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Basics of Form-Based Coding

(Note: this is only an elementary primer.  For more resources, see the Form-Based Codes Institute.)

Conventional Zoning regulates land use, with little regard for the form of buildings or public spaces that result.  Fifty years of implementation have shown us the undesirable consequences of this practice.  According to Mary Madden, principal at Geoffrey Farrell Associates, “That micromanagement of uses has resulted in a huge number of unintended consequences, namely, suburban sprawl. Everybody hates sprawl, but the builders aren’t violating rules; they’re building exactly what the codes call for. Those codes are a blueprint for sprawl. Under the existing conventional codes, you can’t help but build it.” (1)

Form-Based Codes (FBC) start from the assumption that it is more important to define the spatial qualities of the place. 

At its most basic, an FBC depends at least two of the following three documents

  1. Regulating Plan. The plan that locates streets, lots, and building 'types. '   Rather than a map showing zoning uses, it shows the location of building types, which are further defined by the Building Envelope Standards.  The designer of the plan focuses on the public spaces (streets, sidewalks, etc) that are created by the assemblage of building types.
  2. Building Envelope Standards.  This is where the building shapes are defined...height, location on the lot, lot coverage. It is noteworthy that buildings are often REQUIRED to meet minimum criteria, rather than LIMITED to a maximum. Likewise, a build-to line replaces the set-back line.
  3. Architectural Standards. This is what Geoffrey Farrell calls the "dress code."  It is optional, but for communities desiring tight control of appearance, may be included.


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