Experts cite flaws in reviewed building code, as delays in legislation persist

Friday, September 24th, 2021 00:00 |
Ongoing construction. A proper building code of practice should enhance growth, regulate and revolutionise housing sector. Photo/PD/HARRIET JAMES

In January this year, the Kenya construction industry was expecting to see changes in the built environment with the adoption of the European Code of Standards, known as EuroCodes, replacing the British Standards (BS) that have been in use since 1968. 

The new codes are to provide a solution to challenges currently being experienced in the sector among them provide for use of new technology and materials while rectifying anormalies in the sector.

However, the new building is yet to be legislated by parliament.. 

“The new code is not in use yet. It is still awaiting parliamentary approval and publication.

We dont know how long that shall take, but probably by the end of the year,” says Wilson Mugambi, president of the  Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK).

He notes that while the old code isn’t bad, there is need for it to be updated to be at par with current advances in materials, zoning policies and technologies.

“Using the old one has led to conflicts between various authorities in the construction sector.

For instance, an architect can prescribe something new, such as precast concrete panels, and the approving county may not have it in their list of accredited materials.

A delay may occur in the process,” he observes, adding, “Also, if there’s a new technology being used, some developers may be apprehensive to apply it as there’s no legislation recognising it.” 

Revised code

Eurocodes are Europe’s first set of harmonised rules covering all aspects of the structural design of buildings and other civil engineering works.

Many practicing structural engineers who grew up with the BS as their defacto guide on matters design will now have to embrace and adopt the Eurocodes.

Most of the rules in the Eurocodes are based on the same principles used in the British Standards. However, they are updated with recent research on aspects dealing with the structure of a building.

They are less stringent than the BS because most of the aspects lie with the designer.

Professor Robert Rukwaro, the acting principal College of Architecture and Engineering, who has been involved in revision of the building code, however, explains that the revised building code went through a participatory process where all the stakeholders in the built environment were involved.

 “It is performance standard-based, meaning that the actors have been given certain designs of floors, roofs and other elements of the building and out of that, they can inject their innovations in coming up with new materials, as well as construction techniques.

The code is not prescriptive as it allows for people to improve it,“ he says.

 “There are also a lot of new areas in the document that were not present in the earlier code,” he adds.

For instance, areas, such as landscaping, that now are very clear with designs that can be followed, glazing, cladding or curtain walling have been considered to ensure that it captures emerging issues.

Rukwaro says the revisions were premised on the 1996 document, which has 24 parts and two schedules.

One deals with figures while the other with tables. It also has 555 articles and standards.

The purpose of the code is to look at issues of safety, security, health and convenience at the site. 

The code deals with building issues, such as design, construction, operation maintenance and demolition, and not development control issues.

It will also be concerned with the standard of building materials, building operations and disaster management, safety and security of users of the building. 

Chairman of Association of Construction Managers of Kenya (ACMK), Nashon Okowa on the other hand faults the document saying it contains critical gaps that need to be addressed.

He says after waiting for many years to review the building code, we must do one code, which history will have few parallels.

“We must do one for longevity.  Unfortunately, I do not envisage the current drafted code and one for the future.

This is because it has failed to recognise key independent players that have now emerged in the industry, such as project managers and landscape architects.

Instead it tends to stick with old rugged traditional way of construction. I see it being challenged in court if it’s not amended to be all inclusive,” notes Nashon.

 The draft building code section 61 reads: “Second-hand material shall not be used on construction work.”

Nashon argues that for a country that is grappling with high cost of construction and in line with promoting sustainable development, to which our country is a member, this should be reconsidered.

“Let us save our environment’s limited resources by allowing use of good second-hand materials.

The code should pronounce itself elaborately on what test should be carried out to determine suitability of such materials before use. This is a good practice universally,” he adds. 

He also notes that the Defects Liability Period Section 527 referred to in the code was, and still is, a subject of uproar by construction industry stakeholders and is a matter before the courts.

Prior to the Regulations, model construction contracts used in the construction industry provided for a patent defect liability period in six months from the practical completion date while providing none for latent defects.

“Its period is impractical and will be costly for the industry. It’s reference must be deferred,” he says.

Another bone of contention in the draft building code is the role of professionals. 

“The new code fails to recognise the key roles of the emerging professions in the industry. In the old one, the architect was the alpha and omega.

These new professions, such as project management are taught in public universities, the students are funded with public money and yet the same government say they don’t know them. That is ridiculous!” Nashon poses.

Ngumo Kariuki, a landscape architect in a recent webinar organised by the AAK on the Draft Building Regulations (National Building Code) said there are just four pages describing what a landscaper’s role is.

“In the edited version we have seen very little in terms of what we would consider as a landscape architect, their contribution, and what they really do.

It only outlines a few things on planting, which is 10 per cent of what a landscape architect does,” he observes  

“Currently there are over 300 graduates in landscape architecture, which means that in the next 10 years we will probably have over 3,000.

We need an early intervention to start contributing nationally and to also be involved in the built environment and associated professions,” he adds. 

The success of the new building code, the experts say, will also depend on the success of the counties to monitor professionals in those counties. However, most of the counties lack the capacity to implement it.

“The counties should have a department of infrastructure, housing and development equipped with the manpower to employ professionals who are licensed , qualified and registered. If not possible, they should engage professionals as consultants.

Lack of this will make the counties fall short of the building code requirements,” recommends engineer Shammah Kiteme, adding that professional associations and registration bodies should also push for the counties to avail a list of registered professionals so that we don’t have unregistered people submitting plans for approval by the requisite bodies.  

Juliet Rita, Town Planning Chapter chairperson at AAK notes that one of our failures has been on implementation of plans, which has already been approved.

“If properly implemented this is a code that will assist us in getting good and orderly developments, but there is a lot of room for improvement, especially for developments that do not quite meet the standards that we have set, particularly when we look at the informality.

Most of the times we think of informality as slums, but I want us to think of developments that are already existing in terms of the tenements that we already have like Githurai and Kayole and how we can make them better and have them developed within the guidelines so that they are habitable and safe for the people living there in,” she explains. 

According to Rita, institutions, such as The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) also have to be equipped in skills and ensure that the right professionals are working there.

“Something also has to be done on how they are able to retain professionals and look for ways through which they can contract professionals if they are not able to employ.

The issue of contracting has been captured in the new code of regulations,” she says.

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