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Like most issues, why can’t we find balance? The reason for one side of an issue is often due to the excesses of the other. It’s cyclical, it’s annoying. Taking an extreme position is all too common and in most cases unnecessary.

This was evident to me recently with respect to building codes and related regulations affecting commercial facilities. People are either militant in enforcing the codes; others act offended that they even exist. I work with many people and occasionally poor attitudes on both sides of this issue come out – and it’s not pretty.

Last week a current project in a nearby municipality drove me to research the particulars in the codes for a unique issue for a common building type. How’s that for evasive? The rumor is the local inspector’s position was quite strict on the issue. I’ve heard the rumor enough for there to be something to it.  I currently have two projects of this building type that required me to research it on my own – to get the real answers, finally.

I am not a fan of big government and I’m not a fan of being overly regulated. I have even been guilty of complaining about codes, zoning and other regulations. Therefore, I don’t care for the hyper-zealous building official who is overly strict and whose interpretation is always in favor of making their job easier rather than know and understand the intent behind the codes. My current situation unveiled an interpretation that was truly in favor of the inspector because it made their ability to inspect easier by reducing options. We had a conversation.

I believe I found the truth in my research, but it was also troubling when I spoke with the inspector and learned his rulings were conservative at best. He couldn’t even name the specific location of the regulation. That was disturbing and yes, I was angry. No really. Fortunately, I think my efforts are actually helping educate…again.

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I am okay with regulation because usually I understand what it’s trying to prevent. Yet, if codes allow for multiple means of compliance, then the building owner deserves the opportunity to choose. An inspector can’t be concerned about getting too many calls to his office with alleged violations. Look, we don’t put governors on our cars to prevent us from going over the speed limit. We are given a choice and if we break the rules, we risk the consequences.

I’m not done yet.

On the other side of this issue are people who are so offended at the amount of regulation (and there’s too many) that they feel compliance should be their choice based on their own criteria. In other words the choice to comply is based on whether they feel it is reasonable (i.e. cost), not whether it affords basic life-safety or equity. Otherwise, it is deemed as being expensive, arduous or unfair (or unconstitutional in some cases). I often find this adolescent mindset of “does that apply to me” in adults of high stature. It’s an embarrassing part of American culture. Public safety cannot be judged or arbitrated based merely on one’s opinion of what is affordable. Affordable is impossible define and no matter what the cost is on some issues, many people will always find it to be expensive. Sometimes there is crying involved.

We also have to distinguish between liking and agreeing with a regulation and choosing or accepting to comply with it. My opinion of how much I send in to the IRS each year is not equivalent to theirs. However, if I choose to send less, I might be living…elsewhere. As architects we guide our clients through this process and it is fair for them to ask questions. Then it’s time to stop complaining or fighting and time to find solutions (not ways of getting out of complying).

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We have regulation in place because common sense does not prevail nor does good faith towards others in the community. People will always be self-seeking and self-protective of their own before others. Admit it, our culture is one of the individual first and not community. It’s also part of human nature and that is a completely different debate.

To me the best way to maneuver through this without going crazy, comes down to attitude. What is our attitude towards it?

I believe people have the right to ask questions and to choose building features within the choices that are legally available. If there is more than one way to achieve compliance, then people should be given all of those options. However, we cannot take a position on the other side and feel that regulation to maintain public safety is somehow unfair or unnecessary or un-American. Nor can we fault our clients if they elect not to implement items that go above and beyond the code (did you read the first half?).

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How’s your attitude been lately? I bet you have similar stories.


photos are from stock photo galleries on FreeImages.com – click on photo to see author (used under the Standard Restrictions)

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