Brave New World?
by Crosby Doe
Over the years I have been lucky enough to have represented many of the greatest works of residential architecture in Southern California—Frank Lloyd Wright’s Millard House, Lloyd Wright’s Taggart House, Richard Neutra’s Singleton House, John Lautner’s Silvertop and Carling House, Harwell Hamilton Harris’s. English House, among so many others. These properties provide some of the most unique and inspiring lifestyles our region has to offer. Yet when the building inspectors come during the sale to advise the buyer, more often than not they will miss the magic of these homes, and gravely point out items that are merely “not to code.” It may be the size of a door, the rise of a step, the height of a railing (or lack thereof), the span of a beam, the height of a ceiling, or a myriad of other random issues. Never mind that the property in question has served the owners well for a lifetime. Or that these great properties with their non-conforming elements are living proof that many of today’s code requirements are unnecessary and overly restrictive. So I find myself asking this question: Are creativity and individuality being legislated out of existence? In the realm of the architecture of the single family house this may well be the case – and even more so when it comes to multi-family housing. It seems that as our culture has grown and become more complex, government has increasingly micro-managed (through so-called “Planning” and “Building and Safety” Departments) how an architect, architectural team and engineer finds a solution to relevant issues. Zoning, building, plumbing, mechanical and electrical codes, State energy and disabled access regulations — all these things have fallen under the jurisdiction and control of state and local laws for construction and maintenance of residential buildings. And for the most part, that creates a one-size-fits-all government standard. Which flies in the face of the very nature of architectural ingenuity, dictating hundreds if not thousands of details as to how a house or building must be built, and what material it must be built of.
Though creative inspiration is the spark that gives any great work of architecture its timelessness, beauty, and utility, today’s building mandates have become so restrictive that they more often than not add to the destruction of the very “quality of life” issues they are meant to preserve. Just look at how many houses built in this century, even expensive ones, are bland and boring. Mind numbing conformity has become the norm. If we are to once again break through to new concepts for building and living, the architect and the engineer must be freed from the tyranny of the building codes. They must once again assert their rightful place, and become the decision makers in regard to their creations, rather than the bureaucrats. I am not saying that all regulation is a bad thing. Much of it is necessary and appropriate. But when the architect, engineer, owner, and their insurance companies are willing to stand by new concepts, materials, designs, or exceptions, their decisions should prevail. In an era where in other countries whole houses are being 3D printed, the freedom to experiment, and try new ideas, even if mistakes may occur, must be encouraged rather than ignored. As you turn the pages of this issue of architectureforsale.com, Quarterly, it is worth noting that many of the properties offered here could not be built today: They are prohibited by some code.