ICC Members: Shaping the safety of the world around us — William Rakatansky
Code professionals ensure building safety today, for a stronger tomorrow. As the individuals behind modern codes and standards, these professionals are responsible for ensuring the safety and compliance of codes and standards, shaping the safety of the world around us, and serve as the safety foundation for our buildings. They don’t just ensure that buildings are constructed to withstand the stress of everyday use, they are behind the security and stability of every building. They specialize in preventative measures to help communities weather unforeseen natural disasters and ensure that first responders have less to worry about and can do their jobs safely. Code professionals are an essential piece in the building and construction puzzle and are engaged in the building process from the initial building plan to the finished product.
The International Code Council is a member-focused association with over 64,000 members dedicated to developing model codes and standards used in the design, build and compliance process to construct safe, sustainable, affordable and resilient structures. They protect the public through their commitment to building safety; enforce code compliance to empower and educate stakeholders across the built environment to embrace and integrate safety standards in their work; support economic development by making our buildings studier, and therefore longer lasting. Their knowledge, skills, and abilities impact every building, in every community.
The Code Council recognizes the importance of continuing to grow awareness of the important work that code professionals do and the impact they have, in the hopes of encouraging aspiring building safety professionals to join in on the building safety movement. In this exclusive feature for the Building Safety Journal, we asked William Rakatansky to share his experience in the industry, highlights of his professional career, and any insights or advice he has concerning the industry and the future of building safety.
R&M Group-NC, PLLC, Architects
Charlotte, North Carolina, United States
International Code Council member for 32 years
BSJ: What was the path to your career — how and why did you pursue a profession in building safety?
Rakatansky: I am a licensed architect, currently licensed in five states. I graduated from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, and started work in the profession immediately after graduation. One of my employment venues was as a building code enforcement official for the state of Ohio for seven years. I saw how some members of my profession were sloppy and possibly unknowledgeable in understanding and employing the building code for building compliance. It made me realize that at best, architects were placing themselves in some liability, and at worst, building safety was compromised. I learned the rationale behind building codes and why they exist and felt that I had a calling to learn even more and to help educate practitioners in why they should focus more on building code compliance, rather than attempting to “short-circuit” and “push the envelope” for compliance. This led me to a career in assisting co-workers and other construction professionals to understand code compliance and to take measures to more seriously comply, through additional details and a comprehensive understanding that code compliance is really about protecting people from injury.
BSJ: What three things do you need to be successful in this industry and in your profession?
Rakatansky: First, a scientific and logical mind to recognize and understand the reasons and rationale of code compliance. Second, devotion to public safety and prevention of disasters in the built environment. And third, a reliance on other professionals who have been down this road before, and an acceptance of their teaching and mentoring abilities to expand the concept of protecting the public in building design and construction.
BSJ: What role have mentors, advisors or your network played in your career?
Rakatansky: Mentors and other knowledgable individuals have played such an integral and important part and role in my development not only as an architect but as a code enforcement official, and currently as a consultant, to further impart my knowledge and aptitude to younger professionals. I firmly believe that the highest calling of any professional is to educate younger professionals to carry on and amplify the methods of code compliance.
BSJ: What led you to become an ICC member?
Rakatansky: My career has transitioned from a “design architect” to one that solves problems and works code compliance into the design at initial stages, as well as increasingly providing advice to co-workers and clients in designing the details to obtain maximum compliance. As was once said, “the devil is in the details.” If the general, foundational requirements of the building show compliance, without focusing heavily on designing details related to supplementing the major, basic requirements; then the building is not a success. I wanted to be part of a group of “like-minded” people who enjoyed building codes and regulations. I should have been an attorney, but ended up in the profession I love.
BSJ: Are you involved in any ICC committees or councils? Do you have any ICC certifications?
Rakatansky: I served on the ICC Education Committee from 2007 through 2009. I was selected as an ICC professional instructor in 2008. I co-authored the ICC Plan Review Manual, 2006 and 2009 editions.
BSJ: How long have you been in the industry?
Rakatansky: 48 years.
BSJ: What major changes have you seen?
Rakatansky: Technology has been the most impactful change I have seen and experienced. I graduated in 1972 and used drafting tables; t-squares; drafting machines; and paper, mylar, pencils, and ink in preparing drawings. All of this changed in the 1980s when CAD came onto the scene, and totally upended the process of not only preparation of construction documents but also the reliance on an individual’s knowledge base. It changed from a good understanding of how buildings actually were built to relying on a computer to help prepare documents, which gave practitioners a false sense of security and knowledge. Sure, the accuracy was so much more precise than in the age of manual drafting, however, many people use the technology as a “crutch” and often do not use the proven and sometimes complicated procedures of truly thinking about the final product. Also, there has been a massive increase in the level and detail of code enforcement, which will result in better and safer buildings.
BSJ: What excites you about the future of your industry?
Rakatansky: The amount of research occurring in building products, building design and building safety, which will have the effect of impacting older and new buildings across the country and the world.
BSJ: What is one piece of advice that you would give to those starting out in the industry?
Rakatansky: The one major piece of advice I would give is to share your ever-increasing lifetime and career experiences with others, so that they can take advantage of your previous knowledge base and mistakes. I would also encourage new code officials to understand the parameters, limitations, and liability that architects and engineers have in design and code compliance. I would also encourage architects and engineers to strive to become code officials.
BSJ: What do you see as most surprising about the work that you do?
Rakatansky: The continuing ability to always learn new concepts, technical issues, and legal issues in the performance of my work. I have a moderate struggle with complacency in my knowledge base, and I strive to overcome this issue in the performance of my consulting work.
BSJ: What would you like to do next in your professional/personal life?
Rakatansky: I really enjoy what I am doing and working to help others learn from my experience and knowledge. I will likely keep working until I don’t.
BSJ: What do you enjoy doing in your leisure time?
Rakatansky: I enjoy spending time with my family, friends, and other colleagues. Each of these groups allows me to continue my education on various levels that may or may not overlap with the other groups. In terms of activities, I enjoy eating out and relating to others, I also enjoy boating, traveling in our motorhome and hoping for grandchildren
If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title would be?
Rakatansky: William Rakatansky… A lifetime of education and sharing.
There’s a world of opportunity in being a member of the International Code Council. Membership provides the tools to get the most out of each workday: from discounts on essential International Codes and other publications to the best prices on top-quality training and ICC certification renewals, Code Council membership helps budgets go further. Exclusive member benefits include code advice from expert technical staff as well as access to member-exclusive news and articles at the Building Safety Journal news portal. Plus, only Code Council members vote in the ICC code development process. An online Career Center allows job postings and searches for new job opportunities — all at no additional charge.
The Code Council offers numerous councils, committees, and resources to help code professionals grow and network with colleagues. Six discipline-specific Membership Councils offer members a place to come together and be a more powerful force in shaping your association, your industry, your career, and your future. Code Development Committees are an instrumental part of the ICC code development process and are responsible for the review and evaluation of code change proposals submitted to the International Codes. Professional Development Committees serve to better align the ICC education programs and certification programs to ensure that quality training is available to meet the needs of all members, customers and certification holders. Finally, the Value of the Code Official toolkit helps members to heighten awareness of the importance of code officials to their communities and to highlight the code official’s role as a helpful advocate for community safety, health and welfare, and economic development.