Architectural Controls

The term Architectural Controls (also: Architectural Guidelines) in urban planning refers to the design guidelines used to harmonize and enhance the exterior presentation of homes and buildings with the general scheme of civic design. They often include materials, colors, styles, massing, textures and scales.


The emergence of the theory and early practice of Architectural Controls dates back to the pre-war era of 1930’s America. Discussion of the theory and application can be found in the seminal article by Harry B Brainerd: A Brief for Architectural Controls, published in the American Institute of Planners in 1938.

In a paper that goes far beyond esthetics, Brainerd makes a broad and compelling case for the use of Architectural Control as a public welfare measure intended to enhance the amenities of life from a physical, economic and social planning perspective. Like today, productive debate raged on the value and amount of regulation necessary. Early discussion revolved heavily around the rights of the individual property owner VS the impact on the community as a whole.


Today, the establishment and enforcement of Architectural Controls are often left to the discretion of the Land Developer in collaboration local regulatory oversight, such as a City Planning Commission or Development Approvals Board. Land Developers may contract with an Advisory firm of Architectural Consultants, Architectural Technologists or Residential Designers to help communicate and often enforce standards through the process of Architectural Approval.

Architectural Controls can also be established and enforced by a local Community Association or civic administration. This is often the case in more affluent suburbs in the United States and Canada.

Scope of Architectural Guidelines

In new community development Architectural Guidelines typically deal with materials, colors, styles, massing, textures and scales as well as landscaping attributes. These are most often administered on behalf of homebuyers by their builder, in collaboration with the Land Developer or the Developer’s Architectural Consultants.

In addition, Architectural Guidelines can be extended to encompass a wide array of factors that may extend beyond the scope of building or landscape design. Although the following is not an exhaustive list, here are items that can be impacted by Architectural Controls or similar ordinances:

  • Woodpiles
  • Trash, Trash Containers & Recyclables
  • Rain barrels
  • Gazebos & Outbuilding
  • Gas grills
  • Landscaping including Plant Varieties, Materials and/or Garden Plots & Composting
  • Fences
  • Decorative Objects, Exterior Lights, Flag Poles
  • House Numbers
  • Decks, Patios, Retaining Walls and Walkways
  • Clothes Lines
  • Basketball Backboards & Polls
  • In-home Businesses
  • Building Maintenance
  • Yard and Landscape Maintenance Requirements
  • Placement of Tarps, Vehicles or Construction Materials
  • Awnings and Sun Trellises
  • Animal Shelters and Dog Runs
  • Air Conditioner Units


Architectural Guidelines and related ordinances are often reinforced through legal or practical structures, and careful consideration should be given of the consequences before embarking on any project that could be impacted by existing or future guidelines.

The term Architectural Controls is synonymous with: Architectural Guidelines, Residential Guidelines, Design Guidelines, Architectural Standards.