Design by the rules: The historical underpinnings of form-based codes

Emily Talen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


Problem: Form-based codes (FBCs) affect the design of cities with rules about building form and location. They are of renewed interest to modern planners, but their history and that of coding reform generally are largely unexplored. Purpose: This research traces the historical lineage of FBCs. Methods: This work is based on archival research on historic codes regulating urban development. I also used secondary sources on coding history, both from the United States and abroad.Results and conclusions: I describe examples from a long history of rules governing building form and placement, considering those intended to produce particular effects on urban form as direct antecedents of modern FBCs. Takeaway for practice: Today's codes are more complex and difficult to implement than their predecessors. Modern FBCs require community participation and visioning to create consensus, whereas in previous historical periods such agreement was taken for granted and many aspects of urban form were dictated by technological and other constraints.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)144-160
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of the American Planning Association
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009


  • Form-based code
  • Historical codes
  • Zoning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Urban Studies


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