How the Law's Loopholes Shape Our Cities

In preparation for its December issue, entitled The Law and its Consequences, Volume Magazine is holding an open call for examples of local laws that have had unintended - or just unusual - consequences for our cities. The issue asks: "If we consider the law to be a piece of design, can we apply design intelligence to the law?"

The law has a long history of affecting a city's character. Perhaps the earliest design stipulation is contained in the book of Deuteronomy (22:8): "In case you build a new house, you must also make a parapet for your roof, that you may not place bloodguilt upon your house because someone falling might fall from it." Since then, laws such as fire regulations, zoning restrictions and preservation guidelines have become an everyday conundrum for architects, ultimately affecting the outcome of design. But these laws often create unexpected loopholes, which can lead to peculiar design quirks that come to define a city's sense of place.

Read on after the break for just some examples of the consequences of the law

Section of a proposed basement extension in Knightsbridge, London. Image via The Daily Mail

Super-Basements in London

As a historic city, London has strong measurements preventing tall buildings. However, as a global financial center, it also has a large number of super-rich residents, for whom a three-story home just won't do. Legally prevented from extending upwards, many of the city's wealthiest residents are carving out cavernous basements to significantly increase their living space, and placing everything from additional bedrooms to swimming pools and cinemas underground.

© Flickr CC User caribb

Staircases in Montreal

A well-intentioned law in Montreal called for a minimum distance between new houses and the street, in order to encourage gardens in front of houses. With less space to build on, developers building multi-story duplexes retaliated by moving staircases outside of the building, increasing the available space for living areas. Now, instead of picturesque rows of gardens, many streets in Montreal are characterized by steel staircases leading to second-floor apartments.

© Flickr CC User Eric Peacock

Unfinished Buildings in Greece

In Greece, new buildings are not taxed until they have been completed, meaning that residents often have a financial incentive to leave their homes conspicuously unfinished. The most common way to achieve an aesthetic of incompleteness is to leave steel rebar protruding from the top level of the building, waiting for the construction of a hypothetical extra story. In some cases this appearance of incompleteness in fact becomes functional, as owners are easily able to extend their home upwards if their family grows.

The development of Beirut is heavily affected by Local Laws. Image © Flickr CC User Magnus

Towers in Lebanon

In Lebanon, height restrictions are calculated as a proportion of the building's setback from the street. This has led to developers purchasing large sections of land in deep city blocks, knowing that if they simply set their new building back far enough, they can effectively build to any height they choose. This practice is damaging the streetscape of cities like Beirut as there are large, poorly designed setbacks from the street appearing throughout the city.

These are just some examples of how design exploits loopholes in the law. If you know of any other examples, Volume Magazine (and us at ArchDaily) would love to hear them in the comments below.

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Cite: Rory Stott. "How the Law's Loopholes Shape Our Cities" 05 Sep 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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