Breaking Codes and the Next Industrial Revolution
A marvel from above, looking out over the sprawling Ford River Rouge Complex in Dearborn, MI.
Albert Kahn was known as the architect of Detroit and built more than 400 buildings there. Some of these massive industrial buildings had no precedent in the World and subsequently no land use or building codes to govern their construction. In the words of Jana Cephas, Harvard Graduate School of Design Lecturer, “the Dearborn planning commission was silent on the regulation of these new building types.”
Free to use his own ingenuity and discretion, Kahn (and Henry Ford) crafted buildings to augment the assembly line, like the giant crane pictured below. The complex of buildings became an industrial trend setter for the 20th century and were emulated around the world. What if the City of Dearborn would have demanded that these buildings that housed the second industrial revolution had to conform to rules for the first revolution? I doubt a 19th century millworks building would have been able to produce enough military aircraft to win WWII!
Where are our places today to experiment with how the built form will prepare itself for the next revolution, the Human industrial revolution?
What we need is fewer rules and more discretion…. Too much of the time, the government tells people exactly what to do and exactly how to do it… rather than just describing its general goal and letting human beings use their own creativity and initiative to get there. The Future of Government, Cass R. Sunstein (2013)
The Better Block has been testing over a weekend how to adapt old buildings and spaces to the new sharing, innovative, human focused economy we are currently living in. We have done this as guides, gentle curators that express a goal to people and allow them to create without too many boundaries. The results of everyday people innovating in the city are fantastic!
Volunteers in Norfolk, Va where asked to create shade for a new plaza. They harvested bamboo and hauled it to the site on bikes. The result was a beautiful and functional!
20000 SqFT Building in Norfolk, VA that was once a car parts store and then a furniture store had gone vacant. With no dedicated parking or interested parties, what do you do with it?
Volunteers populated the space during a Better Block with retail, office, maker space, coffee shop, beer garden, live entertainment and a little skateborading. Now a permanent establishment, Alchemy NFK was granted a variance to operate as a “beer serving flea market”.
Communities across the country are redefining how architecture, land use and building codes need to respond to the changing economy and people centered approach to building the city. What cities are listening and who will be the next trend setter? While Detroit is getting a lot of press for attracting young creatives because of relaxed code enforcement, what city is going to invite innovation?
Lean Urbanism with support from the Knight Foundation is going to test the idea of Pink Zones (think less Red Tape) in several cities across the US this next year. Already, places like Boston, MA are looking at Neighborhood Innovation Districts that are converting buildings designed for the old production economy into the new creative economy.
Docester Bay neighborhood in Boston, MA converted a hot dog processing plant into a culinary incubator and food truck port. Down the street a former autobody station is being converted in to a Fabrication Laboratory for the community to experiment with technology and building methods.
Opportunity exists in second, third and fourth tier cities to be innovators. The bureaucracy is smaller and the threshold for risk lower. Using the better block method to dissect codes, rapidly test business and development methods we will try out our own version of innovation districts in various small to medium sized cities in the mid west and east coast. We hope to release these groundbreaking projects in the coming weeks!
In the mean time catch Andrew Howard current Harvard Graduate School of Design Loeb Fellow and Better Block Co-Founder at the Texas Big Six Conference.