We Have A Building Code, How about A Design Code too?

Is it Time for a National Design Code?

Ever stepped foot into a new country and been greeted by a symphony of architectural harmony, stunning landscapes, efficient transport systems, and a unique charm that whispers welcome in your ear? These elements aren’t just pleasant coincidences, they’re interconnected facets that paint a country’s portrait to the world. My question is this; is it time nations consider implementing a National Identity Design Code? After all, we have building codes, but no bona fide design code. In fact, we have a right to build the ugliest house possible as long as it’s built in accordance to our building code. There is no mention of appeal, character, cultural belongings, or identity. It doesn’t matter if the house stands out like a sore thumb in the street. It seems that applying good design principles to our buildings and spaces is often treated as an optional extra, perhaps perceived as a burdensome cost that many feel they can, or are forced to, overlook.

Some councils planning departments might beg to differ, but let’s ponder this for a moment: how many areas have truly improved ‘by design’ in the last few decades? If we’re honest, not many, if any!

Imagine a design code creating a distinctive visual identity, a magnet for tourists and a badge of pride for locals. Picture our very own New Zealand, where tourism is the economy’s pulse. Yet, many of our new homes and buildings are mere “cookie cutter” structures, devoid of character, values, and identity.

Now, think about each building and surrounding landscape narrating our unique story, reflecting our cultural heritage while also showcasing our innovative spirit. Envision a rule where each building had a prerequisite quota of native trees around it, a tangible contribution to nature, and a minimum plot size of 800m2, leading to the feeling of space and mental freedom. Imagine a state-of-the-art transport system whisking travellers from Auckland’s airport to the city centre, a journey made enjoyable with the view of lush green suburbs. Instead, the reality is a somewhat different, dull even, an uninspiring road journey that adds to the exhaustion of a long travel experience, not dissolving it.

Sustainability is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. A national design code could ensure that sustainability is woven into the nation’s fabric. Developers would no longer be able to cookie cut houses that all look the same, and with a little design effort could use materials and colour to produce a more desirable outcome.  

Our design code could dictate our renewable energy adoption, use of sustainable materials, and harmony with natural landscapes in all new constructions. This would not only make us a beacon of sustainable living but also an even more appealing destination for tourists (and us locals), leading to an instant return on investment for the government.

A design code isn’t just about buildings; it’s about transport infrastructure, greenery, and community. The lost art of community building can be revived with careful urban and suburban planning that considers proximity to amenities and public spaces.

Balancing affordability and quality in urban planning can be tricky. A design code could be the roadmap, ensuring that cost-cutting doesn’t lead to soulless, monotonous residential areas. It can guide us to affordable yet aesthetically pleasing homes, accessible to all. Let’s imagine a developer cleverly creating a community of 200+ homes, each one distinct yet harmonious, using different colours, cladding, and natural elements like trees.

The goal isn’t to add more red tape to our already hefty building application process. Rather, it’s to prevent the dilution of our national identity and appeal. It’s about taking responsibility for our urban landscape and creating spaces that are not just liveable – but loveable.

I for one am very disappointed at some of the new developments in Auckland. They are ghettos waiting to happen. And crime in these areas is already on the rise. We can only blame ourselves for letting this happen, so there’s no point wagging fingers now.

So is It Time For A National Design Code?

A National Identity Design Code isn’t just about aesthetics; it’s about crafting an environment that’s sustainable, inclusive, and reflective of a nation’s unique identity. It’s about ensuring that the built environment serves everyone, not just the privileged few who can afford to hire an architect. So, isn’t it high time we considered this holistic approach to national design – or is it too late?