Building control surveying: worldwide reform
27 September 2018
Although the role of building control surveyors varies around the world, the profession still faces some common challenges, John Miles reflects
It was interesting to hear the various speakers at the RICS Word Built Environment Forum (WBEF) in London in April, who had gathered to discuss the growth of our cities and the everyday challenges that construction professionals face.
We don’t often think of our role as global, but in a changing world there are similar challenges for those in building control wherever they work. Globally speaking, building control is being reformed and, in some cases, reinvented.
Enough has already been said regarding the challenges in the UK market following the Grenfell Tower fire and the proposals in the Hackitt report, but some of the issues highlighted in the latter are representative of the challenges faced by building control internationally.
Risk and resilience
In developing countries, there is an emphasis on resilience and ensuring the sustainability of buildings and infrastructure. In March 2015, the third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction adopted the Sendai framework for disaster risk reduction. With RICS’ assistance, such nations are developing standards to ensure they can mitigate risk.
In Israel, following the catastrophic collapse of the Versailles wedding hall in Jerusalem in 2001, there has been a complete overhaul of the country’s 51-year-old building control system, with RICS’ help, to ensure that buildings are safe and constructed according to the required regulations. This has reinvented the process, introducing the role of building control surveyor for the 1st time by training experts in providing governance, approval and inspection as part of a public–private partnership.
At any given time, 90% of the world’s population are inside buildings, and the role of building control professionals is to ensure their safety
Complex socio-technical challenges around the world mean that what may work for 1 country will not necessarily work for another. However, there is still a recognised commonality: 90% of the world’s population are inside buildings at any given time, and the role of building control professions wherever in the world they work is to ensure their safety.
The way buildings are used in the developed world has changed. Major cities across the globe are recognising the need to be connected, and governments and city leaders are working to improve infrastructure, such as Stockholm’s open-fibre network, or Vienna’s emphasis on creating sustainable social housing and a transport infrastructure accessible to all.
As seen in recent changes to the UK’s Building Regulations, with Approved Document R on electronic communications, data is also becoming a vital commodity for a developing city.
Furthermore, there is a need for cities to re-use old buildings and brownfield sites, and challenges for the profession in the need to shift from considering the cost of a building to the value it brings, which is being driven by social housing providers and city planners. The Hackitt report has also identified that we should not only ensure the provenance of the design and products that go into buildings, but also that users of those buildings are recognised as part of design and management processes.
There has always been a desire to streamline the construction industry; at the WBEF, an expert panel suggested that there needs to be greater cost certainty in the design and use of buildings as well.
Comparisons were made with the aviation industry and the work done by component providers to ensure that parts operate optimally and maintenance is carried out when required.
The comparison isn’t easy to make because of the unique nature of each building, compared to the uniformity of aircraft design. However, the principles for using data can be applied to improve the way we design and manage buildings.
There is an increase in the use of technology such as building information modelling and virtual reality as well as data provided by connected building services to assess the way buildings are used and how changes can affect them. For instance, homes are not just homes any more – with the advent of airbnb, home working and social experiences such as co-housing or dining clubs, we now share them with others.
Concept to construction
What role does building control play in this? As we have access to a vast amount of data and see more buildings in a year than some surveyors and architects deal with over their entire careers, we should share this knowledge with other professionals. Whether working with designers on compliance from the concept stages or visiting the site during construction, building control surveyors should strive to move up the advisory chain to ensure we oversee not only the development of our built environment but also the legislation that governs it.
John Miles is Technical and Business Development Manager at Assent Building Control