From: John Young <jya@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 18 Jan 1995 21:34:55 -0500
On Tue, 17 Jan 1995 David Sucher <dsucher@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx> said:
>> Local Code, The Constitution of a City at 42-degree N Latitude
>> Michael Sorkin
>> Princeton Architectural Press, 1993
>> ISBN 1-878271-79-2
>Could you give us a run-down?
Here are excerpts in Sorkin's own supreme words. Remember, buy the book,
do unto others.
I've seen several of his studios work -- at Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Penn,
Cooper -- formulated with generosity under this unfolding rubric, as he
The Afterword is excellent. Mr. Sorkin is seldom so modest, so beware
rattling his cage in person. On the other hand, why not, it'll beat ski
and golf and late-paying AE fees for fun.
The Constitution of a City at 42x N Latitude
Princeton Architectural Press
II Bill of Rights
Use and Use Effects
Materials and Construction
Territory and the Ring
Sportsgrounds and Playgrounds
Restaurants and Cafes
The City is also a Nation. Its space is secured by its
boundaries and by the inalienability of its distinction.
Polycentric, polysemous, polymorphic and heterarchic, the
City is both a place where all sorts of arrangements are
possible, and the apparatus for harmonizing autonomy and
Freedom, pleasure, convenience, beauty, commerce, and
production are the reasons for the City. Participation in
these attributes is a fundamental civic right and must ever
be refined through the filter of consent. The purpose of
this Code is to strike a balance between individuation and
agreement. Wherever possible, this shall proceed by
induction, by beginnings in the particular. The City will
always prefer to see the small initiative reflected in the
The building of the City shall seek out certain satisfying
relationships that shall characterize its singularity and
institute its memory. The code and the plan are the
armatures for the expression and extension of such
preferences and the protocol for experiment. Their
fulfillment acts as stimulus to art, in its friendship with
the private and collective imagination.
The City is in nature, of nature, and second nature. These
relations are made manifest in the City's steady state. As
an ecology, the City's abiding interests are
self-sustenance and diversity. Its growth is merely the
means towards homeostasis, not an absolute end. Recognition
of limits is a key to both survival and perfection. To
these ends, the City seeks the liberating autonomy of
material self-reliance. Cities are units of human
accountability to the planet.
This Code is written in the belief that meanings inhere in
forms, and that the settings for social life can aid its
fulfillment. Acknowledging the gravity of permanence and
the oppressions of extent, it seeks, in its limits, not to
restrain associations but to free them. It is not the
description of a single city but an infinity. This is the
first iteration of this code. there will be no final
Bill of Rights
City Dwellers shall enjoy these civic rights:
The right to a city free to elaborate the basis of its own
The right to a city with a clarity of limits.
The right to a city with a harmonious and visible
relationship to nature.
The right of assembly, expressed in clear centers of all
scales throughout the City.
The right to tranquility.
The right to safety.
The right to free movement throughout the City.
The right to dwell in a chosen social arrangement, offering
adequate scope for self-individuation. Anonymity and
flamboyance both are to be guaranteed.
The right to privacy, including the right of
The right to a habitation that provides pleasure and
comfort. At a minimum this will include space, sunlight,
fresh air, sound construction, and access to available
domestic and communications technology.
The right to human locomotion as the privileged form of
The right to live in a delineable neighborhood which offers
the means of satisfaction of all basic material needs
within easy compass of the dwelling place.
The right to collective self-sufficiency.
The right to hygiene. No one is to be obliged to confront
the waste of another.
The right to permanence, both of individual habitation and
of the environment.
The right to change.
The right to memory, expressed in the retention of the
City's authentic artifacts, not to be infringed either by
arbitrary destruction or by the substitution of simulacra.
The private right to beauty.
The right to architecture.
[Elision of several hundred detailed affirmations and
proscriptions of places, structures, landscapes, light, air,
sun, moon, views, privacy, congregation, anonymity as outlined in
Contents -- pages 17-126]
This text is a kind of utopia. It attempts to imagine a new
city via a building code, a regulatory prescription for an
urban fantasy. The medium has its limitations: verbal, it
lacks a dimension of precision that more literally
architectural media might provide. However, after much
consideration, I have decided to exclude drawings or
diagrams. The code recognizes that a vision already
concretized preempts the greater possibilities of an
incitement open to many interpretations. Like all building
codes, this one is an essay in the limits of specification.
