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Sunday, July 29, 2012


My comments are a response to the note in italics below and appear after the quotation.


Glad you’re engaged in the conversation and we at the AIA are listening.

This research is indeed intended to identify the connection between what the public cares about and the purpose architects strive to deliver on. We are giving the same survey to 3,000 members of the public as well as 7,000 to 10,000 architects...looking to see where the intersections are...because we have to not only discover what the public cares about, but more importantly what they care about that architects believe they deliver. If the public cares most about some purpose that architects do not actually embrace as their purpose, then that is a losing proposition -- it's a disconnect.

We have to find the intersection between whatever purpose the public values most, relative to whatever purpose/benefit that architects feel most strongly they provide. That is the sweet spot of relevance.”

Kyle McAdams AIA
Sterling VA

Relevance is associated with a topic. My impression from this response is that the questionnaire is attempting to correlate current architectural services with broader market appeal, and any improvement in appeal will be considered relevant. It will certainly be relevant to employment and profit. The term “public” may be confused with the term “market segment” in this note, however. Market segments are relevant to business interests and expansion is considered one form of growth.
Professional improvement in the tools, skills and knowledge offered for public benefit is relevant to the public interest. This interest is defined as “health, safety and welfare” in the trinity of 20th century legal protection. Public welfare includes the protection of its physical, social, psychological, environmental and economic quality of life. Protection cannot always wait for an intersection of public and private interest, however.
If science sought direction from the general population there would be little protection of the public interest. For instance, the public did not ask for the dissection of cadavers. The practice carried the death penalty at one point in time. This hardly indicates an intersection of interest, but it has produced an acknowledged landslide of public benefit.
A profession must find its own way to a body of knowledge and legislative influence that will improve public benefit and demand for its services. Improved marketing of an existing product is a business strategy that may increase short term sales but not expand long term relevance.
The word “relevance” is a good choice since it may force everyone to ask, “What is relevant to whom?” It’s a political question with leadership implications. Let’s face the fact that architecture is a collection of small businesses searching for clients/customers with fleeting concern for competitors. It is not a round table of professional equals with a public mission at the present time. Further, the public does not understand that this format of architectural service leaves the public interest to private investment discretion. The last time this was recognized the public health and safety were threatened. “Welfare” was thrown in to cover all remaining threats. Building and zoning codes were introduced, but they have not prevented sprawl, pollution and population that threaten our source and quality of life.
I don’t know where this is all going, but I don’t believe we are close to finding the “sweet spot of relevance” for a growing population that has been poorly served by special interest, but has seen life improve for some. I do believe, however, that this “sweet spot” involves symbiotic functions within sustainable geographic limits -- and that shelter is one of the ingredients. If I were to put this in a single sentence it would read:

"Survival depends on symbiotic systems and shelter within sustainable geographic limits." In other words, SVL = S4GL.

This does not only apply to architecture. If all systems were symbiotic we would be less concerned with climate change, but geographic limits for growing populations would still be a challenge.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Criticism, Questions & Ideas

PLEASE SEE MY LATEST BOOK. The Science of City Design: Architectural Algorithms for City Planning and Design Leadership. The book offers a universal language to correlate the work of many isolated disciplines concerned with one issue: The provision of shelter for the activities of growing populations within a limited Built Domain that protects their quality and source of life - The Natural Domain. It is available fro in both e-book and paperback versions.

This string excerpt should be read from bottom to top. My comments are at the top. The entire string appears on the AIAKnowledgeNet in the Committee on Design section under the general title, “Seriously?” See also, "A Serious Reply"

The great periods of architecture symbolize cultural answers to questions that became thresholds of awareness. Architecture is now facing a threshold of its own and symbols are not the answer. The AIAKnowledgeNet implies that the answer is knowledge, and I agree; but it must be built on a foundation of questions and research that makes information productive and convincing. This accumulates to form a body of knowledge. Observation alone produces frustration until you think to ask why the apple fell on your head.

Mike wrote a sentence that touched my soul. “I reckon it’s safe to say that at some point both of us loved it.” Economic stress is an insidious enemy. It can also be the stimulus for re-evaluation. The term “repositioning” implies an answer. It’s why I would like to read Mike’s replies to Robert Ivy. I don’t have the impression that we grasp the full extent of the questions facing architecture, much less the answers a leader must find.

