On July 1st, 2021 a new set of regulations amended California’s Building Code, Fire Code, Electrical Code and other rulebooks governing design and construction. This package of amendments runs hundreds of pages and changes the rules for a wide variety of items: structural systems, electric vehicle charging stations, accessible paths, and plumbing fixture counts among others.
Architects must maintain a thorough understanding of the building codes and keeping up with supplements can be a challenge. Code amendments are highly technical, include new terms that may not be well defined, and their original intent can be difficult to understand. Because everyone– architects, building officials and builders– is reading the amendments for the first time, disagreements are common.
Architects can get a leg up in some of these disagreements by going beyond the code and using other resources to understand the intent of the rule-makers. While these resources don’t carry legal standing– and local building officials have the authority make final decisions– they assist with clearer designs and reasoned arguments.
Keeping up with all these resources is time consuming, but it’s helpful to have them available when solving a complicated design problem and the ‘rationale’ of the code is unclear.
As an example, ‘detectable warnings’ have become widespread along sidewalks and through parking lots. These raised domes, usually yellow, are set in the paving at street crossings or curb ramps. As a newer feature in the built environment, there’s been a decade of discussion about their benefits and drawbacks, leading to multiple code supplements and revisions.
The July 1st, 2021 supplement adds a whole new section of rules for using these warnings at crosswalks through parking lots. The plain code language, however, lacks a clear ‘rationale’ that communicates overall intent. To find this, one needs to read the Advisory Manual: ‘Detectable Warnings are provided for the benefit of persons with dual impairments to indicate transitions to potentially hazardous areas’. The Statement of Reasons for the latest code changes also states ‘Detectable Warnings are designed to warn of hazards and locating them on the vehicular way is placing them on the hazardous condition itself’.
One can see how these statements, written much more directly than the legalese of the code, facilitate that ‘Ah-ha’ moment of understanding. With this background Architects can solve design problems more directly and justify their solutions to building officials. Hayes Group Architects benefits from staying up to date with new code supplements, maintaining a strong library of supporting documents, and knowing who to turn to for authoritative help.
Looking for a way to give back to your community, to engage with other like-minded people and to help build teams and leadership skills among staff – not to mention develop your carpentry and building skills. Working with the local affiliate of Rebuilding Together is a great way to do it all.
Nearly every community, if not all, in the San Francisco Bay Area have adopted development standards codifed in their municipal codes as site development regulations and guidelines, precise plans or specific plans. Typically drafted by a team of design consultants, city boards and community stakeholders, these development standards are viewed as the map or blueprint for the shape of the community’s built environment and vary from community to community.
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