The wealthy gather in their enclaves, the middle-class in their neighborhoods, and the poor in the residue. Shops and restaurants cluster around certain price-points, offices find their prestige addresses and sweatshops their squalid ones. Some areas uniformly gentrify, while viable neighborhoods self-segregate and decay. This process occurs in historical cities no less than in new suburbs. Codes can secure that measure of diversity without which urbanism withers.
We make use of codes as the means to redistribute building design to others. Authentic urbanism requires the intervention of many. Those who would design all the buildings themselves produce architectural projects – monocultures of design – but they are not involved in the practice of urbanism.
We must code so that buildings cooperate towards a spatially defined public realm. This no longer occurs as a matter of course unless coded to be otherwise. The demands of parking and the arbitrary singularity of architects tend to create vague, sociofugal places that undermine the possibility of community.
We must code so that private buildings achieve the modicum of visual silence which is a requisite of an urban fabric. Conversely, codes must also protect the prerogative of civic buildings to express the aspirations of the institutions they accommodate and also the inspiration of their architects. This is the dialectic or urbanism.
We code to protect the character of specific locales from the universalizing tendencies of modern real estate development.
We code because the location of the urban and the rural is of a fundamental importance that cannot be left to the vicissitudes of ownership. Codes and their associated maps address the where as well as the what.
We must code to assure that urban places can be truly urban and that rural places remain truly rural. Otherwise, misconceived environmentalism tends to the partial greening of all places; the result being neither one nor the other, but the ambiguous garden city of sprawl.
We must code so that buildings incorporate a higher degree of environmental response than is otherwise warranted by conventional economic analysis.
We must code so that buildings are durable, and also mutable, in proper measure. This is crucial at the long-range time-scale of urbanism.
Without codes, older urban areas tend to suffer from disinvestment, as the market seeks stable environments. The competing private codes of the homeowners associations, the guidelines of office parks, and the rules of shopping centers create predictable outcomes that lure investment away from existing cities and towns. Codes level the playing field for the inevitable competition.
We must prepare the new private association codes of developers because it is they who have built our cities and continue to do so. The profit motive was once capable of building the best places that we still have. Codes can assist in the restoration of this standard.
We code in defiance of an avant-garde culture that prizes the alternating extremes of unfettered genius and servility to the zeitgeist. There are positions between. Urbanism intrinsically transcends the limits set by our time. We know that it is possible to affect the current reality and we accept the responsibility.
We code because we are not relativists. We observe certain urbanisms that support the self-defined pursuit of happiness (the stated right of Americans). We also observe other urbanisms that tend to undermine that pursuit. Through codes we attempt to make the first a reality.
We prepare codes because it is the most abstract, rigorous and intellectually refined practice available to a designer. And because it is also verifiable: by being projected into the world, codes engage a reality that can lead to resounding failure. In comparison, theoretical writing is a delicacy that survives only under the protection of the academy.
We code because codes can compensate for deficient professional training. We will continue to code, so long as the schools continue to educate architects towards self-expression rather than towards context, to theory rather than practice, to individual building rather than to the whole.
We look forward to the day when we will no longer need to code.
Origins of the term “charrette” (Wikipedia):
The word charrette is French for “cart” or “chariot”. In the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in the 19th century, it was not unusual for student architects to continue working furiously in teams at the end of the allotted term, up until a deadline, when a charrette would be wheeled among the students to pick up their scale models and other work for review while they, each working furiously to apply the finishing touches, were said to be working en charrette, in the cart. Émile Zoladepicted such a scene of feverish activity, a nuit de charrette or charrette night, in L’Œuvre (serialized 1885, published 1886), his fictionalized account of his friendship with Paul Cézanne. The term evolved into the current design-related usage in conjunction with working right up until a deadline.
The following description of the word ‘charrette’ pertaining to the urban planning processes is from Wikipedia:
The word charrette may refer to any collaborative session in which a group of designers (plus stakeholders and the public) drafts a solution to a design problem.
While the structure of a charrette varies, depending on the design problem and the individuals in the group, charrettes often take place in multiple sessions in which the group divides into sub-groups. Each sub-group then presents its work to the full group as material for further dialogue. Such charrettes serve as a way of quickly generating a design solution while integrating the aptitudes and interests of a diverse group of people.
Charrettes take place in many disciplines, including land use planning, or urban planning. In planning, the charrette has become a technique for consulting with all stakeholders. This type of charrette typically involves intense and possibly multi-day meetings, involving municipal officials, developers, and residents.
