IBQC releases guidelines for building regulations in low-income countries
The International Building Code (IBC) is viewed by many around the world as the gold-standard for a model of building regulation, and it is used in jurisdictions throughout the world, whether mandated or not. However, the IBC, and most of the other suite of International Codes, are mostly applicable in advanced economies with strongly regulated construction in all sectors of society, including both urban and rural settings. What options exist, then, for lower and middle income economies with a much wider and more complex mix of building types and highly limiting economic circumstances impacting both construction and its regulation that nonetheless have a need and desire to ensure building safety? The International Building Quality Centre (IBQC) explores this question in its new publication entitled Good Practice Guidelines and Principles for the Development of Building Regulations in Low Income Countries.
The IBQC is an all-volunteer center of excellence that fosters discussion and research about best practice building regulatory systems and regimes. The Code Council has been actively involved in the IBQC for the past year, and Code Council CEO Dominic Sims, CBO, serves on the IBQC Board of Directors. Last year, on the basis of the expertise of the IBQC board members, the organization issued its flagship publication, Principles for Good Practice Building Regulation. This document is meant to be universal and eternal, as it addresses high-level recommendations and principles that are widely applicable to jurisdictions around the world. However it, too, is primarily relevant in advanced economies with primarily engineered construction and an established regulatory ecosystem. IBQC’s recently published adaptation of those principles for low income countries aims to truly globalize the discussion about building safety, including countries and jurisdictions that have heretofore been expected to adopt a “one size fits all” approach largely based on the experience of advanced economies and engineered building solutions.
In the research and experience of IBQC board members, such an expansion of the discussion has not yet been undertaken, which makes this new Good Practice Guidelines publication rather groundbreaking. In these Guidelines, the IBQC proposes a new approach for lower and middle income economies, which first and foremost addresses the why behind building safety regulation. It encourages governments to explore what they would like the outcome of building regulation, including building codes and standards, to be – what problems or challenges are they meant to solve. It aims to move lower and middle income countries away from simply cutting and pasting codes and standards that were developed in advanced economies – many of which are irrelevant. This means that the codes ultimately can’t be implemented so they are not used, and they are not resulting in safer buildings.
The IBQC Guidelines are meant to serve as a tool to help governments to incrementally create building regulations that are appropriate to their conditions, integrate home-grown solutions, and embraced by citizens as tools that are understood to protect them and their investments. The approach defines three building paradigms, each of which requires a different regulatory approach to provide maximum safety and security to maximum number of people and maximum number of building typologies.
The Engineered Solutions paradigm is primarily applicable in cities and towns, where buildings are designed by trained architects or engineers, tend to follow codes and standards even if they are not mandated in the jurisdiction. In this paradigm, building codes with prescriptive, technical standards, are appropriate. The regulations used in the engineered solutions paradigm will be more robust and similar to systems in advanced economies which include elements like plan review, inspections, and dispute resolution.
The second paradigm is referred to as Vernacular Building. These are traditionally constructed buildings, mainly smaller, single story buildings, which rely on traditional materials and construction methods, often which have been passed down from one generation to the next. In this paradigm, which applies to the vast majority of buildings in Africa and many lower and middle income countries around the world, top-down, highly intrusive regulation that relies on scientific robustness in the construction process is not relevant. Most of these buildings are quite safe, despite being built outside of a formal regulatory ecosystem, but some are vulnerable due to their location or extreme weather hazards sometimes attributable to climate change. In this paradigm, good practice guidelines that optimize strengths and address vulnerabilities are recommended over formal building codes and standards.
The third paradigm, Informal Settlements, are – by definition – unregulated. Building owners frequently have no title to the land and construction is not approved and often illegal. However, most informal settlements still pose a threat to those who live in them both in terms of location in which they are built as well as how they are built. Because of the risk to safety, IBQC recommends the implementation of some type of regulation that enables local governments, tribal leaders or village elders to intervene to enable evacuation and possibly demolition when those buildings pose a risk to life.
The Guidelines have been lauded by development groups, governments, and building safety advocates working in lower and middle income countries, and several jurisdictions have indicated an intention to use them in rethinking their approach to building safety regulation. The ICC Pulse podcast that was released on July 1 features and interview with IBQC Chair Kim Lovegrove and Board Member Alfred Omenya, and provides a more in-depth look at the Guidelines and the work of the IBQC.