Taller buildings, better architecture?

Would lifting the height limit lead to better architecture? It’s not that simple, say architects. There are many people and forces, both cultural and economic, shape the built environment, not just height.

Proponents of relaxing the height limit say that it would improve the quality of architecture, but they usually mean that new buildings will be less boxy if there’s less pressure to maximize floor area. Yes, this might encourage more setbacks, deeper walls, more varied patterns, and richer textures. It might also lead to buildings that are just taller versions of the same boxes.

We asked several experienced architects to weigh in on the topic. Some oppose revisions and others support them. But they all note how aesthetics, human comfort, and building performance get trapped in between money and the law, and offer tangible ways to improve the urban environment with or without relaxed height restrictions.

L'Enfant's Tomb by AlbertHerring on Wikimedia

Form follows finance

It may be helpful to think of a speculative office building as a machine for making money. In order to provide a very high level of service to a large amount of floor space, modern office buildings are packed with mechanical equipment and consist of highly engineered assemblies from structure to skin. We can see when money has been spent on high-quality finishes and beautiful details, but the real luxury is empty space.

Private Use, Public Image

The Post carried a tragicomical story this Sunday about a piece of property at 210 King Street in Alexandria. The three-storey building is a historic structure that had previously housed a sportsman store owned by Michael Zarlenga. However, when the capriciousness of the Board of Architectural Review stopped an apparently tasteful renovation, he was forced out of business, literally with tears in his eyes. He wanted to add an elevator, some new retail space, and a new bathroom, all in the local style. But the Board determined that the loss of his rear roof would have caused irrevocable damage to the physical history of the city. Zarlenga, disillusioned and losing money, just had to give up. 

So what happened to the property? He rented it to someone with less demanding needs: a store of erotica and other unspeakable modern things. So yes, Le Tache, a relatively local boutique for bachelorettes looking to explore their hidden places, has filled the gap in the storefronts, increasing the diversity of uses, adding to tax revenues, and still preserving the physical fabric of Old Town Alexandria.

But of course, this has gotten a few people upset. 

After the jump it gets a little NSFW.

Wikiglean IV

The Seven Aphorisms 

In honor of Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, in which the Supreme Court ruled that Pleasant Grove, Utah could reject the request to display a tablet containing the Seven Aphorisms of Summum in a public square, here are some other curios of American jurisprudence. 

There has only been one case directly relating to the Third Amendment (billeting soldiers in private homes) Engblom v. Carey, where housing used by corrections officers was used by the National Guard. The case established the National Guard as military when on operations and that renters received equal protections as owners under the Constitution. 

But the United States Supreme Court can weigh in on higher matters, such as the nature of tomatoes. In Nix v. Hedden, the court determined that for the purposes of tariffs and taxes, tomatoes were vegetables, because that’s how people serve them. Toy Biz v. United States, asserted that its superhero figures were not dolls because they weren’t really human. Bratz dolls are somehow unaffected. 

More human than human
Allowed to vote in Maryland.

Sometimes people are just stupid. In Leser v. Garnett, the plaintiff argued that the Ninteenth Amendment was unconstitutional because you can’t change the important part of the Constitution, like whether women or blacks could vote, or how the president is chosen. And before that, the State of Louisiana abolished its Supreme Court for ruling that a slave Sally Miller was not really slave, but just a misunderstood indentured German girl. She caused even more fracas when she tried to emancipate her children under the precedent of Partus sequitur ventrum, that the womb determines freedom. 

Meanwhile, my hat goes off for the citizens of Rhode Island, the only state to outright reject the Eighteenth Amendment. Stay classy, ‘Lil’ Rhodie.