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Building regulations: foreign affairs

UK architects working abroad find that building regulations vary wildly between countries

Those who think the British Building Regulations are complex should take a look abroad, where codes range from the Communist legacies of the Czech Republic and the Russian Federation to Cypriot forays into seismic design. And with more and more British architects working on overseas projects, international building regulations are having an increasing impact on UK practitioners. Here, the AJ surveys nine countries British architects commonly work in, to find out what quirks designers might come up against when working abroad. We’ve also measured the thickness of each country’s regulations, to see who has the most (and no, it’s not England and Wales).

ENGLAND & WALES


Published by Communities and Local Government
Thickness 23cm
Website www.communities.gov.uk
Last Update 2007
Scott Brownrigg director Peter Caplehorn, head of the RIBA’s Technical Committee on Building Regulations, says: ‘Not everywhere are regulations as complex as they are in the UK. Part L alone has over 40 cross-referenced documents.’

SCOTLAND


Published by Scottish Building Standards Agency
Thickness 19 cm
Website www.sbsa.gov.uk
Last Update 2007
Gary Clark of Bennetts Associates’ Edinburgh office notes that although the Scottish regulations are increasingly aligned with the English, ‘there are a lot of small differences which can amplify through the design process if you don’t catch them’. Scottish regulations are, however, more clearly written and revisions can be much more easily downloaded, Clark says. He adds: ‘The biggest debate is over Energy Performance Certificates. The bands here are related to kg CO2/m2/year, unlike the English bands, which are based on percentages and are less easy to understand.’

IRELAND


Published by Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government
Thickness 6cm
Website www.environ.ie
Last Update 2007
According to Neil Deely of Metropolitan Workshop, the only difference between Irish and English regs is the cover. James Howley, of Howley Hayes Architects in Dublin, adds: ‘The only difference is that in Ireland, no one really enforces the regulations, so the onus is on the architect and builder to comply.’

USA


Published by International Code Council and individual states
Thickness 5cm each
Website www.iccsafe.org
Last Update 2006
The International Building Code, first published in 1997, applies to most US states in conjunction with state building codes. Peter Culley of Rick Mather Architects, whose Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is on site in Richmond, notes that American regulations are typically organised - like the US construction industry - to deal with off-the-shelf proprietary systems. ‘Any custom work can get quite tricky, and as a result, you see many more generic solutions,’ says Culley.

GERMANY


Published by Verlagsgruppe Rudolf Müller
Thickness 1m
Website www.rudolf-mueller.de/245.html
Last Update Loose-leaf collection, continually updated
‘The German regs always struck me as rather feudal after working for years in the States with its hyper-bureaucratic codes,’ says Frank Barkow of Berlin-based Barkow Leibinger. ‘Here we typically face off with the local fire brigade until we find a mutual solution. In general, the German sensibility, at least architecturally, favours technological solutions over conceptual ones, and I’m always amazed by how it varies from place to place.’ He adds: ‘You will remember Le Corbusier’s refusal to publish his Berlin Unité after the Berlin codes caused its section to get irreversibly mucked up.’

NETHERLANDS


Published by VROM (Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and
the Environment)
Thickness 1.1m
Website www.bouwbesluit-online.nl
Last Update 2003
Amsterdam- and London-based S333 Architecture + Urbanism’s Abigail Batchellor says: ‘The Dutch regulations are much more in-depth and there are lots more of them than the UK - they cover areas such as public realm and parking. The Dutch are tighter on specific things like daylight, which is strictly controlled and requires an in-depth daylight report. Also in the UK the regulations are much more friendly, and feature useful diagrams and pictures, while the Dutch regulations are full of legal-speak.’

CZECH REBUBLIC


Published by Ministry of Development
Thickness 11 cm
Website http://old.mmr.cz/index.php?lang=3
Last Update 2007
Czech regulations are much more stringent than the UK, according to David Perera of Jestico + Whiles’ Prague office. ‘This is probably a relic of the Communist era,’ says Perera. ‘There are about 25 different authorities you have to deal with when building in the Czech Republic, such as fire, hygiene, low-voltage electric, high-voltage electric, and transport. There is a whole profession - “ingineering” - which deals purely with the permits process.’

RUSSIAN FEDERATION


Published by No central agency
Thickness Miscellaneous documents - see right
Website No website - many subscribe to specialist update services
Last Update Unknown
RMJM’s Scott Cahill, who is working on Moscow’s City Palace tower, says regulations vary between jurisdictions and even within Moscow, where the International Building Centre is developing codes for tall buildings. Cahill says this means even Russians are confused by their codes, particularly the fire code. Cahill notes: ‘Stairs are deeper: 300mm deep in Russia compared to 280mm
in the UK. Also, Russian cores are thicker to meet a four-hour fire rating.’ RMJM has reverted to British standards on things like WC provision, deeming the Russian regulations inadequate.

CYPRUS


Published by Ministry of Interior
Thickness 0.7 cm
Website http://moi.gov.cy/
Last Update 2002
‘In Cyprus,’ says Akis Stephanides of Hopkins Architects, whose Nicosia Cultural Centre will complete in 2012, ‘you have to navigate through various ministries to find all the relevant regulations.’ The most recent approved document - which deals primarily with seismic design, is in the process of being updated to include sections on fire and disabled access, currently in draft form. A document was recently published which specifies minimum U-values for the building fabric for the first time.

 

 

 

 

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