Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Adaptive Reuse/Redevelopment and Building Codes - A New Era

 What is a Building Code?
A Building Code is basically a set of rules that are applied to buildings and non-building structures to protect public health, safety and general welfare as they relate to building construction and occupancy. A particular jurisdiction will vote a building code in to law. Further, it is the responsibility of the jurisdiction to employ individuals to monitor buildings under the guidance of the enacted building code. The history of the Building Code is generally thought to be from the Code of Hammurabi where the leader spelled out clearly the punishment that would befall the builder for an inferior building. In the United States, the City of Baltimore is credited with the first building code adapted in 1908. Currently, the most widely used code in the United States was developed by what is now called the International Code Council, which has 14 different codes and updates the codes every few years.

The Challenge of Building Codes and Adaptive Reuse
There is no arguing the importance of Adaptive Reuse. Old, vacant buildings and sites are getting re-purposed. But this new trend comes with many challenges. While these old buildings are thought to be built to last forever, rehabilitating them can be an Engineering/Architectural nightmare. Building codes have changed over the years and many materials used fifty years ago are now considered hazardous material (i.e. asbestos). Generally, the first step in rehabilitation of an old structure is generating hours of physical inspections and inspection reports, one such being, the Phase I Environmental Study. Enter "Smart Codes". In a nutshell, Smart Codes are codes that have been adapted for Reuse and Redevelopment. Smart Codes take into account the historical value and offer a little leeway from the standard building codes. Examples of Smart Codes can be found all over the United States. One example in the Rehabilitation Sub-Code that the City of Newark, New Jersey has enacted. The city found that using the newer codes impeded the rehabilitation process, so new Smart Codes were designed with the age of the structure in mind. Keeping the focus of the core issues of occupancy safety and accessibility, the Smart Codes are regulated and evaluated differently than the standard building codes. Shortly after the New Jersey codes was enacted, the State of Maryland followed with their version. HUD followed in 1997 with its version of the Smart Codes called Nationally Applicable Recommended Rehabilitation Provisions (NARRP). The HUD Smart Code details code development adaption and calls attention to areas of concern such as accessibility issues and structural strengthening. The HUD Smart Code (NARRP) defines four areas of Rehabilitation Work: Repair, Alteration, Addition and Change of Occupancy. One of the most strict but highly efficient Smart Codes is the one that the City of Los Angeles, California adapted in 1999. One of the obstacles in rehabilitation in Los Angeles is the lack of structural integrity that the old structures lacked. The City of Los Angeles worked closely with Structural Engineers in California and developed alternative guidelines to address the structural strengthening issue to address the strict seismic requirements. The results of the adaptation of Smart Codes throughout these and many more cities has brought about a rehabilitation surge that is answering many of the cities problems such as blight, housing and overall social well being.

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