A Readers Guide to Unwin’s Town Planning in Practice – Part 12 – Building Bye Laws

Today we’ll cover the final chapter 12 of Raymond Unwin’s ‘ Town planning in practice; an introduction to the art of designing cities and suburbs‘  of 1909.

This chapter covers the same ground as his famous 1912 pamphlet ‘Nothing Gained by Overcrowding’ .

the English building bye-laws do not work altogether satisfactorily when considered from the point of view of good architecture. …the abrupt and arbitrary manner in which some of these regulations work has produced a type which is practically bye-law architecture.Forms are distorted ; the roof is exaggerated or depressed ; lines of space and height cut the buildings at awkward angles ; street corners are spoiled by spaces being left between the buildings just where it is important that they should be carried round in a continuous group…What is required is that we should give to our bye- laws something of that elastic character which belongs to natural restraints ; so that while the height of a building, for example, may be as strictly limited as at present, a little give and take, a little averaging of one part with another, may be permitted, and the rigid form which results from the present arbitrary rules may cease to be required.

Unwin continued on this theme of flexibility in regulation

The limitation of the number of houses to the acre ; the reservation of sites for probable public buildings or other requirements ; the proper distribution of works and factories ; and many other similar matters, will need to be brought under some public control if towns are to be adequately managed, and developed along the best lines. Upon many of these points it will be peculiarly difficult to frame regulations, so difficult that probably it will hardly be practicable, unless some means can be discovered of introducing the element of discretion and affording some opportunity for the individual case to be considered on its merits. Rules may be framed that will cover the majority of cases and work out satisfactorily, but there must arise in a minority of instances circumstances not allowed for in the regulations, where some special consideration is required. It is these few cases that cause nearly all the friction and outcry against bye-laws ; except, of course, the general outcry from jerrybuilders

Unusually for his time Unwin championed consultation on draft by laws, ensuring they were published free of charge and issues were ‘thoroughly ventilated’ in his terminology.

A particular concern for Unwin was building bye law on widths of streets designed as ‘a means of doing away with objectionable courts and narrow alleys’ but as he said ‘ but other and more direct means should be taken for dealing with these evils’.

Unwin was a great advocate of the German System where zonal design control was implemented rather than blanket district wide building controls, a system in Germany that still applies in essence to today.

At present, in England, bye-laws are usually adopted for a whole town, and any regulation which is deemed advisable in the most closely built up centre of the town applies equally to the most sparsely built areas on the outskirts. It is obvious that this must mean that either too little is secured for safety in the centre or needlessly much is required on the outskirts. In Germany towns are divided into zones or areas, and certain of the bye-laws apply to the inner zones only, while certain others vary for the different zones. The building plots are further divided into classes according to the use which is to be made of them, and very elaborate regulations are framed for these classes — fixing, for example, the proportion of a site to be left unbuilt-upon, which varies from one quarter of the site in some parts to two-thirds or more in other parts ; and in some of the zones and classes, only the land behind the building line is reckoned as unbuilt-upon land for determining this proportion. In the same way the maximum height of buildings is varied both for the different classes of site and in relation to the width of streets, and altogether the system enables the bye-laws to be adapted to the requirements of the particular districts of the towns with much greater exactitude than is possible in our country.



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