Are Building Codes, Zoning And Development Controls "Fascist"?


Images credit pottgiesser architecturespossibles

Suzanne Labarre shows a lovely bit of architecture on Fast Company, The Maison L by Christian Pottgiesser and Pascale Thomas Pottgiesser of pottgiesser architecturespossibles. It was a tough project; Yvelines is predominantly rural, not far away from Versailles, a world heritage site where views have to be kept pristine if they want to keep that status. The house appears to include elements of an historic orangerie in a forest. Being historic France, there are strict controls on development to protect the environment, cultural treasures and farmland. With my historic preservationist hat on, I consider these to be good things; that is why Paris and Versailles get more tourists than Houston.

That's why I was so troubled by Suzanne's title, A House That Solves The Problem Of Fascist Building Codes.

Yvelines, France, a district of forests, parks, Palaces, Châteaux and farmland.

First, there is the use of the word Fascist. It is hard to find a good definition of the word, although most agree that it is authoritarian. Franklin Delano Roosevelt came up with an interesting definition that resonates today; he was complaining about Republicans and big business trying to derail anti-trust legislation.

The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism -- ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.

Rules that control heights and restrict cutting of trees, that protect heritage structures are clearly not fascist, and given the French experience with real Fascists, I suspect that many there would be seriously offended by the use of the word.

In fact, Tea Party ideologues consider these kinds of restrictions to be a socialist plot, part of the Agenda 21 plan to eliminate property rights. They list some of the things they hate:

Smart Growth, Wildlands Project, Resilient Cities, Regional Visioning Projects, STAR Sustainable Communities, Green jobs, Green Building Codes, "Going Green," Alternative Energy, Local Visioning, facilitators, regional planning, historic preservation, conservation easements, development rights, sustainable farming, comprehensive planning, growth management.

There is no question that an architect working in such a milieu faces real challenges. There is also no question that Pottgiesser was very clever in his interpretation of the rules, practicing "sly circumvention" at its very best.

Tea Party types don't like "the iron law of the land" that creates restrictions on their property rights. But those laws are there because the majority believe that one should protect forests, historic views and sites, or farmland. And there are almost always ways to work within those rules if you are a reasonable person with a talented architect. It's the Mick Jagger rule:

You can't always get what you want, And if you try sometime, you find: You get what you need.

More images of Maison L at Fast Company
My favourite "sly circumvention":
Superkül Laneway House Renovation is Supercool

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Tags: Architects | France

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