Why do design-review boards insist on ‘Disneyfying’ cities?

Less is more in today's architecture

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Today's city planners are terrified by the prospect of a blank wall. They, along with their micromanaging brethren on civic design-review boards, would much rather see a pastiche of meaningless fakery than an honest piece of wall with nothing on it. The horror vacui of planners and design-review boards is a well-meaning but ill-informed reaction to modern architecture of the postwar era, which has long been pilloried -- often quite rightly -- for its mechanistic repetition, superhuman scale, and dearth of ornament. True, bad modernism could be bland, overbearing and humorless. Yet the contemporary response to these shortcomings is just as troubling: It suggests that any amount of phony two-dimensional detailing is preferable to leaving some parts of a building blessedly plain. Ergo, with planners and design-review types all clamoring for the atmosphere of a halcyon past that never was, developers and their architects dutifully whip up increasingly hammy facades to oblige t...