There is just too much static at the moment to tune in the station. It can only be reduced by organizing thought and facing some unpleasant questions. This will involve research and opinion that may threaten the status quo. This is the most difficult phase of “progress”. Sam Adams got his tea party but John Adams had to focus the energy. Galileo wound up under house arrest and heretics are still figuratively burned at the stake because opinion prevails until the majority changes its mind.

Many have learned that data can lead nowhere when the wrong question is asked. “Listening” provides data but may not lead to questions. The time to forge frustration and opinion into constructive questions is long overdue. The time for answers may be premature; but answers can begin with people willing to listen -- and that time may be now.

Criticism is not a question until it is rewritten. It is opinion that is difficult to decipher when listening. I’m sure Edison was unhappy with the gaslight, but he turned criticism into a question and produced the light bulb.
Mike Mense, FAIA Comments
“Continuing in my apparently non-responsive, defensive and self-congratulatory mode, I need first to say that yes, again, I am listening. I also need to say that all of the criticisms denied by Ms Basham in fact did appear in pile on emails subsequent to Mr. Catherall's original post.

But the most important thing for me to say is this. Although I don't know what all is included in Ms Basham's vision of the future, can't be sure I understand what her words mean to her, I will go out on a limb and say that I am in complete support of her comments. I have conveyed similar concerns to Mr. Ivy's repositioning exercise twice now. Emily, I would be happy to share those comments with you if you are interested.

What is the point of my response? It is that, yes, I think you are onto something and rather than complaining, I wish you would get involved and try to save this profession (from itself). I reckon its safe to say that at some point both of us loved it.

If you are already making these efforts, tell us all about it here. I bet you will be surprised how many of us agree with you.”

Emily Basham, AIA Comments
“So many of the responses to the original post are non-responsive, defensive, and self-congratulatory, they inspired me to participate. The post did not accuse the AIA of being elitist. It did not deny that experiencing a building is better than looking at photos. It did not state that US architects should not be interested in European architecture. "Was this Ralph Lauren's idea?" says to me: the AIA is out of touch with the rank and file architect, concerned with appearances instead of substance. Such a decision, at this moment in our ravaged profession, shows poor judgment at best and intentional blind stupor at worst.

Many of us believe, in this decision and others, the AIA is not "the voice of the architectural profession and the resource for its members in service to society." The AIA behaves more as purely a PR organization whose mission is to put a big happy face on a deeply troubled profession. Regularly we get articles such as "Billings up for the third month in a row" which translated by a financially astute person means "continued drop in billings not as steep lately." "Recent architectural grad designing Web pages"- as if we should be pleased she may be able to pay off her student loans- never mind how the next generation of practitioners will gain experience. I searched in vain in the AIA for research with statistics on unemployed architects- how many have lost their jobs? What percentage are women/ minorities? How many single practitioners/ small firm owners have closed their doors?

If the AIA (with all respect for our sister architect in Scotland, "A" stands for American) is not willing to take on the deeply structural problems in our profession, honestly, fearlessly, and openly grappling with how our profession will survive and thrive in this uncertain time and difficult future, they will find themselves utterly irrelevant. I just hope that the profession does not follow in those footsteps.”

