Question re: form-based codes

Could it be argued that form-based codes (FBC) are less performative (or interested/focused on performance) vs Euclidean zoning focus on usage? Thoughts, opinions  and suggested readings welcome...

As an aside I am aware of form base code's close relationship with/to new urbanism and a tendency to emphasize historical/historicist forms of built environment.

See mission statement from FBCI's website 

"To advance the knowledge and use of, and develop standards for, Form-Based Codes as a method to achieve a community vision based on time-tested forms of urbanism."

Oct 5, 12 11:19 am

Time-tested forms of urbanism?  


Oct 5, 12 11:32 am

If architecture is an art (which it is), and art is protected by free speech, then I would argue that form based codes violate free speech and are unconstitutional.  they are written into the sale of the property, and one must abandon their liberty in-order to buy.  While this may be recognised by the community or the state, I don't see how this does not violate federal law.  They are basically asking people to sign away a constitutional right inorder to buy.  They are creating pockets of space where ones constitutional rights are limited.  It is a slipery slope.

Oct 5, 12 11:43 am

I remember reading a book about "shadow gov't" .  This kind of organization is a shadow gov't  like an HOA.  Can't remember the author off the top of my head, but he was a prof. at sci-arch if i'm not mistaken....

Oct 5, 12 11:52 am

Hoa's are unconstitutional imo.  I owned a home in an hoa, and at one point I was jokingly saying to a lawyer friend that I was going to paint it a bright green to piss off the association. she stated that I would be fined and probably sued, but if it was brought in front of the supreme court (which was highly unlikely) I would probably win, because my constitutional rights to free speech would trump my contractual obligations to the HOA. 

Oct 5, 12 12:01 pm

I had a long-but-informative post but it got eaten by Archinect's inability to preserve a text box. 

Form-based codes, or any urban planning methodology, is not architecture. It's applied economics. In fact, form-based codes are designed to be more liberating because they usually don't outright outlaw a wide variety of business and industrial uses in their overlay districts.

The premise behind them is merely "if you meet enough of our qualifications for organizing your physical space, we could give two fucks about what you actually do."

Where form-based coding primarily fails is from a cost standpoint. They're high cost arrangements and the majority of them are not owner-operator affairs. Like the Euclidean-zoned strip malls and single-purpose-single-use business districts they're trying to replace, they're all predeveloped land-lease to floor-lease developer-driven projects.

And these things are non pop-up strip malls with low-capital costs. They're quite expensive and the rents they demand are prohibitively high to both locally- and nationally-established businesses.

Oct 5, 12 12:09 pm

I think that all zoning does more harm than good.  Euclidean and form based codes limit land ownership rights.  If we did away with all planning and allowed for a more natural organic development or space, things would find their place.  If you look at a forest, certain plants grow in certain areas.  You get patches of certain species, certain typologies like shrubs, grasses, trees.......Urban growth would not be much different.  Let people do what they want with their property. 

Oct 5, 12 12:19 pm


Performance of what?  FBC advocates would, I wager, say yes, FBCs perform well in many ways: spatial defition, activation of street life, etcetera (i.e., those "time tested forms of urbanism").

My hunch is that you mean some other kind of performance...

Oct 5, 12 12:45 pm
chatter of clouds

which is less performative, form-based code or code-based form?

Oct 5, 12 1:43 pm
won and done williams

Performative? Cease archispeak and restate the question.

Oct 5, 12 1:47 pm
chatter of clouds

but if you really think about it, they have quite the something in common. they are overarching micro-macro organizational/syntactical systems throughout the continuum of the urban/architectural environs.  both dismiss stylistic funtional differentiation. they both are both based on variation and repetition, on the use of parameters to create their respective ecologies.

i am sure it would be possible to digitalize form-based code ... in which case, we would have parametric 'form-based-code' or code-based-form-based-code

Oct 5, 12 1:56 pm

curtkram yes i did not sure exactly what i had in mine but basically idea of focusing how something is used or behaves not looks... 

Plus, as i said i am somewhat skeptical because of the "Time-tested" seems like new urbanists/historicist signaling...

The question arises from current attempts by my city to move towards form based codes.

Oct 5, 12 2:40 pm

at won and don you are right of course i am not sure though, other than idea of function over form...

I honestly care more about how a place works not looks, although i suppose FBC proponents would argue they are linked?

also james i understand that form-based codes, is not architecture but more urban planning/design.

