| TMP Article:|
Why Write Codes?
|The contents of this short essay Why Write Codes? by Andres Duany, posted in May 2003, should be compared with the reasons and rational for coding from the Mediterranean examples on this web page. This comparative reading will provide insight to our current priorities and is also valuable for thinking about alternative approaches to coding.|
-- Besim Hakim, July 2003
| Andres Duany|
Reprinted from the PR0-URB Listserv Reproduced here by permission from Andres Duany.
|Within the last half-century, some 30 million buildings have degraded cities and destroyed landscapes. Must we tolerate this comprehensive disaster in exchange for the (perhaps) three thousand masterpieces that rampant architects have produced? This dismal win-loss ratio in architecture is as unacceptable to society as it would be in any other field. We have been called to intervene and have discovered that codes are the most powerful tools available to affect this reform.|
We must code because the default setting in contemporary design is mediocrity and kitsch. Those who object to codes imagine that they constrain architectural masterpieces (their own, usually). But masterpieces are few; the more likely outcome is kitsch. Codes can assure a minimum level of competence, even if in so doing they must constrain certain possibilities.
We must code because those who are charged with designing, supervising and building urbanism tend to avoid education, and 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 should take advantage of this.
We code because ours is a nation of laws. Designers should prefer to work within known rules rather than be subject to the opinion of individual 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 to carry reform greater than education.
We code because codes already exist. Replacing them with a void is legally unsustainable. It is for us to reconceive the codes so that they result in better places to live.
We must code so that the various professions that affect urbanism can act with unity of purpose. Without integrated codes, architects design buildings that ignore the streets of the civil engineer, landscape architects ignore both the roads and the buildings. Without codes, there is nothing but the unassembled collection of urban potential.
We must code because, if we do not, buildings are shaped by fire marshals, civil engineers, poverty advocates, market experts, the accessibility police, 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 get the residue. Shops and restaurants cluster around certain price-points, offices find their prestige addresses and sweatshops their squalid ones. Artists pioneer gentrification en masse while vast tracts of once-mixed places self-segregate and decay. This process occurs ineluctably in traditional cities, no less than in new suburban sprawl. Codes can secure that measure of diversity without which urbanism withers and dies.
We make use of codes as the means to distribute building design to others. Authentic urbanism requires the intervention of the many in a sequential manner. Those who would design all the buildings produce only architectural projects – monocultures of design – they are not involved in urbanism.
We must code so that buildings by disparate architects cooperate towards the creation of a spatially defined public realm. This no longer occurs as a matter of course. The demands of parking, no less than the arbitrary singularity of architects, tend to create vague, sociofugal places. Geographies of nowhere undermine the possibility of community.
We must code so that private buildings achieve a modicum of formal control; otherwise there would be no urban fabric. By code, we 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 must code in order to protect the diversity of urbanism. Otherwise, wary neighbors tend to reject difference when in proximity to their dwellings.
We code to protect the character of a locale against the universalizing tendencies of modern real estate development. Codes apply general principles to specific places.
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 require the preparation of maps that address the "where" no less than the “what”.
We must code in order to assure that urban places can be truly urban and that rural places remain truly rural, and that there be a specific transect in between. Otherwise, misconceived environmentalism tends to the partial greening of all places. The result being neither one nor the other, but the monstrous garden city of sprawl.
We must code so that buildings incorporate a higher degree of environmental response than is otherwise called for by economic analysis.
We must code so buildings are built to be both durable and mutable in proper measure. Such things that are nevertheless crucial to the longevity required of urbanism.
Without codes urban municipalities tend to suffer from disinvestment. The market seeks stable investment 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 older cities and towns. Codes level the playing field for the inevitable competition.
We must also prepare the private association codes of developers, because it is they who have built our cities and more than ever continue to do so. The profit motive, was 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 architectural culture that incapacitates architects by presenting only the extremes of unfettered genius and servility to the zeitgeist. We have discovered that there are positions between. We reject the limits set by being subject to the realities of our time -- we know that it is also possible to affect the reality. We refuse to be powerless, and we accept the responsibility of action.
We code because we are not relativists. We observe that there are urbanisms that allow for a self-defined pursuit of happiness (the stated right of Americans). We also observe there are other urbanisms that tend to undermine that pursuit. Through codes we attempt to make choice a reality.
We design codes because it is the most abstract, rigorous and intellectually refined practice available to a designer. But it is also verifiable: by being projected into the world, the codes engage a reality that can lead to resounding defeat. In comparison, theoretical writing is a delicacy that can survive only under the protection of the academy.
The evidence of centuries shows that codes are an emergency measure. While coding, we must also work to restore the underlying condition in which the common good is the attainable ideal for those who build.
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, towards the individual building rather than to urbanism. We look forward to the day when we will no longer have to code, but the schools must change first.
Date: May 2003