live a mile in their shoes; another shade of empathy


This is personal, in the trenches, yet reluctance, reticence and avoidance are a few friends that tried to talk me out of another editorial post (some define as rant) to talk about topics that are often overlooked. Am I that strange that I think of this stuff? Am I being preachy about not being preachy? Read on.

Architects have love-hate relationships with the regulatory environment – “codes” for simple vernacular. I find it difficult to talk about certain subjects as many will assume that an entire profession or an entire group ‘ought’ to hold to a certain position and any other point of view is deemed unacceptable. This one lands in the middle of that target, but we’re going to open it up anyway because…well…we just are.

The State (it’s a commonwealth) of Pennsylvania has voted recently to update the version of the IBC (International Building Code) it will uphold as part of its Uniform Construction Code (UCC) that will likely go into effect in October. The details are open for debate and that is a conversation in and of itself, but there’s something that needs to be explored prior to that dialog.


I received an email last week announcing this decision; I knew it was coming. As usual, I posted the news on Twitter and tagged my local AIA and State AIA Chapter. I must apologize to Amal Mahrouki from AIA Pennsylvania, who called me the next day to thank me for the post. What she couldn’t predict was my passionate tirade I subjected her to as I cautioned her to be the first to share the news with the newspapers, so the odds are better that they’ll report it accurately. My respect goes out to Ms. Mahrouki for being such a good listener as I explained my point of view of being a small practitioner working for small businesses who will be directly affected by changes in building codes. I owe the same apology to Sean for being so polite while I bent his ear at AIA Build Pittsburgh.

How can we object to better codes, stricter energy requirements, standards that demand inclusion and access for everyone? Safety and welfare and their cousin health are the Three Musketeers that our licensure boards require we protect right? Boy, that’s hard to argue against, but listen, they cost money – don’t lie, they add cost.

In an era when culture demands an attitude towards others based on some righteous standard (read my last post about who is the who in the “who says” in your world view), how can we not see that small projects, small businesses and small firms struggle with achieving compliance when a larger proportion of our budgets are given over to code compliance than in much larger projects. That’s opinion folks, not ex cathedra statements – I don’t have pie charts or a PowerPoint to prove my point, just 27 years of practice, let’s not duel over that.

What I’m trying to say is let’s not rub peoples’ nose in regulations with self-righteous pontifications, feel for them, listen to them. My small business clients are spending their money, not an institution’s money, not a committee’s or a board’s money, but the money they earned that comes out of their own pocket. Often projects don’t happen because of cost, which means one less building is renovated. Great communities are built on the backs of small businesses.

I don’t object to codes (search my blog for the topic), I don’t object to safety, accessibility or protecting the public – who could? Let’s avoid the pat answers, preachy sermons and efforts to shift another’s values without seeing it from their point of view. I think walking in another’s shoes isn’t enough, as architects we need to live in another’s shoes.


live a mile in their shoes; another shade of empathy

One thought on “live a mile in their shoes; another shade of empathy

  1. First thing I do every January is check the state website for code updates and adjust my plan template accordingly. It is an annual event because Georgia enjoys to amend things on a regular basis. I don’t think I’ve found one that ever saved a client money, but usually they don’t cause a whole lot of pain. Labor and material costs on the other hand…..

Please leave a reply, and consider sharing this with a friend.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.