Decoding Design

Reviewing safe construction in emerging countries

Posting in Architecture

A symposium at Yale University debated how to build safely in countries that have no building codes.

The lack of building codes and the ability to enforce them in emerging nations was the topic of a symposium held at the Yale School of Architecture. A interdisciplinary panel of architects, engineers, business leaders, and lawyers discussed the risks and remedies at Catastrophe and Consequence: The Campaign for Safe Buildings.

An article in the Yale Daily News summarized the safety disparity between construction in developing and developed countries at the center of the discussion:

"On Dec. 22, 2003, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake struck a populated area in central California and killed two people. Four days later, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake struck Bam, Iran. But that time, the death toll was 30,000."

Large scale and fast tracked construction projects built in areas without building codes create dangerous risks, especially in light of the natural disasters that can strike these areas. The rush of corporations and building teams into the developing countries can overwhelm local governments that usually do not have the capacity or knowledge to properly regulate construction.

Proposed solutions included retrofitting existing structures, incorporating indigenous building practices, instituting public awareness and education campaigns, and providing financial assistance.

A slightly radical solution was presented by Bruce Payne, Executive Director of the Rubin Foundation, and architect Stephen Forneris. The pair proposed developing a NGO (non-governmental organization) that would act as a building regulatory agency and have the authority to supervise construction projects, perform building inspections, and issue safety certificates. Payne and Forneris hope that tying safe construction to aid will pressure banks and financial companies to show preference to companies that comply with building codes.

While the proposed NGO drew skepticism, the idea of establishing safe construction practices and knowledge along with the financing, design, and erection of buildings makes sense. Architects and builders facing the blank slate of construction sites in emerging nations have a responsibility to export more than just hi-tech design concepts.

Architects debate safety practices [Yale Daily News]

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Sun Kim

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Sun Joo Kim is an architect and creative consultant based in Boston. Her projects include design and master planning of museums, public institutions, hospitals, and university buildings across the U.S. She holds a degree from Carnegie Mellon University and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure