If Sutton has a decent idea, let her sketch it out and show how "Afrocentric "design would be on a specific site.

I am extremely skeptical that she has anything to say but let her go for it and prove the many skeptics wrong.

Now I am not against the idea that a number of small buildings on a site MIGHT produce as much housing as one big building. And more interesting. If that is what she is saying, fine. But then don;t blather on with Afrocentric design. It's embarassing.
That is both witty and cruel.
If I had tenure I could afford to be disdainful of profit motivated building as well
You'd be surprised by who likes this afrocentric design approach:…
Professor Sutton needs to audit some courses at UW's Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies or maybe the Department of Urban Design and Planning.

"The reason why things come out looking so awful is because code has these maximum envelopes that are extruded forms on the site, and then the developers require architects to build almost to the maximum envelope, so there’s very little shaping of the building that’s allowed that anyone is willing to pay for."

Why do the developers "require" architects to build the maximum envelope? The economics are fixed; underlying land is priced according to the most optimally profitable possible improvement... which, 9 times out of 10, is the largest allowable improvement. The solution is not to put more "effort" into profit, whatever that means. You can't put more effort into changing basic arithmetic. Even when you can change some development cost inputs (innovative construction techniques, subsidies from the city, cheaper funding, etc etc), land price will eventually adjust, and so the market will enforce that the only viable improvement is the largest allowable improvement.

But the largest allowable improvement (or maximum envelope) doesn't have to have a fixed architectural form. The underlying economics **in concert with zoning** dictate the architectural form that the profit takes.

Because Seattle has a zoning code that very rigidly prescribes setbacks and maximum building heights, every "largest allowable improvement" takes exactly the same form: maximize to the setbacks and building height. And so in Seattle's low/midrise zoning, that architectural form always results in an ugly breadloaf box:…

The solution is floor area ratio zoning, where a maximum ratio of square footage to lot size is set, but allowed in almost any massing configuration (minimal setback requirements and much looser maximum building heights). Say you have a 25,000 square foot lot with a FAR of 3 and a maximum height of 6 floors. That would mean you could have a total of 75,000 square feet built... but it could be built as 3 stories each 25,000 square feet (covering the entire lot), or 6 stories each 12,500 square feet (covering 12,500 sqft of the lot, leaving 12,500 sqft as open space), or any nearly infinite number of possibilities between (so long as fire and safety and building codes are met, etc etc).

Land will still be priced for the optimal profitable development, which is still the largest allowable improvement (in my earlier example, 75,000 sqft), but the developer suddenly has OPTIONS in building that largest allowable form!

With floor area ratio development, the developer (perhaps with input from the community!!) can choose: Maybe 6 stories of a thin building for awesome 2br rentals or condos with views and a little public space at the base. Or maybe a slightly thicker 4 story building to allow 3br apartments. Or maybe just 3 stories of a large, squat building for a large retail space with offices above. Or maybe some mix in between, etc etc.

And so the architectural form is now divorced from the fixed economics that force the developer to require the largest allowable improvement/enveloper from their architect.

Over time, over various business cycles, over various changes in specific land use demand, etc, FAR zoning will allow developers, architects, and the community to choose different building forms as suits the moment the lots were developed. And THAT is where you get the increase in "texture" allowing "circulation" with "more variability and more open space" that Professor Sutton (and we all) desires.

TL;DR: Land prices force the most profitable development to be the only viable development. This is nearly always the maximum allowable building form/envelope, so developers ask their architects for the largest possible form/envelope. Seattle zoning allows only one form of maximum building form/envelope. Change the zoning so that the largest possible form/envelope can be built in more than one way.

TL;DR;TL;DR: Seattle needs FAR zoning to allow its developers and architects the opportunity to develop an interesting, desirable, and diverse urban fabric instead of the soulless ugly one Seattle is building now.

Paris does pretty well with boxes, all crammed together in fact.
Your prayer to innovation is mis-guided.
@8 Did you not read the whole comment? Paris is also not full of shitty "breadboxes" because it was primarily built prior to such restrictive zoning; the setback ordinance is especially pernicious in creating aesthetically displeasing development. In the end it's all water under the bridge until our entire economic system is refined to include a greater emphasis on aesthetics and equity.
I'm glad I don't have to live in one of her rolled up rag balls but I had no idea that's how Afticans live.
My take is that @7 wants lots and lots of choice and variety of envelopes.
There's no empirical basis that a great deal of massing variety leads to better cities. In fact quite the opposite.

As to setbacks at the very first floor -- ground level -- the City does not allow any. It's very prescriptive and quite wise in that regard. No setbacks at first floor allowed (in general) in the NC zones.

In fact I think that Seattle (take Pike-Pine) is looking fairly good and will age well.
The only thing which could help is more expensive exterior finishes (which will cause higher rents). Since many people don't care personally about the cost of housing -- you? -- they'll argue for nicer finishes and hang the rents since people can't afford them anyway.
Colin Miller @7 has exactly the right idea buried in his too-long comment: "The solution is floor area ratio zoning, where a maximum ratio of square footage to lot size is set, but allowed in almost any massing configuration (minimal setback requirements and much looser maximum building heights)." Establish an appropriate floor area ratio (FAR) for each zones, and then give developers and architects lots of flexibility as to how they build out that FAR. They still build to maximum density, but the results would almost certainly be more varied and interesting. No more breadboxes!

FAR zoning zoning wouldn't *force* a variety of building masses, it would merely allow a variety that Seattle's current code doesn't allow. Let architectural freedom ring!

I agree that the Pike-Pine corridor is interesting, but it's due in large part to a variety of older structures that, even if still economically viable as new development forms, would never be allowed under today's zoning code. I'm not opposed to lotline development with height limits (think rowhouses) like you see in a lot of (pre-automobile) city cores or inner neighborhoods.

As for Paris, sure, if your city was built in a pre-automobile world, at a pedestrian/human scale, and then frozen in place via universal historical preservation zoning SINCE THE 17th CENTURY(!), it'll be pretty... but then you get the problem of sprawl, high housing costs, miserable traffic (though mediated in France by high car ownership costs and possibly soon to be banned in the city center), and les banlieues.
WTF That image looks like something I made in grade school, I think they called them dioramas and most of the one's I remember were better than the monstrosity pictured in this article.
#7 Great comments. Thanks for taking the time to post.

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