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Code Manipulation: Architecture In-Between Universal and Specific Urban Space

  • Author(s): Dahl, Per-Johan
  • Advisor(s): Cuff, Dana
  • et al.
Abstract

Experiences from both academia and practice demonstrate that the legal instruments that comprise the primary tool for carrying out city planning in the U.S. have grown increasingly complex and abstract. Processing the universal rather than the specific aspects of urbanism, these zoning codes have a limited capacity to adapt to local significance and site-specific characteristics, to which architecture is much more responsive, and thus often constrain design innovation. Although various attempts have been made to improve the interconnection between the universal and the specific, we need a wider array of analytic frameworks within the discipline of architecture for evaluating the broader implications of the codes that regulate the form and use of buildings within the context of contemporary city planning. Taking architecture as an intermediary instrument, this study develops the notion of code manipulation as an analytical framework to be used for stimulating and evaluating designs beyond the constraints of code.

Investigation of three housing projects, and the urban contexts from which they arise, expands our understanding of how the manipulation of zoning codes can be used as a generative material for the design of architecture, as well as how this procedure can both advance the production of disciplinary knowledge, and catalyse urban transformation. A loft conversion in Greenwich Village (1967-1970); an accessory dwelling unit in Venice, California (2006-2009); and a real estate development along the High Line in New York City (2005-2011) represent diverse attempts to employ code manipulation to mediate between the universal and the specific aspects of urbanism, while, at the same time, informing the making of cities through innovative design. Comparative analysis reveals how architects can explore solutions in opposition to zoning provision, and how code manipulation can serve to inform policy makers about lucrative potentials and tendencies being repressed by their own rules. Demonstrating a range of outcomes strengthens the argument that conventional zoning controls hamper architectural responses to the shifting premises of urban life. Seeking to reinforce architecture's role in the making of cities, this research explicates the potentials of code manipulation to establish new interconnections between universal and specific urban space.

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