What if Laws were Architected?

In listening to Sara Nelson’s perspective as both a business owner and former part of the regulatory system, I found myself thinking that while these regulations are often well intentioned, the unintended consequences may be detrimental or hamper success. In her anecdote about the clause that required them to file for change of use, which was not discovered until three years after they had finished construction, I realized the implications of an overly complicated legal system. For some reason, this made me realize the actual ramifications of a problem that I felt existed but hadn’t given much thought.

The legal process often proceeds with the realization that the original idea/law had unintended consequences (or exploitable loopholes), a Band-Aid is added to address that particular issue (think taking off shoes in the security line or restrictions on liquids that prevent me from making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the plane). Eventually this patchwork of fixes means that we can no longer see the skin under those Band-Aids, or even the older Band-Aids. At some point, maybe someone finds a regulation that was buried under there, but rather than changing behavior as originally intended, all it does is add cost and effort to the system.

Is there a solution? As part of the architectural education, there are two principles that are frequently reiterated: 1.simplify and 2.each decision should create multiple opportunities. What if laws were viewed more like design?

The constitution was initially created in this framework, as a document that made the idea clear, but provided the flexibility to change and grow. Finding a way to distill our legal system, as with architecture would likely create a result that is not only more efficient in its application, but also provide a more refined and adaptable result. But simplification for its own sake should not be the goal, ultimately what we want is a system that is simpler to institute, but more robust in its result.

To achieve a simpler system with complex implications, we think of multiple purposes in design. Rather than simply supporting the roof, can a column, contain lighting, or wiring, or even a drain for the roof? Can it define the space or give a sense of grandeur or fragility? In this way a single element achieves multiple purposes; finding a way to design laws in the same way we design architecture could achieve a similar simplicity in the user experience, while creating a more robust and adaptable implementation. This combination could conceivably result in better enforcement, easier implementation and less confusion. With the unnecessary complications stripped away, laws could be easier to understand and therefore follow which could create both better compliance and more efficiency for the people they seek to benefit.

If the concept holds, the main issue would be the transition. Peeling off Band-Aids is never fun.



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