There are plenty of good arguments for why D.C.’s height limit should be tweaked, but one that rings completely hollow is the claim it’s responsible for a bland, boxy streetscape, and DC would be more beautiful if only architects weren’t so constrained.
Any architect who says they can’t design a good or creative building under D.C.’s height limit is, to be blunt, a bad architect.
Brent Toderian at The Atlantic Cities discusses this same point (paraphrased):
Whenever I hear North American architects complaining that regulations or requirements “constrain architectural creativity,” I think of Barcelona’s Passeig de Gracia boulevard and Paris’ Avenue des Champs-Elysees, which strictly regulate their buildings’ height, but still allow for great architectural beauty and nuance.
The easiest example is Gaudi’s La Pedrera, which acts as a “typical” corner building within Barcelona’s brilliant block plan that regulates height and form – and yet there’s nothing typical about Gaudi’s design.
It’s true that every city has rules that are both smart and dumb. Great architects know that genius often arises out of constraint.
It is true that D.C.’s regulations result in buildings with a boxy shape, but weird shapes are not the only way to make a building interesting, and anyone who thinks otherwise is intellectually bankrupt. No one would argue that K Street looks like Champs-Elysees, but that’s not because of the height limit. That’s because K Street’s buildings don’t have enough decoration.
Beautiful buildings can absolutely be produced within the context of D.C.’s height and form regulations, but to do so requires architects to step outside their 20th century dogma that declares ornament to be the enemy. To do so requires architects to design something other than blank glass facades.
[Continue reading Dan Malouff’s post at BeyondDC.]
Dan Malouff is an Arlington County transportation planner who blogs independently at BeyondDC.com. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.