Ever noticed how the bricks on newer British buildings are bigger, or stopped to appreciate hand-stenciled wallpaper, or enjoyed a sip from a fancy hollow-stemmed glass? If so, you may well be admiring a product of regulation and taxes as much aesthetic tastes. From basic materials to entire architectural styles, building codes and taxation strategies have had huge historical impacts on the built world as we know it. Take the capital of France, for instance.

Some of the world's most celebrated vernacular architecture may in fact be the "product of regulation and taxes as much aesthetic tastes." For example:

  • Paris's mansard roofs started in part as a means for builders to optimize space under height limitations dating from 1783. "The limit was based on measuring up to the cornice line, leaving out the roof zone above," Kohlstedt explains.
  • The narrow shape of Dutch canal houses was encouraged by a tax that targeted canal frontage. Efforts to avoid that tax produced a ripple effect, Kohlstedt notes: "This typology evolved narrower staircases, necessitating exterior hoist systems to move furniture and goods into and out of upper floors."

On the blog, 99% Invisible shares more examples of regulation-driven architecture from around the world—and debunks fabled design genealogies that turn out to be myths.1