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Serious Reply

This is a contribution to a long comment string that began with a blog entitled, “Seriously?” posted to the Committee on Design COD at the AIAKnowledgeNet. See also, "Criticism, Questions & Ideas"
The Committe on Design COD Fall Conference in Spain has obviously struck a nerve. I believe the question is what will be learned from the conference and what is its value in relation to the investment? I’ve read a lot of opinion and offered some of my own, but have struggled to define the question. If I’ve come close, it could apply to architecture in general and architectural education in particular.
When I graduated from architecture and summer experience, I abruptly realized that I had little to offer society except opinion. This led me to ponder what I had learned. I had opinion that was challenged by others and logic that was my only defense, since I had few facts to offer.
I began to appreciate the intangible value of my education as I attended management training seminars, where some sessions were devoted to creativity. Their approach told me they didn’t have a clue. The best seminar I ever attended was a week-long session at the University of Virginia Management Excellence Program. It didn’t mention the word “creativity”. It focused on people, a process of logic, and information for evaluation. I’m not sure they would agree with my summary, but it’s what I took away. The underlying message didn’t involve management or memorized response to a question. I came to believe it concerned creativity based on the formation of a question. The wrong question can make ideas an exercise in futility.
The COD conference in Spain will expose the participants to answers formulated by others throughout history, but not to many of the questions they faced during their lifetime. The challenge is the same as it has always been. Define the problem before solutions are sought -- and build skill and knowledge with logic that contributes to the answer. Answers are symbols of the mind at work with the logic, knowledge, tools and talent available.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not denigrating the conference location. I’m trying to place it in perspective. There is no substitute for inspiration where ideas are concerned, but architectural inspiration begins with questions that respond to need. Questions can occur in the shower; but if Spain provides inspiration, so be it. It’s our turn to ask questions and the venue is to some degree irrelevant, although it does limit participation.
My point is that ideas can be questions formed with observation, logic and knowledge at any location. If we are as creative as we contend, answers will be additional ideas offered for evaluation. Thought that begins with answers can be opinion seeking political support. The venue for reflection will always be a matter of choice, or fate.

At this point, I believe architecture must agree on questions before it can begin to seek answers. Our success will be reflected by the cities and shelter we produce in response. They will represent answers to questions that will be pondered by future generations.
Facilitation by an expert with a background in architecture and planning could help to discover and define latent questions; since “excellence” is a goal and not a topic any more than design is an idea without a question. The question, “What will be learned?” from the COD Fall conference is valid. I hope we all learn to ask questions that improve our leadership potential with an expanded and refined body of knowledge. This will be a contribution worth the investment.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Significance of Gross Building Area

***Please see my latest book, The Science of City Design: Architectural Algorithms for City Planning and Design Leadership, on in both e-book and paperback versions.***

Gross building area is a function of the land available and the height permitted. Its mass combines with parking and pavement to produce a level of intensity. Intensity is determined by the percentage of project open space off-setting building mass and pavement area. The efficiency of a gross building area plan determines the population and activity that can be sheltered. When total gross building area is contained within sustainable geographic limits, the inventory will become a shelter resource and part of a symbiotic relationship we establish to protect our source of life. Building intensity within these limits, and occupant intensity within each building, will determine the quality of life provided.

The word “symbiotic” has several meanings. “Mutual benefit” is the definition that relates to all of my essays. A symbiotic parasite has a relationship of mutual benefit with a host that contributes to its continued survival. Our relationship to the planet must become symbiotic to survive.

My work has been devoted to a vocabulary of architectural intensity that can be measured and evaluated at existing locations. It includes forecasting software based on templates that accept vocabulary values and predict gross building area options with embedded equations. Option implications can then be evaluated based on original intensity research. Evaluation is needed because excessive intensity can be prompted by growing populations and is a threat to their quality of life. In other words, excessive intensity may protect our source of life but prolong a miserable quality of life that benefits a few.

“Gross building area” is a fundamental prediction or measurement that contributes to the definition of development capacity, or it is a given that begins a search for land with adequate capacity. It is a key measurement, forecast, or stipulation that permits the evaluation of additional implications.

“Building capacity” is the gross building area that can be constructed under the conditions noted in a design specification. Building intensity BINT is a gross building area option divided by the project open space present, planned, or provided. Development intensity DINT is the sum of a gross building area and pavement option divided by the project open space present, planned, or provided. This will be discussed in greater detail in a moment, but it should be clear that gross building area is a significant element in both equations.

The point is that gross building area is shelter capacity. Intensity defines how it is introduced. It is not a substitute for fine art. It is simply a foundation with leadership potential, and it can be a cornerstone of credibility to help us pursue architecture and city design in the public and private interest.

I have suggested in earlier essays that the goal is to supplement land use allocation with intensity awareness to protect our quality and source of life. This means that we must be able to define and predict the intensity implications of architectural design specification decisions. It is why I have focused on a language and vocabulary of intensity for use in development capacity forecasting and evaluation.

