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Building Regulations - a 'snappy aide-memoire'

Austin Williams has collected his best NBS Shortcuts into two ‘at a glance guides for building designers’. Simon Allford takes a look

This review is based on my reflections on two brief perusals of Austin Williams’ Shortcuts Books 1 and 2. I can think of no better way of reviewing a book about précis and saving time than to save time précising it!

My review is that of an architect at least one step away from the coalface of job running whereas my colleagues’ is that of a miner, as steeped in regulations as I am distant (well that’s how I see it). Our common ground is that we both share frustration at how efforts to control and improve often emerge as regulatory pedantry.

For me Shortcuts is a snappy aide-memoire to be utilised when reviewing design with architects better versed in regulation than I: my argument being that over scrupulous observation of regulation can all too easily replace objective assessment of long term value and delight. Either way Architects need to have the skill set to argue both that one fire officer’s firetrap is another’s safe environment and, on a more detailed aesthetic matter, that our handrails need not always ‘bulk up’ to  meet the ’arthritic regulation’ for they are both ugly and inappropriate. (And yes I have an 80 year old widowed mother who recently suffered from a heavy fall abroad so I am aware of the issue).

My colleague, despite his youthful appearance, referred me to The Building Design Easibrief as a predecessor. He thought Shortcuts would be a great guide for an inquisitive but less experienced architect as they embarked on a project or a package. ‘Generally useful’ was his overview though probably more for the novice or the likes of me! He was also uneasy about the critique of the currently accepted dogma of ‘sustainability’ that he detected, which conversely I enjoyed, though as a sympathiser I was less aware of it.

The structure is simple and the headings snappy, direct and witty. I would have liked tabs for ease of perusal and I struggle with the old school freehand graphics; too ‘Ching’ for my taste. But these are minor quibbles. If Shortcuts is to be a success then speed of production is key: if Austin Williams’ ambition is to help us to stop the regulations getting ahead of the architecture he’ll soon (no doubt very happily) be updating these volumes.

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