The Aesthetic Dangers of Group Decisionmaking

In response to an essay on restricting outdoor advertising in L.A., designer and lawyer Lawrence Barth argues that putting these decisions into the hands of groups -- whether city- or activist-led -- can lead to unintended consequences.
February 7, 2009, 7am PST | Nate Berg
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"John Kaliski & Lorraine Wild's thoughtful post posits the reasons why such a group should think about restricting some types of advertising signage in Los Angeles. And, if one buys the predicate, they makes a good case. The predicate troubles me, however. The Hollywood sign and Times Square probably never would have happened if decisions about them had been put to city councils or architectural review boards. I'm guessing that Neutra, Shindler and Lautner would have been allowed to build nothing if their clients' neighborhoods had been covered by historic preservation zones (thus allowing their neighbors a say in what was built). Groups tend to be deeply conservative - or reactionary - simply because they are groups. They tend strongly to favor current fashions in architecture and planning; it is the only way they can reach consensus, which, by their nature, they must. In the process, they prohibit the revolting and the revolutionary (it's often hard to know which is which without the benefit of a time machine). And so, in my neighborhood (recently covered by a historic preservation ordinance), they routinely approve lavish "Tuscan" villas and faux Tudor mansions, while turning their noses up at "modern" things - some of which might be awful and some quite extraordinary; time will tell."

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Published on Sunday, February 1, 2009 in Design Observer
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