A successful charrette promotes joint ownership of solutions and attempts to defuse typical confrontational attitudes between residents and developers. Charrettes tend to involve small groups, however the residents participating may not represent all the residents nor have the moral authority to represent them. Residents who do participate get early input into the planning process. For developers and municipal officials charrettes achieve community involvement, may satisfy consultation criteria, with the objective of avoiding costly legal battles. Other uses of the term “charrette” occur within an academic or professional setting, whereas urban planners invite the general public to their planning charrettes. Thus most people encounter the term “charrette” in an urban-planning context.
The following description of a charrette event and process is from the National Charrette Institute, with edits and additions by the Oxnard Community Planning Group, and describes in general the process and goals of the CNU-CA charrette for Downtown Oxnard:
(More on the CNU-CA CNU-By-Design Annual Charrette can be found below.)
“A charrette is a multiple-day, collaborative design workshop. It harnesses the talents and energies of stakeholders and all interested parties to create and support a feasible plan that represents transformative community change.
A charrette is a holistic, collaborative planning process during which a multiple-day charrette is held as the central transformative event.
Compared to conventional planning processes that take years of endless meetings, a charrette can:
Save time and money through
Increases probability for implementation through
Promotes trust between citizens and government through
Results in the best sustainable design through
The CNU charrette is a collaborative design event spanning 5-days. The goal of the charrette is to produce a feasible plan with minimal rework that benefits from the support of all stakeholders through its implementation. This support is facilitated by the ability of the charrette to transform the mindsets of the stakeholders.
A multidisciplinary charrette team, consisting of CNU consultants and sponsor (City of Oxnard) staff, produces the plan. Stakeholders – those being anyone who can approve, promote or block the project as well as anyone directly affected by the outcomes – are involved through a series of short feedback loops or meetings. Most stakeholders attend two or three feedback meetings at critical decision-making points during the charrette. Note that stakeholders are not at the charrette all the time. These feedback loops provide the charrette team with the information necessary to create a feasible plan. Just as importantly, they allow the stakeholders to become co-authors of the plan so that they are more likely to support and implement it.
A major reason the charrette needs to last at least 5-days is to accommodate 3 feedback loops, the optimal number for gaining stakeholder understanding and support.
Charrettes take place in a charrette studio situated on or near the project site. While the event may vary the CNU charrette generally follows the following format. The charrette team first conducts an open public meeting to solicit the values, vision, and needs of the stakeholders. The team then breaks off to create alternative plans or scenarios, which are presented in a second public meeting usually a day or two later. The team then synthesizes the best aspects of the alternatives into a preferred plan that is developed in detail and tested for economic, design and political feasibility. The charrette concludes with a comprehensive presentation at a final public meeting.
After the charrette, the project enters into the document creation phase. During this phase the charrette team tests and refines the charrette plan. Communication with stakeholders also continues through e-mail, websites, blogs, and possibly social media. During a follow-up public meeting, held about 6-weeks after the charrette, the refined plan is presented for another feedback session. The results and process of all 3 charrette system phases are summarized in a final project report ready for agency approvals.
All interested parties must be involved from the beginning. Having contributed to the planning, participants are in a position both to understand and support a project’s rationale.
A multi-disciplinary team method results in decisions that are realistic every step of the way. The cross-functional process eliminates the need for rework because the design work continually reflects the wisdom of each specialty.
Compress work sessions
The charrette itself, lasting five days, is a series of meetings and design sessions that would traditionally take months to complete. This time compression facilitates creative problem solving by accelerating decision making and reducing unconstructive negotiation tactics. It also encourages people to abandon their usual working patterns and “think outside of the box.”
Communicate in short feedback loops
During the charrette, design ideas are created based upon a public vision, and presented within hours for further review, critique, and refinement. Regular stakeholder input and reviews quickly build trust in the process and foster true understanding and support of the product. A feedback loop occurs when a design is proposed, reviewed, changed, and re-presented for further review.
Study the details and the whole
Lasting agreement is based on a fully informed dialogue, which can only be accomplished by looking at the details and the big picture concurrently. Studies at these two scales also inform each other and reduce the likelihood that a fatal flaw will be overlooked in the plan.
Produce a feasible plan
To create a feasible plan, every decision point must be fully informed, especially by the legal, financial, and engineering disciplines. The focus on feasibility brings a level of seriousness and rigor to the process for everyone involved.
Use design to achieve a shared vision and create holistic solutions
Design is a powerful tool for establishing a shared vision. Drawings illustrate the complexity of the problem and can be used to resolve conflict by proposing previously unexplored solutions that represent win/win outcomes.
Hold the charrette on or near the site
Working on site fosters the design team’s understanding of local values and traditions, and provides the necessary easy access to stakeholders and information. Therefore, the studio should be located in a place where it is easily accessible to all stakeholders and where the designers have quick access to the project site.”