The key to intensity prediction involves accurate gross building area forecasting.  It also involves internal floor plan arrangement that will be discussed under the heading “Building Efficiency”. Shelter activity and intensity combines with the Movement, Open Space and Life Support divisions of our built environment to determine the physical, social, psychological and economic quality of life offered. A new level of instinctive awareness is telling many that it must be contained within sustainable geographic limits to protect its source of life.

We have not been able to measure or predict intensity in a language that has leadership potential. It is a function of gross building area, however; and gross building area options can be forecast from design specification values. This means we can measure and predict the intensity spectrum produced by specification combinations and evaluate their implications.

This essay proposes two intensity scales. One measures building intensity and the other, total development intensity. The equation for building intensity is BINT = GBA / (BLA * S), but I have mentioned in previous essays that GBA / BLA is a version of the floor area ratio FAR. It substitutes buildable land area BLA for gross land area GLA, however; since the two are not always equal in area and intensity is imposed on a population within the buildable land area occupied, in my opinion. When FAR is equal to GBA / BLA therefore; the definition of building intensity can be simplified to:


This is a measurement equation that ignores the amount of parking and pavement introduced. Total development area TDA includes gross building area GBA, parking area PCA, and miscellaneous pavement area MPA since they all contribute to intensity. This would make the floor area ratio FAR a development area ratio DAR equal to GBA+PCA+MPA. When DAR is substituted for FAR in the preceding equation, the equation for development intensity becomes:


These two measurements indicate the intensity of gross building area planned, present or proposed. I’ve referred to them as blood pressure readings without a frame of reference.

Measurement makes it possible to evaluate existing conditions and establish a quality of life index for intensity, but quality of life options depend on the ability to comprehensively forecast gross building area alternatives. This has been, and often still is, a trial and error effort that produces a limited number of options for evaluation within a reasonable time frame.

I created Development Capacity Evaluation software DCE to quickly forecast an infinite number of gross building area GBA options based on the design specification values entered in one of its design category templates. This unlocks the ability to calculate the intensity created by each GBA and total development area TDA option forecast. It also unlocks our ability to evaluate activity and shelter intensity options within symbiotic geographic limits.

Table 1 is included at the end of this essay to illustrate the calculation of building intensity BINT and development intensity DINT when a gross building area objective is given and the buildable land area is to be found. Project open space percentages vary in the left hand column of the Planning Forecast table to create options.

Table 2 is included to illustrate the calculation of BINT and DINT when a gross land area is given and gross building area options GBA are to be found. The number of floors varies in the left hand column of the Planning Forecast table to create options.

Please note that the DINT values are significantly greater than the BINT values. DINT values indicate the total intensity present, planned, or predicted for an urban fabric that must rely on its weave of open space for relief.

Gross Building Area Efficiency

Gross building area, pavement and project open space combine to exert varying degrees of intensity on a surrounding area. Projects combine to form neighborhoods, districts, cities and regions that are collectively referred to as urban form, but open space is often in short supply. Urban form has now grown into sprawl seeking relief from intensity and has little concern for the source of life being consumed and polluted.

The external relationship of shelter to its neighbors and environment is only part of the problem, however. When populations are considered, the internal efficiency of gross building area becomes a significant architectural issue, since population capacity and activity affects cost, return on investment, public revenue and expense, traffic generation and so on is involved.

Gross building area is a raw material that can be adapted to serve any land use category, but building efficiency BEF determines the floor area available to serve a specific activity and population. If a building is 85% efficient, 15% is devoted to wall thickness, vertical and horizontal circulation, mechanical / electrical rooms and shafts, lobbies, rest rooms and so on. I’ve called these support areas. In other words, net area is a fraction of the gross building area and the percentage indicates the first category of floor plan efficiency. Net efficiency can refer to either lease area or occupied area, however. Lease area can include all building support areas except exterior wall thickness. It is of primary interest to a landlord, since a pro-rated share of support area is leased to every tenant. The definition of lease area is contained in the leasing terms of a contract, however, and there is no consistent definition to my knowledge.

