Washington D.C.’s flattened skyline can be a virtue

Zoning ordinance that ties building heights to width of streets dictates form.

June 04, 2018 |

While some complain that Washington D.C.’s building height limit has resulted in lookalike, boxy buildings, an architecture critic views the restriction as a feature, not a bug.

John King writes of the “virtue of architectural monotony: a relentless horizontality where commercial canyons recede into the distance,” at The Atlantic’s City Lab web site. King describes the result as: “An awkward yet oddly endearing terrain where, absolutely, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

D.C.’s century-old zoning ordinance ties building heights to the width of adjacent streets. The formula translates to a maximum height of 130 feet, with another 20 feet for mechanical equipment and a penthouse, throughout most of the city.

The height restriction creates a distinctive look for the nation’s capital when authenticity is valued above all else, King says. “Cities tout any element that sets them apart, any rooted sense of place, any hint of local flavor,” he writes. “Idiosyncrasy is where it’s at.”

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