More about the CNU Charrette (with edits and additions by the Oxnard Community Planning Group):
“Beginning in 2013, the CNU-CA started a program to host a CNU-By-Design Annual Charrette (“the Charrette”) as a Board led program that provides educational and membership outreach opportunities statewide.”
“The CNU-CA Charrette is designed to advise a city, with the benefit of the CNU-By-Design Annual Charrette, to envision mixed-use, walkable places for a city with CNU’s principles and processes, such as public Charrettes. Our board’s selection of an Annual Charrette project is based upon the request (Oxnard) relevance to CNU initiatives and expertise, such as Transit-Oriented Developments, Form-Based Codes, Sprawl Retrofits, and Tactical Urbanism.”
“A typical charrette week is organized as follows:
Day 1: Arrival, Orientation, Sponsor Briefing, Opening Public Event (Educational)
Day 2: Stakeholder Interviews, Design Interventions/Alternatives Produced
Day 3: Alternatives Vetting, Stakeholder Interviews, Public Workshop (Dialog)
Day 4: Preferred Design Interventions; Report Design/Illustration Production
Day 5: Draft Report Production, Final Public Presentation (Dialog/Education)”
The Oxnard Community Planning Group advocates for visionary practices in planning, design, and development that will lead to a more livable and prosperous city.
The Oxnard Community Planning Group envisions a city that grows wisely, preserves farmland and open space, drives smart economic development, welcomes vertical density, cherishes our past, and boldly anticipates our future.
The Oxnard Community Planning Group believes in a city that works to meet the needs of all our residents: young, old, people with disabilities, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists; even people who don’t go anywhere. We strive to be open-minded, welcome thoughtful discussion, and are willing to invest our time and efforts towards bringing these beliefs into being.
“A town is saved, not more by the righteous men in it than by the woods and swamps that surround it.” — Henry David Thoreau
A transect is a cut or path through part of the environment showing a range of different habitats. Biologists and ecologists use transects to study the many symbiotic elements that contribute to habitats where certain plants and animals thrive.
Human beings also thrive in different habitats. Some people prefer urban centers and would suffer in a rural place, while others thrive in the rural or sub-urban zones. Before the automobile, American development patterns were walkable, and transects within towns and city neighborhoods revealed areas that were less urban and more urban in character. This urbanism could be analyzed as natural transects are analyzed.
To systemize the analysis and coding of traditional patterns, a prototypical American rural-to-urban transect has been divided into six Transect Zones, or T-zones, for application on zoning maps. Standards were written for the first transect-based codes, eventually to become the SmartCode, which was released in 2003 by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company.
This zoning system replaces conventional separated-use zoning systems that have encouraged a car-dependent culture and land-consuming sprawl. The six Transect Zones instead provide the basis for real neighborhood structure, which requires walkable streets, mixed use, transportation options, and housing diversity. The T‑zones vary by the ratio and level of intensity of their natural, built, and social components. They may be coordinated to all scales of planning, from the region through the community scale down to the individual lot and building, but the new zoning itself is applied at the community (municipal) scale.
The T-zones are intended to be balanced within a neighborhood structure based on pedestrian sheds (walksheds), so that even T-3 residents may walk to different habitats, such as a main street, civic space, or agrarian land. The following table lays out the relationship of the region and community to the Transect Zones in the model SmartCode.
The table to the left explains the nesting relationship of the scales of planning addressed in the SmartCode. Note that the six normative Transect Zones are not applied at the regional scale, as they are used for municipal zoning or to achieve balance in private developments.
As a shorthand, New Urbanist practitioners refer to the framework of the rural-to-urban transect used in this way simply as “the Transect.” The benefits of using the Transect include
Codes and architectural pattern books based on the Transect must be calibrated for each place, to reflect local character and form. Depending on the place, there may be fewer or more T-zones determined by analysis. For example, most towns do not have a T-6 Urban Core Zone.
Although the model T-zone diagram is based on exemplary American urbanism, there have been numerous successes adapting the Transect methodology to the traditional patterns of other countries, including England, Scotland, Mexico, the Bahamas, Spain, Russia, and Romania. This is possible because nearly every town has some rural-to-urban gradient or distinctions, and code calibrators, like scientists in the field, analyze the components of the local transects to extract their DNA for coding for the future. The components include the disposition, configuration, and function of buildings, thoroughfares and civic space, which are coordinated by T-zone number to ensure “immersive environments,” i.e., human habitats with distinctive character.
Because they are based on the physical form of the built and natural environment, all transect-based codes are form-based codes. The SmartCode, released in 2003, is the pioneering transect-based model code. The most up-to-date version is available free to municipalities and planning firms and may be downloaded here.
