The Use of Design Codes for Buildings: Are They Enough?

By Dom Nozzi

May 21, 2006

The following thoughts were penned after I read a newspaper article today about tacky buildings and Design Codes.

I had just returned from Santa Fe NM — perhaps the city in North America most known for having strong building design codes to ensure consistency (even the Hilton Hotel and Exxon Gas Station use adobe design there).

My take on their building consistency efforts is that while it is certainly impressive, visually, I don’t believe that such a regulation is the be-all-and-end-all of retaining unique character, ensuring quality of life, and avoiding the Anywhere USA syndrome. Even in their compact, fairly walkable downtown area, Santa Fe has a number of recent buildings that are pulled WAY back from the street by a huge asphalt parking lot out front. There are also a number of large surface parking lots at street intersections (perhaps the biggest urban design blunder a community can make, and one sure to destroy place-making).

I’m sorry, but even if the Hilton uses beige adobe for its building facade, the fact that it joins a number of other buildings downtown by being behind a sea of asphalt trumps all efforts to be walkable and unique through consistent building design.

The BUILDING DISPOSITION (how a building is sited on the property) is the urban design imperative. Give me a building abutting the sidewalk. The exterior appearance is much less important. Buildings at the street create unique, walkable places. This is NOT achieved by calling for “attractive,” “consistent” buildings. Such buildings can easily end up only being designed for happy cars.

Note, too, that a community that requires buildings to be properly located at the street typically create sufficient civic pride. Because of their quality urbanism, they usually have citizens who know that they have a unique place to be proud of. One that will attract visitors and investors and quality immigrants. One that does not have businessmen who need to lower themselves to santa-fe-new-mexico-02creating novelty by building cartoon buildings. It is the quality urbanism that creates the attraction.

Santa Fe
has blundered by thinking that building consistency is the key to walkability and uniqueness. By not regulating building and parking location (and having too many high-speed six-lane roads), they are little more than a Disney cartoon that is best seen by car.

Even if the Shell gas station looks like a Pueblo.



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Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation

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