Design review boards do architecture disservice

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

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(This is Part 1 of a three-part series. See Part 2: ) For a century or so, zoning and building regulations have existed to ensure public health and safety. Now and then, they've affected architectural aesthetics as well--for example, New York's light-and-air zoning laws indirectly created the city's characteristic stepped-back skyscrapers--but dictating how buildings should look was never their intent. This is no longer the case. Over the last few decades, more and more city governments have adopted a process called design review, in which building plans are judged not just for adherence to health and safety codes, but also for aesthetic merit. In many jurisdictions, conformance with a design review board's recommendations has become a de facto requirement for obtaining a building permit, so that in effect, our civic building departments now decide what constitutes "tasteful" architecture for the rest of us. Is this such a bad thing? Doesn't design review prevent people from building ...