In an ideal world, architects would have free reign to design whatever they imagined. But the reality of the profession is that it comes with strings attached, and our visions are limited by clients, budgets, and perhaps the most dominating force, building codes. These codes have restricted and reshaped architecture so much, that it has forged a new type of building- the “stick frame over podium”, or “five over two” design. The result is a very distinct aesthetic of buildings and a notable monotony that has nearly redefined mid-rise residential architecture across the country.
Building Codes: The Latest Architecture and News
For nearly a century, the areas of urban sprawl where every single-family home has its own yard, garage, and white picket fence represented the peak of life aspiration. Homeownership and the idea of claiming space away from the hustle and bustle of the city core was once considered the ideal lifestyle and the pinnacle of the American Dream. But as time went on, and socio-economic conditions shifted, cities that were once filled with these single-family homes realized that perhaps these zoning regulations were outdated, and new solutions needed to be created to prevent the current housing crisis from growing even more out of control.
In a study recently published by AIA, less than 13% of architectural firms have incorporated building performance as part of their practice. With buildings contributing 40% of total carbon emissions leading to climate change, just 25 projects are roughly equivalent to planting 1 million trees each year. In addition to that, teams that are able to showcase data-driven and performance-driven decision-making and feature an energy analysis in every pursuit are able to increase fees and generate more revenue. Although integrating building performance sounds like a no-brainer, it proves to be difficult at many firms, because in addition to the practical changes, it requires a culture shift. That culture shift can only happen if the tools are easy to use, accurate, and mesh well with current workflows. Right now is the perfect time to tackle these culture changes due to a few reasons:
Startup UpCodes has created a free, searchable database of building codes, and the company is at the center of a lawsuit by the International Codes Council. The ICC writes the most widely used building codes in the United States, and they claim they have copyright over the codes and require a license fee for their use. UpCodes argues it is covered by the fair use doctrine, which permits some use of copyrighted material, but the ICC alleges its copyright and ability to raise revenue is being infringed upon. Central to the lawsuit is the question of whether the law can be copyrighted.
Today in the United States, buildings account for nearly 40% of carbon emissions (EESI) and 78% of electricity usage. The most sustainability-focused firms run energy simulations for less than 50% of their projects (10% for a typical firm) and only doing so late in the process when design changes are limited and insufficient to combat red flags found in the performance report (AIA 2030 report). We can make building performance widespread once we help the entire community discuss the subject in terms of investment and return. Especially during a project pursuit, since having the buy in from the whole team helps ensure the key project metrics are met. Owners are seeking out teams who are using actual metrics and data driven processes that affect their bottom line. This new approach to practice is what makes the younger teams’ standout and will benefit both the climate and the bottom-line. Here are 5 ways to talk about building performance in your project pursuits:
Structural timber is in the midst of a renaissance; an ironic trend given that timber is arguably the most ancient of building materials. But new innovations in structural timber design have inspired a range of boundary-pushing plans for the age-old material, including everything from bridges to skyscrapers. Even more crucially, these designs are on the path to realization, acceding to building codes that many (mistakenly) view as restrictive to the point of impossibility.
The timber structures of today aren't just breaking records - they're doing it without breaking the rules.
At a time when engineers, designers, and builders must find solutions for a resource-constrained environment, new wood technology, materials, and science are accelerating efforts to enhance safety and structural performance.
International Building Code requires all building systems, regardless of materials used, to perform to the same level of health and safety standards. These codes have long recognized wood’s performance capabilities and allow its use in a wide range of low- to mid-rise residential and non-residential building types. Moreover, wood often surpasses steel and concrete in terms of strength, durability, fire safety, seismic performance, and sustainability – among other qualities.
Perhaps nothing can kill a project budget or give an owner heartburn quite like costly code fixes during (or in the worst case, after) construction. As architects, we do our best to navigate construction codes during design, but there’s no denying their complexity. Projects have to comply with multiple different codes at both the federal and local levels; different codes sometimes even contradict one another, leading to headaches for the design team.
However, a new website and mobile app hopes to make understanding and complying with building codes easier for architects and designers. “The solution we provide is a search engine tailored for architecture,” explains Scott Reynolds, co-founder of UpCodes. With his background in architecture, Reynolds has partnered with his brother Garrett Reynolds—who has a PhD in machine learning—and through UpCodes, the pair to ease some of that building code-driven frustration.