Actual building efficiency is net area that excludes all shared building support functions and areas. In other words, net building efficiency indicates the realistic area for occupation. Occupant efficiency indicates the realistic area available for personal activity. It is found by subtracting such things as, but not limited to, private reception areas, hallways, utility closets, private rest rooms, partition thicknesses, and columns from the net building area. Occupant efficiency OEF can be substantially less than  building efficiency BEF. In fact, if you subject one of your plans to net and occupant efficiency measurements the results may surprise you. Occupant efficiency can be less than 50% of gross building area GBA for some activities. This is important because the objective is to shelter shared and personal population activity without excessive intensity within a limited occupant area.

Tables 1 and 2 are concerned with gross building area GBA calculations and do not include building efficiency percentages. They are included to illustrate BINT and DINT calculations. Table 3 is based on forecast model RG1L and pertains to residential apartment buildings using grade parking around, but not under, the building(s). It includes a building efficiency percentage (Be) in its design specification template because it is a critical factor contributing to the number of dwelling units that can be included within the gross building area GBA. The percentage entered is the estimated net building area NBA that will remain.

When an apartment building efficiency percentage is multiplied by a gross building area measurement or forecast, the result defines the gross dwelling unit area remaining within the building. This is subdivided into individual unit areas designated by the number of bedrooms provided. A “mix” refers to the percentage of each unit type provided.

The Dwelling Unit Mix template in Table 3 calculates an aggregate average dwelling unit area AGG from the building efficiency, mix and net dwelling unit areas under consideration. The AGG value is used to forecast the number of dwelling units that can be included within the gross building area. The template begins with a column of potential dwelling unit types. The desired gross dwelling unit area GDA for each dwelling unit type is located in the adjacent column. A comprehensive dwelling unit area CDA is found by adding a pro-rated portion of the building support area BSA. In the case of Table 3, CDA = GDA / 85%. The MIX column identifies the percentage of each dwelling unity type being considered. In this case, the mix is 30% one bedroom dwelling units and 70% two bedroom dwelling units. When the MIX percentage is multiplied by the comprehensive dwelling unit value CDA, a pro-rated dwelling unit area PDA is found. The sum of these pro-rated areas is equal to an aggregate average dwelling unit area AGG. This is a value equal to the gross building area divided by the number of dwelling units provided. 

When a gross building area is forecast from design specification values and divided by a calculated AGG value, the result is a prediction of dwelling unit capacity. This is the number of dwelling units NDU that can be accommodated given the dwelling unit mix under consideration. Occupant space within a gross dwelling unit area is further reduced by the wall thicknesses of the floor plan.

The point is that everything begins with a forecast of gross building area potential in relation to the buildable land area BLA available, and this is a function of design specification values. The result is building mass that imposes a level of intensity on its neighbors and a gross building area that is further subdivided into net building area NBA and occupant area OCA. These areas are a function of floor plan design efficiency. When they are divided by the population POP introduced, a level of internal intensity is measured. This can be expressed as:

IINT = NBA / POP, or


From my limited experience, net building area can be 70% - 90% of gross building area and occupant area can be 70% - 90% of net building area. This means that 49% - 81% of gross building area becomes focused activity area. When population is added to net or focused activity area, internal intensity is created.

The implications become more significant when a limited, sustainable land area is considered. The development capacity of a limited land area is determined by the relationship of building height, mass, and pavement to project open space. Since buildings are not particularly efficient in general, but absolutely essential elements of survival, intensity will become a challenging issue for growing populations that seek to live within sustainable geographic limits.


If the goal is to live within sustainable limits, efficiency begins with the land use allocation of activity and gross building area within these limits. The combination of activity and intensity not only represents shelter capacity and profit but revenue and expense to both public and private interests. We are all too familiar with the results produced when activity and intensity relationships cannot support themselves over time within jurisdictional boundaries. Blight is the name of miscalculation. This takes on an added dimension of concern when environmental boundaries are considered.

The goal is to shelter the activities of growing populations without threatening their source of life with sprawl, or their quality of life with excessive intensity. This is only part of the problem, however. In the end, architectural form must represent symbiotic function within sustainable geographic limits.


