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First, a short and personal story: in my early twenties, working, residential carpentry and construction in Seattle, I helped build a lookout tower that could not (by code) be occupied. We actually built windows rather than doors, and omitted a ladder, so it would pass inspection. Then, per the plan all along, the owner replaced those windows with doors, added steps and finished the tower and adjacent outdoor deck … all minor work technically requiring no permit.

Even without working around zoning restrictions and building codes, however, the possibilities are often surprising for those who take the time to research what is or isn’t allowed. SUB-PLAN is a book tackling exactly that topic.

It covers temporary and outdoor spaces, in part, but primarily features schematic additions and permanent modifications that could really be made (generally legitimately) simply by understanding and interpreting the rules and laws.

BldgBlog has covered the work of its authors, David Knight and Finn Williams, in multiple articles including The Permission We Already Have and Interpretation-Based Spatiality.

This pair demonstrate through design ideas, sketches, lectures and studios again and again: there is an art to looking at the letter of the law, then dreaming up designs that fit the conditions but defy conventions.

Of particular interest is the line between what requires a building permit and what can be done without one. In many instances, a massive addition or significant modification is allowed without having to go through any red tape, simply because a chimney may be defined in a different way, or an extension might just fit within permitted dimensions.