It embraces the idea that the city is a collaborative
artifact and calls for a re-centering of the framework for
such collective activity, for a re-examination of the
narrow coercions of conventional "master" plans. Thus, it
seeks a city designed not simply through the deductions of
a dominating generality but also via induction from
numberless individual points of departure.
Utopian polemic is about community. While the artifact
described by this code would be physical, the fantasies
which undergird it are both physical and social. However,
with the exception of this afterword and the initiatory
Bill of Rights, I have tried to include no direct
prescriptions for the character of social relations in this
city except as they manifest themselves in space. This code
does not specify the medium of consent that would be
necessary for its institution nor the relationships of
property that would sustain it. However, this is precisely
what is both intriguing and difficult about building codes:
whatever the source of their content, their consequences
are built. Codes are Rosetta Stones, keys or prescriptions
for acts of translation. Poised between fantasy and
construction, codes -- if they are both broad enough and
precise enough -- can be the channels of urban invention.
The design of any good city demands a theory of the
desirable. Such theories lodge in a space between nature,
culture, technology, politics and economics on the one
hand, and a set of physical visions, on the other. All
cities are formed by this relationsllip, whether simple or
complex, acknowledged or unconscious. The sprawl of the
suburbs embodies a skein of fantasies no less linked to
projects of desirability than the texture of Siena or
Marrakesh. The problem for architecture is, at any given
moment, to be aware of the ecology of such fantasies and to
reconcile and express them in physical terms.
At the moment, we lack suitable theories of immanence,
satisfying visions of how the modern city might be
wonderful. The dominant discourse is nostalgic, the urban
equivalent of the "Family Values" debate in American
politics, and is similarly flawed by the fallacy that form
has a constant relationship to content. If only traditional
families or traditional cities could be reconstructed, the
argument goes, all would be right. The modernist model also
founders on this fallacy of linkage, this notion of a
direct relationship; the idea that simple forms might lead
to an attractive and progressive clarity of social
relations. In both cases, the prevalence of a single model,
defensibly clear, inevitably distorts architecture's
ability to comprehend and respond to changes in an
environment it has not wrought.
In a culture of fragmentation, architecture must resist
both such over-simplified approaches as well as an approach
which merely aestheticizes the confusions of the
contemporary, an urbanism in which mere irregularity
substitutes for actual variety. Like any complex ecosystem,
cities should support and nurture the diversity they
harbor. Today, the modern city finds itself in a vexing but
potentially profoundly liberating situation. As electronic
media undercut the need for physical proximity, as robotics
and automation presage the end of the assembly line, as
environmentally sensitive technologies harbinger the
elimination of use zoning, and as economic globalization
diminishes traditional imperatives of concentration, the
city ceases to be the physical map of supply and demand and
is freed to satisfy other desires. Ironically, the
atomizing technology that has, in many ways, rendered the
city superfluous and cast its citizens into glassy-eyed
anomie, offers the key to its rebirth as an engine of
propinquity and pleasure and the opportunity to reimagine
cities at a more human scale.
The city described in this code is informed by such
fantasies of place and governed by a sense of variety. It
seeks a genius loci discovered in both the conflict and the
companionability of numerous and augmenting physical
vectors. It is a code which sees the city as a medium of
assembly and which takes its measure from people on foot.
It is an egalitarian city in the sense that no hierarchy of
privilege inheres in the physical differences it presents.
And it is a city informed by an ecology of renewal, of
homeostasis, of a fundamental self-sufficiency.
While this city is siteless -- utopic -- it is imagined in
the United States, somewhere near the 42nd parallel. Its
uses are those of any frankly visionary project, as
exemplar and goad. More modestly, I hope that it will be
useful pedagogically -- as it has been to me in several
incarnations over the years -- either as a full blown
program or in part.
I would be very pleased to hear from anyone who attempts a
design based on this code or from anyone with suggestions
for its further elaboration.