Practitioners are also studying regional transects for use in comprehensive plans and future inter-jurisdictional planning. The Regional Sector Plans of the SmartCode are based on natural regional transects, along with infrastructure such as existing or planned rail lines and thoroughfares.
Illustrative examples of regional and community-scale transects are available for download at our Image Library.
The OCPG has come to realize that the difficulty with density and parking and other issues relating to a walkable Oxnard Boulevard in our downtown and corridor areas is that our current zoning does not allow true urban placemaking.
For instance, current Oxnard zoning in the downtown allows 39 units per acre…which means that the living units must be 3 and 4 bedrooms. We need higher density to accommodate the empty-nesters, Millennials and others who are interested in living an urban lifestyle and want singles or 1 bedroom units. Form Based codes allow a broader range of options in specific overlay areas.
Zoning in Oxnard’s residential areas will not change. Form based codes are generally applied in very specific overlay areas do not replace existing zoning.
Below is a copy of the Form Based Code section of our Resources page – click the Resources tab above to view all our great place-making and urban design links.
Form Based Codes
“Why form-based codes? Because our current laws tend to separate where we live from where we work, learn, and shop, and insist on big, fast roads to connect them all. Roads that are unfriendly to pedestrians, cyclists, and transit. As a result, North Americans spend more hours in their cars than anyone on earth, and a growing number of communities are working to do something about it.” [ PlaceMakers.com ]
More on Form Based Codes from the Form-Based SmartCode website:
The SmartCode is a model, form-based unified land development ordinance designed to create walkable neighborhoods, towns and cities across the full spectrum of human settlement, from the most rural to the most urban, and incorporating a transect of character and intensity within each. The SmartCode was originally developed by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company. It now exists as shareware and typically serves as a foundation from which it is then customized to address specific municipal goals. It can be leveraged as a tool towards both aspirational and preservationist ambitions.
[The long version:]
The SmartCode is a unified land development ordinance for planning and urban design. It folds zoning, subdivision regulations, urban design, and optional architectural standards into one compact document.
Because the SmartCode enables community vision by coding specific outcomes that are desired in particular places, it is meant to be locally customized (also known as “calibrated”) by professional planners, architects, and attorneys.
The SmartCode is not a building code. Building codes address life/safety issues such as fire and storm protection. Examples of building codes include the IBC, IRC, and ICC documents.
The SmartCode supports these outcomes: community vision, local character, conservation of open lands, transit options, and walkable and mixed-use neighborhoods. It prevents these outcomes: wasteful sprawl development, automobile-dominated streets, empty downtowns, and a hostile public realm. It allows different approaches in different areas within the community, unlike a one-size-fits-all conventional zoning code. This gives the SmartCode unusual political power, as it permits buy-in from stakeholders of diverse interests and concerns.
The SmartCode is considered a “form-based code” because it strongly addresses the physical form of building and development. Conventional zoning codes are based primarily on use and density. They have caused systemic problems over the past sixty years by separating uses, making mixed-use and walkable neighborhoods essentially illegal.
The SmartCode is also a transect-based code. A “transect” is usually seen as a continuous cross-section of natural habitats for plants and animals, ranging from shorelines to wetlands to uplands. The specific transect that the SmartCode uses is based on the human habitat, ranging from the most rural environments to the most urban environments. This transect is divided into a range of “Transect Zones,” each with its own complex character. It ensures that a community offers a full diversity of building types, thoroughfare types, and civic space types, and that each has appropriate characteristics for its location.
The six T-Zones are: T-1 Natural, T-2 Rural, T-3 Sub-Urban, T-4 General Urban, T-5 Urban Center, and T-6 Urban Core.
The Transect is a powerful tool because its standards can be coordinated across many other disciplines and documents, including ITE (transportation), and LEED (environmental performance). Thus the SmartCode integrates the design protocols of a variety of specialties, including traffic engineering, public works, town planning, architecture, landscape architecture, and ecology.
The SmartCode addresses development patterns at three scales of planning (thus it may replace a number of other documents):
> The Sector (Regional) Scale
> The Community Scale
> The Block and Building Scale
If stronger architectural guidelines are desired, a community may further adopt supplemental regulations or a pattern book.
Urbanism is an old idea with new recognition about how cities worked before the auto became the dominant planning idea for the way cities have been designed since about 1945.
Here are a few links to help us understand what this new Urbanism is and how to achieve a people and place oriented city instead of car dominated cities:
A General Theory of Urbanism
by Duany et all. PDF
Urbanism Making Places for People
An urbanism oriented presentation for Ventura County at a recent VCOG meeting by Sargent Town Planning out of LA. PDF