Tackling Building Codes


Studying building code, similar to legal writing, is anything but an easy task. Part of an architect's job is to make sure projects meet codes. Unfortunately, ambiguity and uncertainty are common while studying city code and building code. Submissions to the city that do not meet code requirements often drag on for days, hindering progress. DBLAB aims is to devise accurate and efficient strategies that realize triggered codes without sacrificing good spatial design.

One criticism of the architecture profession is the lack of review. It takes effort to complete a project, yet completed projects are often archived and never see the light of day again. It will be beneficial to take an objective look at past projects because they will reveal every mistake, and more importantly the resolutions to those mistakes. Therefore, our first strategy is to learn from past experience.


First, we gathered and recorded all interactions with the city. To do so we built a custom parser (written in python) that "reads" all inbound messages from the city. We programmed the parser to extract and partition information useful for code study and future reference, such as code section, key terms, and even the examiner. This block of organized information acts as a database that starts to link into projects, pointing us to the specifics of every project. For instance, a response to a project submission stated that an exterior stair landing must be minimal 3 feet wide. We can conveniently trace back to the specific plan drawings according to comment date with the established database. Furthermore, revised version of the same drawings can teach us the appropriate changes to the project.

Comments from the city


Comments in tabular format


Besides inspecting architectural drawings, we know bureaucratic procedure is as important in the submission process. In the city of Philadelphia, there are many departments to report to before obtaining a building permit. These departmental requirements often change due to the political agenda of the city, and keeping up-to-date with them is not easy. The database we are establishing aims to highlight this issue as well, so we can get a more timely acknowledgment of updates of the submission process.

Learning from pass experience is a feeble attempt to make sense of the broader architectural process. We also need to look forward in future projects to avoid making known mistakes. Forward looking strategy requires more effort than record keeping. It requires us to develop an integrated tool within the BIM environment as part of the quality assurance process. This tool complements the architect by acting as a catch-all situation to identify errors before a submission.


We expected this entire development to be a marathon as long as Designblendz's architecture services are well and operating. In the end, we have more than one goal in mind. Aiding architects in the code review process is the priority at the moment. We also like to create a visual building mass tool that is generic enough to educate the public about codes, and specific enough to inform clients about their projects on a ubiquitous platform.


Feasibility visualization


About The Author

Billy is the Director of Research & Development at Designblendz who helps us to keep up with the fast-paced technological world. Read his blog posts here.