Oct 5, 12 2:51 pm

code defines architecture, therefore is important as architecture.

japan has no real urban planning laws and land-use is based in the building code.  12 land uses for whole nation and they are nested so land-use ends up being mixed use, doesn't matter if suburb or city centre its the same deal.

to make that work japan also has form-based code.  it is not prescriptive but performance based, which means nothing more than if the shadow lines and FAR are met the performance requirements are met and no further discussion is required. 

FORM emerges from that set of laws and it most definitively and distinctly creates much of the Japanese skyline.  It means also that there are no rules about what the buildings look like which is why it is possible to have all the experimental works by sejima and fujimoto and so on. 

In america usually it ends up becoming prescriptive instead of performance-based, which i find a pity.

the other upshot of the approach is that when needs change it is possible for new land uses to fill the gaps.  if population ages and there is need for local clinics or care homes it is possible to let that happen simply with market forces.  at least that is how it works here.  all the walkability and mixed use mixed income dreams of new urbanism happen in japanese suburbs as a result of that system, but we are not as scared of our neighbors as americans are, so maybe it is only possible here.  as concept it is pretty cool though and can lead to nimble and flexible urban life if done right.

if your city is just thinking about aesthetics then its basically just disneyland and a rode to gated communities, in which case, not so good...

Oct 5, 12 9:29 pm

will thank you "In america usually it ends up becoming prescriptive instead of performance-based, which i find a pity" is what i was trying to articulate...

Oct 5, 12 11:29 pm

for instance they refer to "character districts" (see here + here). in principle the characteristics they describe i appreciate but when added up to a prescriptive document...

Oct 5, 12 11:34 pm

"In america usually it ends up becoming prescriptive instead of performance-based, which i find a pity'

Will, I didn't know you was a spec writer.

Oct 5, 12 11:45 pm
won and done williams

Still not sure I understand the point of this thread, but I will add that I have never seen a Euclidean zoning ordinance that was not at least partially form-based (i.e. height, FAR requirements, etc.), and I have never seen a form-based code that was totally agnostic on use (take a look at Miami's zoning ordinance, the quintessential form-based code, and you will find use separations all over the place). Most, if not all, zoning ordinances are a hybrid; whether a code is deemed form-based or Euclidean is more a matter of degree, emphasis or the polemic around its creation.

Oct 6, 12 9:29 am

here (louisville), we've been under form-based development for almost a decade. the hope was that it would make for development appropriate to certain development types already extant: traditional neighborhood, suburban marketplace, urban, etc. 

it was also hoped that, if it was described thoroughly, that it would be less discretionary, i.e., that developers, builders, architects, owners could know what would be expected just via the development code and not be subject to review that would interpret the code for the individual case. of course it hasn't worked out that way. 

what we've ended up with instead is a form-based development code layered ON TOP OF the old zoning designations, with a lot of discretionary interpretation and still no-one knowing where things might fly and where not. 

it was an attempt, anyway. 

regarding the legality, free-speech, private property implications: like any code or law, these are things that we agree *together* (by proxy, through our elected officials) to do together. this is how communities work and it's silly to say that this kind of code is any different than any other rules about how we'll interact . 

Oct 6, 12 9:54 am

i guess i might be rusty. 

my phd was on this topic, through the looking glass of the compact city and suburbs in europe, usa and japan.

its a tough thing to make work.  japan is libertarian and most people are ok with the mess that results.  america is more control freaky but want freedom too and it kinda gets ironic.  europe is more honest about the control thing, but gets totally disneylandy.

a recent trip to germany i saw a town built on something like form-based code but with green rules instead.  it worked very well but the participants were self-selecting.  maybe that is only way to get that sort of thing to come out nice...

Oct 6, 12 7:15 pm

I think form based codes arose as a response to the schlock that's passed for development in the last 60 years.  Although form based urbanism has always existed and is responsible to some of the places we love and travel to, it isn't until Modernism's negation of our desire to both decorate and co-mingle that we've seen the rise of bland cities with no street life.  Modernism threw out all the "Time-tested" lessons of urbanism and architecture for a new and revolutionary aesthetic and form, for purely political reasons.  Unfortunaty, it was this intellectual form based teaching that destroyed many of the places people loved becasue of an ideological insistance on how buildings and spaces should be arranged.   Gone was the ability to learn from the best examples, becasue it was mandated that everything be assertively modern, meaning not "of out time", but "of our style".  Thank goodness the time has passed where every archtiect felt compelled to design modernist stuff or else be relegated an intellectual gulag.

Oct 8, 12 5:22 am

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