It has become traditional to measure intensity with density and floor area ratios, but neither has been part of an accurate tool set. This is why I submitted new intensity equations in “Replacing Density” and “Replacing the Floor Area Ratio”. (They are part of a predictive series of equations embedded in the forecast models of Development Capacity Evaluation v2 software. The software is attached to its companion book / manual entitled, Land Development Calculations, 2e, McGraw-Hill, 2009.)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Replacing the Floor Area Ratio

See the more recent post: "Graduating from the Floor Area Ratio"

The floor area ratio FAR is a planning regulation that provides erratic architectural design leadership. A ratio of 2.0, for instance, means that the gross building area can be twice the land area. Height is left as on option to encourage a smaller building “footprint” and the inclusion of project open space, but the open space decision has been discretionary. It is often omitted as a result, and the building population joins the public burdened by excessive intensity on parking lots and crowded ribbons of sidewalk.

The problem begins with the concept of buildable land area BLA. When a floor area ratio FAR is multiplied by the total land area owned, the assumption is that all of the land is buildable. If it contains ponds, extreme topography, marshes, ravines, unstable soil, etc., the buildable land area BLA is less than the total land area GLA and the gross building area GBA permitted must be placed on this smaller land area. The result is increased intensity on a reduced buildable land area BLA that is not anticipated by the FAR of 2.0. I’ve discussed the site plan hierarchy of gross land area GLA, net land area NLA, buildable land area BLA, core land area CORE and project open space S in “Context, Capacity and Intensity”, so I’ll simply say that the FAR begins to provide erratic leadership and random results when it is not multiplied by the buildable land area BLA involved.

Architectural design leadership becomes more unreliable when the FAR fails to specify the project open space percentage S required. Tables 1 and 3 illustrate the intensity levels produced when project open space S varies and the gross building area GBA is a constant found by multiplying the buildable land area BLA by a given FAR value. Tables 2 and 4 illustrate the increased intensity produced with the same project open space S range and land area when the constant gross building area GBA is increased by multiplying the gross land area GLA by the same FAR value.

Tables 1 and 2 are based on the CG1L forecast model, which addresses non-residential land uses with grade parking around, but not under, the building. This design solution is generally found in suburbs. Tables 3 and 4 are based on the CNPL forecast model, which is based on the absence of a parking requirement. This design solution is generally found in central business districts that were initially formed before the automobile.

All tables are based on the same gross, net and buildable land areas GLA, NLA and BLA. They are also based on the same design specification values, except for the FAR value. Tables 1 and 2 are based on an FAR of 0.25. This ratio is multiplied by the buildable land area BLA in Table 1 and the gross land area GLA in Table 2 to find the gross building area GBA permitted. Tables 3 and 4 are based on an FAR of 6.0, which is multiplied by the buildable land area BLA in Table 3 and the gross land area GLA in Table 4 to find the gross building area GBA permitted.

Table 1 illustrates the issues common to all tables. Project open space options S from 10% to 90% are listed in the left hand column of the Planning Forecast Panel. The floor FLR column displays the building floors needed to achieve a fixed gross building area GBA objective when the project open space percentage S varies. The FAR value given is noted in the design specification template. The INT column shows that intensity INT declines as project open space S increases. The CXT column indicates that context design potential increases as intensity declines. (This equation has changed from that presented in my essay, “Taking the Pulse of Architecture”, to better define the relationship of context potential to intensity.) The mathematical results are expected, but the entire range of options has rarely, if ever, been forecast from design specification values for comprehensive intensity evaluation.

Table 1 illustrates the point. One FAR value can produce many different intensity INT and context CXT options when project open space S and other underlying design specification value decisions are discretionary. This is not leadership with an objective that can protect our source and quality of life.

If you look at Table 1 from a developer’s perspective for a moment the issue comes into focus. The 10% open space provision produces fewer floors, less capital investment and lower context improvement and maintenance cost. It also introduces the greatest intensity at street level. If you were a developer, would you elect to provide more project open space and less intensity at greater cost for the same gross building area -- if the open space protected the public welfare? The odds favor less project open space, and in the recent past the odds were also against light, air and ventilation as a basic human right.

It has taken legislation to protect the public health, safety and welfare; and I have interpreted “welfare” to mean its physical, social, psychological and economic quality of life. From this perspective, the work is not complete. Shelter will only protect a growing population’s quality and source of life when land use allocation and urban form avoid excessive intensity and sprawl.

