Issues & AdvocacyIssues & Advocacy
Building Codes Save Lives, Not Property
By Cooper Martin, Manager, Community Resilience
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, building owners throughout New York and New Jersey have been forced to face a difficult truth: that compliance with building codes may have saved their families, friends, and colleagues but it did not save their building.
Just as an automotive safety standard might allow a driver to walk away from a crash in which the car was totaled, the code is the minimum baseline to protect the health and safety of occupants, not necessarily to preserve the building itself.
Last week, the New York Times reported on the value that is being realized by a few builders who are exceeding code in areas like Manhattan and Brooklyn. The article noted that residents of 850 apartments at 2 Gold St. have been told that their building will be uninhabitable until March while they replace flooded equipment.
Meanwhile, owners who exceeded minimum codes are reaping the rewards. By elevating the foundation an additional four feet, at a cost of just $550,000, Sims Metal Management completely avoided damage to the construction site of a $100 million recycling plant in Brooklyn.
Architects know that this logic should be extended to the whole design process. Raising the foundation four feet was a hedge against rising sea levels. Improving energy efficiency is a hedge against rising electricity prices. By employing a whole suite of design strategies that exceed code and make our buildings more resilient, architects and developers can avoid these costs and disruptions in the future.
Among all the talk of building back better, the minimum codes will not protect cities like New York, Miami, or Virginia Beach from storms like Sandy. “Market forces will shape the city of the future,” and architects need to arm themselves with information that these enhancements are worth the investment.
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