Term: Fall 2021
Section: 5
Class Number: 509
Credits: 3
Required: No
Elective: Yes

/ ARCH 509

Speculative Code: Building Code, Social Equity, and Alternative Futures

This seminar considers building codes as possible sites of both tactical and radical design interventions. Building codes are often siloed purely in the “technical” sphere: mundane documents which, at best, provide guardrails around health, safety, and welfare, and at worst, limit the freewheeling expression of artistic designers. This seminar reframes building codes away from an anonymous form of regulation. Instead, we will read them as discursive and changing documents, co-authored by many stakeholders with opportunities for change.

Building codes in the United States are double-edged swords. Since their emergence at the turn of the century, they are, on one hand, legal documents which enforce our collective expectations for a safe, habitable, and well-constructed built environment. On the other, they present challenges toward creating more equitable cities. They can present as red tape, manifest regressive requirements, and construct barriers around authorship in architecture and design.

This seminar explores the ways that building codes and social equity intersect. It explores, as primary source documents, the historical building codes of individual cities—New York, Detroit, Houston, Chicago, and L.A.—as well as the International Building Code. Building codes can be seen as unique historical documents, indexing forces of power, capital, as well as progressive social movements around the built environment at different eras. We will consider how, from activism around tenement housing, to accessibility and disability rights, to sustainability requirements, the building code reflects collective ambitions for a better world. We will also read secondary sources texts from across multiple disciplines in order to better understand their construction, enforcement, and impacts on the cities they regulate. This seminar will include visiting lectures, including from sociologists, designers, and attorneys working on the topic.

Throughout the semester, students will engage the building code as speculative designers. Through a series of mini-projects, we will introduce new, speculative changes for specific building code provisions. We will seek wonk-ish minutiae, grey areas, loopholes, and sites of tactical unraveling—overlooked opportunities for transcendent change, buried in the details. 


Tue 8:30-11:30am  2213 A&AB


Ann Lui