it’s a big improvement


I may not always be logical, but I am one guilty to point out others’ logical fallacies. It’s a gift.

Pick your favorite source of logical fallacies and you will find that we are all guilty of using bad arguments (note my poor generalization). Turn on any media source and it won’t take long to see or read them. It seems people don’t feel the need to be logical.

One of the most fallacious statements made in architecture is when a new development proposal, building renovation or even a portion of a project is presented as a “big improvement” over the current condition; therefore, it ought to be approved and accepted solely on that basis.

For those of you who are on or who have been before some type of review board or municipal authority have heard this at some point. The applicant presents a failing building or a deteriorating neighborhood just prior to revealing an insipid proposal or a structure that is purely horrid, but demands approval merely because it appears better than the current situation rather than on any inherent merit.

Let’s unravel this. There are many things wrong with the statement “it’s a big improvement,” but I’ll offer three points to ponder. Feel free to add your own.

Screenshot 2016-06-30 23.22.02

Argument from consequence – This is where one argues for the truth of a statement by appealing to an assumed favorable consequences. I’m sorry, but it does not necessarily mean the proposition is true or even good. “Accept me because I’m better.” What I’ve found as a board member of a local architectural review board is this statement is used as a “red herring” which is another logical fallacy that attempts to redirect the discussion away from the real issue to a presumed result.

Mom, you ought to let me eat candy for lunch because I’ll be happier and I won’t be crabby all afternoon while we go shopping.

False dilemma – This is when the applicant presents their project as a limited set of possibilities. The city either accepts this proposal or it must keep the existing deplorable conditions for-ev-er. We all know that it’s rarely an either-or situation. There might be a third, fourth or fifth option. One, they can redesign their project; two, someone else might be willing to renovate the building (in a better way) or countless other options. The presenter is using their poorly conceived project as a dangling carrot where they attempt to sway those in position to approve the project by appealing to the board’s desperate nature to see ANY improvement. We’ve lost many good buildings over the years from this tactic.

Mom, either give me that cookie or I will hold my breath until I turn blue.

Causation – There are many fallacies that can fall into this category but they generally attempt to link unrelated actions to a specific cause. Events might be related, but it is far more difficult to ascribe a cause to a particular action. I wish it was as simple as “I punched my brother in the face and his nose bled.” This is a pretty clear demonstration that the punch caused the bleeding nose. Too often I’ve heard something like “this project will be a catalyst to new development in the area.” Don’t flatter yourself. The converse is “if I can’t build this project, then the whole neighborhood will decay.” I doubt that too.

Mom, I’d like a little credit. I was good all afternoon and your headache went away. Can I have ice cream now?

Think people. Think logically. Judge architecture on its own merits. Bad solutions still cost money.


it’s a big improvement

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