The need for a change in mindset
As an architect, one of the things I really don’t enjoy is going to the Local Authority to submit drawings for the approval of a project. It is a necessary evil - a process that should happen - but the people who run these departments are seldom helpful and this makes it difficult. I worked in the eThekwini Department for 10 years (six years full time).
My approach was to (a) look for ways of moving these applications through the system and (b) to identify ways to approve them during the very first round. Unfortunately, this wasn’t always appreciated by the public, or by the department! The more you get it right, the more is expected of you by the public; while the different departments are often just at loggerheads with each other – internal politics. I believe this isn’t the only place where this situation exists: it’s the nature of the beast! These days with environmental awareness being so high, new standards have been set for buildings, which passively deal with the climate to make our energy bills lower, and lesson the impact on our environment. These standards stipulate the figures for heat transfer of different materials, as well as solar heat gained through windows, which make for comfortable indoor environments. South Africa has been divided into different climate zones; the figures differ for each zone, as well as for the aspect of the building. In my opinion it is quite complex; but then again it’s also quite simple once you settle down and fill in the charts. It is an additional requirement - one which many applicants are unhappy about.
These new standards apply to all new projects, as well to any additions or alterations (as do all the regulations). At the South African Bureau of Standards Shop - SANS 204 Energy Efficiency in buildings and SANS 10400-XA Energy Usage in Buildings are ‘best sellers’ - well done! But, as much as we are heading in the right direction with respect to energy efficiency, I don’t think the building industry takes the same serious attitude towards SANS 10400-S Facilities for Persons with Disabilities. SANS 10400-S is no less mandatory in terms of the SA Constitution, and has been in place since 1987, even though our current Constitution only came into being in 1997. The Building Control Officers in the various Municipalities might need to exert a bit more effort in insisting on compliance. Non-compliance with this part is not in itself considered an offence, but non-compliance with an approved drawing does.
The follow through of implementing SANS 10400-S, also comes down to the Building Inspectors, who have to oversee the compliance of the buildings with the approved drawings. Sometimes if levels or widths of circulation routes have been changed on site and they are only ‘minor’, they are permitted to clear them. However, it might turn out to be something that makes all the difference to the accessibility, once the building is finished. It is the complexity of these things, that add up to delivering non-compliant buildings. I did my training in 1953-1958, when we rarely used air conditioning in buildings, so in the design studio we were all highly aware of aspect, cross ventilation, shading, etc. although we thought nothing of access for Persons with Disabilities, and Universal Access at that time. It just shows that awareness for particular needs, be it air, warmth, energy efficiency or accessibility, need to have thorough and determined education drives aimed at local authorities and within the industry itself. I believe this is what we are seeing with respect to energy efficiency awareness and the subsequent general compliance. Awareness has driven compliance.
Maybe the convenience (low maintenance) side of the Regulations (Health, Safety and Convenience) is beginning to assert itself, and hopefully this is true for the users of the buildings. Let buildings be convenient to the broadest range of people possible.