How Code Influences Form

In 2006 Austin created a subchapter of the Land Development Code that was meant to limit the amount of large three-story houses that were being built next to small - often one-story - houses. The code is nicknamed the McMansion Ordinance. In the years since it was adopted it is now becoming apparent that the code is systematically changing the built form of new residences throughout the urban core. For better or for worse the McMansion Ordinance has given rise to a particular kind of three story house that, while not the three-story “box” it was designed to eliminate, still allows a developer or homeowner to have a little more square footage - sometimes a lot.

Notice how these houses all share similarities. They all have roofs that pitch at 45 degree angles. They all look like two-story houses but have long shed dormers along the roof that enables a third floor. The reason for this is the McMansion Ordinance has a few exemptions built into it that enables additional square footage on a third floor to not be counted if the third floor is wholly “under roof”. The dormer is allowed to pop up and penetrate the McMansion tent if it is less that 15’ long. Therefor, developers are taking advantage of this exemption to gain extra square footage and therefor a higher sales price.

Portion of Subchapter F that allows for dormers to penetrate the McMansion “tent”

Portion of Subchapter F that allows for dormers to penetrate the McMansion “tent”

Is this better than having a neighborhood of three-story boxes? Does Subchapter F limit an architect’s creativity by forcing one to conform to a 45 degree gabled roof house? Is it better to sacrifice creativity to prevent gluttonous architecture? You be the judge.

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