Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Belleau Waterfront Article Leads to PSA Roundtable on Form-Based Code

In order to educate the general public regarding Portland's waterfront urban fabric DNA so that citizen's could make informed choices regarding same, I wrote an article in the Sunday paper:

This article advocated form-based code approach to building massing with waterfront use integrated. The article was well received by the architecture community according to a member of the Portland Society of Architects (PSA) Advocacy Committee but many had not heard this term- 'form-based code' (FBC). He encouraged the PSA to hold a meeting to discuss form-based code to explain it and to figure out if this is something they should support in Portland. Form-based code is common fair in planning circles but not necessarily so with architects.

Many architects and others attended and after city planner Alex Jaegerman discussed the city's current piecemeal use of form-based codes in Bayside and elsewhere and his ongoing education in this area, and two other non-architect professionals discussed their bits of experience, I was asked to address the architects from an architects point of view. I explained how urban planning, architecture and form-based code are all part of an architects education and methodology already. Many were eager to learn and I used the example of set theory to show the pieces that make up a FBC approach to planning are already in an architects toolkit but have not been placed in a set and labeled FBC yet by them.

Making sure buildings align with sidewalks and not set back so that street walls are created is just one traditional architectural gesture used in a form-based code that used to be standard in urban areas. It just made common economic sense. In the Bayside area we now have new buildings which meet the sidewalk edge and thus begin to create a streetspace. The new Walgreen's on Marginal Way departs from this rule, established in the Bayside plan, because it is grandfathered due to adding on to an existing building. This one exception along with the pre-plan DHS building setback from the street destroys the urban fabric in that area. The area will be half strip mall and half urban street for a very long time. Unfortunately, the ubiquitous worship of vehicle circulation in American planning of last 70 years even in more dense urban areas has kept working with building form instead of parking space from our lives. Our city planners are trying their hardest but we need to back them up and advocate for eliminating exceptions.

While other professions such as land use policy planners studying in USM's very good program who handle policy issues and landscape architects who work with trees and paving to create outdoor space are certainly able to execute many planning tasks, it is the architects who must ultimately step up and make sure our cities and towns are vibrant in terms of the relationships between buildings in the urban centers. It is up to us to bring this point of view to our clients when working on single buildings as well as urban plans.

Architects like Camille Sitte, Aldo Rossi, Leon Krier and Andres Duany/ Liz Plater-Zyberk have led the way. Local architects can make a contribution as well.


Anonymous said...

Agreed. Bayside is a mix up of various built forms and it is a less enjoyable experience because of this.

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear the Maine Form-Based Code conversation growing. As a frequent teacher on the topic and the author of the first comprehensive book on the topic I recommend two good Form-Based Code sources:

The Form-Based Codes Institute web site

A comprehensive book on the topic: "Form-Based Codes: A Guide for Planners, Urban Designers, Municipalities, and Developers," which I coauthored for John Wiley & Sons publishers a couple years ago and available on