16 January 2011

Codes and the Built Environment (MARC Research Symposium)

On Monday 11th of October 2010 the Manchester Architecture Research Centre (MARC) hosted a research symposium which sought to address "the influence of codes on the design, construction and habitation of cities." The speakers were drawn from a diverse range of scholars, with a number of academic interests that all touched upon the notion of 'Codes and the Built Environment': Steven Moore (University of Texas at Austin), Rob Imrie and Emma Street (King's College London), Matthew Carmona (UCL), Jeroen va der Heijden (Delft University of Technology), and Michael Guggenheim (University of Zurich). To further quote the advertising for the event:

"All elements of the city - from buildings to streets and from parks to transit networks - are influenced by a multitude of overlapping, reinforcing, and sometimes conflicting regulations that have accrued over decades or even centuries. Social scientists and designers have only recently begun to study the historical, political, and cultural aspects of code production and deployment as well as the particular material and social configurations they produce."

What will follow is a series of short summaries that describe the topics discussed during the five presentations given as part of the event by the various guest speakers.

The example of codes in the built environment used
on the flyer for the event hosted by MARC.

Steven Moore: "Taxonomy of Socio-technical Codes"
Starting with an assumption that "Building Codes are an index of changing social values and a strategy to enforce those values" Dr Steven A. Moore proceeded to give an insight into his current research interests. He touched briefly upon a number of areas, including current projects being undertaken in post-Katrina New Orleans, and cited other research projects by a number of other individuals, including a number of speakers present in the room. Highlighting the taxonomy of existing code types (labelled Tacit', Sumptuary, Economic and Socio-technical) Moore went on to question "How do you construct socio-technical codes?"

Rob Imrie & Emma Street: "Architectural Design and Regulation"
Imrie and Street's presentation attempted to give a condensed version of their forthcoming book 'Architectural Design and Regulation' (February 2011). Jointly they attempt to "put the social into architecture" within, what they perceive as, an "oppositional culture" of architecture and building. They postulate that "rules and regulations are constitutive of the process and practices of architecture" and are "not external to the creative processes and practices." The importance of the regulatory society is viewed as being a new key agent in their discussions and "regulatory controls are anathema to the delivery of a modern urban infrastructure and environment." Imrie and Street see the dualism within the architectural profession as a false distinction that stems from the discourse of "architect as art" which has been reinforced by further dis-juncture  between training and practice. An interesting observation was also made with regards to how the wider culture of risk and litigation in society has influenced the design process as well as the inter-relationship between Architects and other professionals (or as they put it "the relational networks or socio-institutional and political interdependencies.") The book (see below) would seem to deal with a range of interrelated topics and the short presentation by the pair gave only a flavour of each, leaving the audience feeling slightly frustrated. You often needed to know and understand, in more depth, the research behind certain statements which was only forthcoming on further questioning but would undoubtedly be far more accessible in the text or a longer presentation.

Architectural Design and Regulation
(Wiley-Blackwell, 2011)

Matthew Carmona: "Good Codes/Bade Codes: Coding for Creativity and Value"
Drawing upon his own research, publications and surveys Matthew Carmona, Head of Planning at the Bartlett, began by showing a number of examples of "the bits they [governments] don't show" when advertising cities, highlighting sprawl as "the inevitable consequence of our development process." He observed that it is an "interesting time for design because it's the law" referring to codes and standards that demand 'good design'. However he was highly critical of how these codes and standards don't quantify what constitutes 'good design' and as such outcomes remain poor - for instance a survey by CABE on new housing rated only 6% as 'good' and 24% as 'poor'. He said that today "we excel at making codes but fail at making places" and that the current condition is exacerbated by three professional cultures: creative tyranny, market tyranny, and regulatory tyranny. The challenge seems to be how the various professions involved in the built environment "mediate the tyrannies of participation" however codes, in Carmona's view, "do not deliver an outcome but do have a role to play in the process" - with the research from his publication 'Design Coding in Practice: An Evaluation' used as evidence to support this basis.

Jeroen van der Heijden: "Good Enforcement/Bad Enforcement: How Enforcement Matters in Achieving a Safe, Healthy and Sustainable Built Environment."
Central to Jeroen van der Heijden's presentation was the notion that whilst "it may be possible t design codes on paper [the] real enforcement issues must always be considered." He described how there are two types of code, prescriptive and performance-based, and the "grey area of compliance" which surrounds both before stating that prescriptive codes are the easier to measure and enforce. The various different enforcement strategies encountered by van der Heijden were characterised as being either: deterrence based (force of law); compliance based; incentive based; or risk based. Further differentiation is found in the enforcement style, either rigid and legalistic or facilitative and consulting, which is used by the various different actors present in the enforcement process - government agencies, market organizations, third sector/NGOs, the general public or some form of hybrid organisation. He surmised that the level of enforcement was possibly tied to the level of litigation and liability present in a system but that this required further research.

Michael Guggenheim: "What Legal Coding Can('t) Do: Of Prayers and Assisted Suicides"
Two case studies were used by Michael Guggenheim to highlight relationships between laws, building form and building use, with an approach that viewed both buildings and regulations as a quasi-technology. The first case study focused on Mosque's in Switzerland and whether or not the addition of a Minaret constituted a 'change of use' in planning terms. Dealing with issues raised from the right-wing movement in Switzerland to ban the building of Minarets, that became law in 2009, Guggenheim challenged the extent to which certain typologies and building forms can be codified. He raised the question as to whether or not a converted Church tower would be classed as a Minaret and therefore would it then have to be demolished. This served as an example of the limitations of such codes and the extent to which certain forms are interrelated to particular uses  - is a building (or building element) a certain typology through its form or what it is used for? The second case study looked at assisted suicides and how regulation in Switzerland had led to the growth in 'death tourism'. This case study focused on Dignitas and local oppositions to 'death tourism' and whether or not it's practices constituted 'allowed' activities within certain district zones. The dispute that arose as a result of conflicting and confused zoning laws was about coding for use, whereas the previous case study had looked at issues involving coding for form. Guggenheim concluded the assisted suicide case study by stating the a new 'suicide' typology within Swiss zoning law was needed.

Mosque of the Olten Turkish Cultural Association at
Wangen bei Olten, one of four Minarets in Switzerland and the
last built before legislation banning their construction was passed