Q+A: Should developed nations encourage developing nations to adapt better building codes and standards?
Four individuals, from various professional backgrounds, and from different parts of the globe, give answers to our question of the week.
Diane Simard is an architect who works for Architectes de l’urgence et de la coopération (Cooperation and Emergency Architects of Canada), humanitarian association, recognized by the UN. She has project management and architectural experience abroad and in Québec. She has been the vice-president of the association since 2008. firstname.lastname@example.org :*
The export of our codes and standards into a developing country is not desirable if the physical and cultural context (local materials, construction methods) is not taken into account. Cooperation and Emergency Architects has just completed a project in Haiti, based on strengthening local expertise in seismic resistant constructions and to prevent the risks related to natural disasters. The program was offered to Haitian architects and engineers responsible for infrastructure of peace, justice and security.
The course was given over a period of 2 years and was adapted to their reality, while using international standards, such as strength of materials. It was by the training, coaching and technical assistance made on the ground that the team of ten Canadian experts supported the development of institutional knowledge in the management infrastructure projects.
Haitian professionals are now able to use enhanced earthquake engineering skills, project management construction, in quality control of materials and computer-aided design in the course of their duties. This sensitive approach tailored to a specific situation should be promoted, instead of an implementation of codes and standards that do not reflect the reality of the country. It is the responsibility of each country to develop these standards in the context of their country, but it is the responsibility of organizations like ours to give them our support and experience in this field.
Issa Diabaté is an architect based in Cote d’ivoire, partner at Koffi & Diabaté Architects. Issa Graduated from Yale university with a master of architecture in 1995 and has been working in Cote d’ivoire since then:
At first, when reading the question, the answer seems obvious. And it sounds like a “yes”. Yes because establishing codes provides better security for the building’s inhabitant. But the real question should be: “what kind of system should we put in place for buildings to be secure in developing countries?”
The second part of the question implies the following question: “ can underdeveloped countries rely on developed nation’s experience to create or adapt better building codes and standards”… And this time, I am not sure the answer should be a “yes”. Developing countries often come with a set of environmental conditions that are very specific to their physical and sociological geography. Being an architect teaches you to always put your ideas through the filter of the local conditions in order to elaborate local solutions.
In my opinion, the best way to encourage developing nations to achieve better building standards is for them to simply apply the law and regulations already existing in their legal framework. As a matter of fact, my experience teaches me that codes and regulations already exist in most (if not all) developing countries. The main problem is that the construction environment is often very loose when it comes to enforcing those codes! Buildings fall just because the people who built them knew from the very beginning that they could escape control on the basic structural elements. In their opinion, it is one way or another to save on construction cost. It is more an issue of ” human factor” (lack of education, greed and corruption) than un-adapted or non-existing regulations.
It is true though that building codes need to be improved in most developing country but this time, in order to take into account subjects that are now of major importance such as sustainability, socially mixed neighborhoods, densification order to reinvent the city of tomorrow.
Lee Calisti is an architect and adjunct assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Architecture. www.leecalisti.com :
Yes, developed nations should encourage developing nations to adapt better building standards and codes. Whether that is paternalistic or not depends on how one country “encourages” the other country. It has been proven time and time again that building codes save lives and they are in place to ensure to the best degree possible that the health, safety and welfare of the public is protected. We as design professionals share a diverse series of opinions on the codes (actually the interpretation and enforcement of the codes). However, without them in place, people are not motivated to make the right choice. Now with tragedies as in Bangladesh, Haiti and other countries we’ve watched in recent years, they must rebuild without any clear direction or comfort that it won’t happen again. The sharing of knowledge is not a negative trait, it’s the attitude behind it that has the potential for good or bad. Over the years we have given/sold weapons to other countries, why wouldn’t we give technology or information that can save lives. We can take it a bit farther by having programs like Architecture for Humanity and other humanitarian efforts teach citizens of other countries how to adopt these codes, adapt them to their technology levels, and implement them within their culture. I suppose they could resist the helping hand, but again, it is all in the delivery method.
Steve Ulrich is the Founder of Engineering Ministries International Canada, a not-for-profit that does a lot of design work in developing countries:
eMi Canada is part of a group of 6 world offices (http://emicanada.org/offices.shtml) that serve various ministries and NGO’s doing humanitarian projects for large organizations like Samaritan’s Purse, Food for the Hungry, Crossroads Communications and others, to smaller ministries serving the poor and disenfranchised people in various ways. Our design projects include schools, orphanages, hospitals, clinics, vocational training centers, water purification systems and more.
To answer your initial question, YES, these countries could use better building standards and codes. When we do design in these countries we include good building practices, earthquake and hurricane standards and other code standards that will result in safe and practical buildings and infrastructure systems (i.e. proper sewage handling).
We find, however, that if left to their own devices they will often “reduce” certain things, like steel and concrete quality. In short, they need to be supervised or directed to follow the appropriate details and strength of materials. This is an area we are working to provide better assistance in through a construction management program when we are able. Another way is to “school” local builders to read and follow the building drawings designed for them.
All of our staff around the world are professionals (architects, engineers, surveyors, certified technicians) and we draw on volunteer professionals in these fields to join an eMi team that goes and does the design work. These professionals come from all over the world and all our projects are focused on developing nations. We do not work in North America or developed Europe for instance.
We do not believe this is colonialism in any way. Our mandate is to help the “poorest of the poor” live, heal, go to school and work in suitable and safe conditions. We would very much like to be involved in this dialogue with other organizations and contribute from 30+ years of this international work.
* Diane Simard‘s response was originally written in French:
L’importation de nos codes et normes dans un pays en développement n’est pas souhaitable si le contexte culturel et physique (matériaux locaux, méthodes de construction) n’est pas pris en compte. Architectes de l’Urgence et de la coopération (AUC) vient justement de terminer un projet à Haiti, basé sur le renforcement des capacités locales en matière de construction parasismique et de prévention des risques liés aux catastrophes naturelles. Le programme était offert aux architectes et ingénieurs haïtiens responsables des infrastructures de paix, de justice et de sécurité.
Le cours donné durant une période de 2 ans était adapté à leur réalité, tout en faisant appel à des normes internationales, par exemple de résistance des matériaux. C’est par le biais d’activités de formation, de coaching et d’assistance technique réalisées sur le terrain que l’équipe constituée d’une dizaine d’experts canadiens a appuyé le développement d’un savoir-faire institutionnel en gestion de projets d’infrastructures.
Les professionnels haïtiens sont maintenant en mesure d’utiliser des compétences renforcées en génie parasismique, en gestion de projet de construction, en contrôle de la qualité des matériaux et en dessin assisté par ordinateur dans le cadre de leur fonction. Cette approche sensible adaptée à une situation précise doit être préconisée à l’instar d’une implantation de normes et codes qui ne reflètent pas la réalité du pays. Il est de la responsabilité de chaque pays de développer ces normes selon le contexte de leur pays; toutefois, il est de la responsabilité d’organismes comme le nôtre de leur assurer notre appui et notre expérience en ce domaine.
So what do you think?
Should developed nations encourage developing nations to adapt better building codes and standards?