Table 2 illustrates that the intensity problem is exacerbated when gross land area GLA is substituted for buildable land area BLA in the equation GBA = FAR * BLA, even when all other design specification values remain constant. The obvious difference between Tables 1 and 2 is the increase in potential gross building area GBA, even though the FAR remains constant at 0.25. Less obvious, but very real, is the increase in height FLR and intensity INT on the buildable land area BLA when a larger gross building area GBA is introduced.

Table 1 illustrates the impact of increasing project open space S on building height FLR and intensity INT when the gross building area objective remains constant. Table 2 illustrates the same characteristics for a different gross building area GBA objective. The underlying point in both tables is that intensity INT can be excessive when project open space choice is left to individual discretion. We recognize the problem when we see it, but haven’t spent the time to define the condition requiring correction. This knowledge will become critical when we recognize that sprawl is a universal threat to survival, and that containment will involve a thorough grasp of intensity options and implications within the sustainable geographic limits we define.

Fortunately, intensity regulation involves a simple specification, but its use will be premature until knowledge leads to justification. The simplest form defines the number of floors permitted (f) and the project open space percentage required (S) when sky-plane requirements are not included. All ensuing architectural detail involves final plans, systems, form and appearance for the mass defined by this simple statistic. The combination of intensity prediction INT, evaluation, correlation, and regulation f.S can protect a population’s physical, social, psychological and economic welfare. The result will be a quality of life illustrated by urban form within sustainable geographic limits. At this time, however, we have predictive ability without implication knowledge; but the ability to predict with design specification values gives us the ability to measure these values at existing locations. Evaluating these measurements will give us the knowledge we need to convert predictions to protection of the public health, safety and welfare.

Tables 1 and 2 involved the CG1 design premise, but the FAR is often associated with more intense urban development. In these cases, parking may not be a requirement. Tables 3 and 4 were created to illustrate these conditions based on a FAR of 6.0. The design specification template is the same as that in Tables 1 and 2, but the (s) and (a) values related to parking are 0.0.

Table 3 finds the gross building area GBA permitted by multiplying the buildable land area BLA by the FAR value given. It again reveals the dramatic difference in gross building area GBA, building floors FLR, and intensity INT that results when project open space S varies while the FAR value remains constant.

Table 4 illustrates the same lesson, but is based on multiplying the gross land area GLA by the FAR to find the gross building area GBA permitted. Tables 3 and 4 are like Tables 1 and 2. Each table illustrates the increase in building height FLR and the declining intensity INT produced by increasing percentages of project open space S. Comparing Tables 3 and 4 illustrates the increased intensity placed on the buildable land area BLA when the maximum permitted gross building area GBA is a function of FAR * GLA rather than FAR * BLA.

The values in Tables 3 and 4 are greater than Tables 1 and 2 because parking is not required. All four tables illustrate, however, that the FAR ratio will produce random results without further leadership definition. The need for this definition is becoming more apparent as we recognize that growing populations must be protected from excessive intensity and sheltered within sustainable limits to protect their quality and source of life.

The statistics in Tables 1 – 4 document professional intuition with mathematical prediction. This makes it possible to elevate the city design of urban form from talent to leadership with quantifiable forecasting and evaluation. This will lead to credible public explanations that will not interfere with final architectural design solutions. It will provide the preliminary leadership needed. The policy is to protect the source and quality of life for growing populations. One goal is shelter within sustainable geographic limits. One tactic is to weave these shelter solutions together with open space and serve them with symbiotic movement and life support systems. This is the next level of awareness and adaptation will be required to protect a gift that does not compromise with ignorance.


The intensity column INT in Tables 1 – 4 states that intensity is equal to FAR / S. This may be confusing to some readers who have seen it expressed as Ix = GBA / S * BLA in previous essays. The two are equal statements when FAR = GBA / BLA. This can be explained with the following derivation.

Ix = GBA / (S * BLA)
Ix = FAR * BLA / (S * BLA)

Therefore, Ix = FAR / S

This essay has pointed out that the equation GBA = FAR * GLA can produce an inflated result when gross land area GLA does not equal buildable land area BLA. The larger gross building area GBA result must still be placed on the smaller buildable land area BLA, which produces greater intensity INT and a greater actual FAR value for the land occupied.

(See also, "Replacing Density")