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JIS News

The Haitian disaster has put the region in an earthquake awareness mode and renewed interest in a National Building Code for Jamaica, says President of the Jamaican Institute of Architects, Christopher Whyms-Stone.
Speaking with JIS News, Mr. Whyms-Stone said that while the Institute mourned the tremendous loss of life and destruction of property in Haiti caused by the earthquake on January 12, it also welcomed the renewed focus on the issue of proper building codes in Jamaica.
“This is very important, in light of the fact that the majority of our construction does not involve the professional input of architects or engineers,” he lamented.
He says that the preparation of the Jamaica Application Documents for the International Building Code has been undertaken by technical and professional stakeholders in the local construction industry, but that the country needs to go one step further, as quickly, as possible to pass the National Building Code law.
“The need for modern standards to regulate the construction and maintenance of the built environment has been in discussion for many years,” Mr. Whyms-Stone confirmed.
He also pointed out that at a recent meeting between the Jamaican Institute of Architects, the Architects Registration Board, the Caribbean School of Architecture and the Jamaican Institute of Engineers, with the Minister of State responsible for Local Government, Hon. Robert Montague, the stakeholders were assured that legislation required to bring the code into law was being fast-tracked.
President Whyms-Stone noted that professional architects and engineers have always used these codes in designing buildings and structures.
“The public must be made aware that building codes go far beyond regulating the structural integrity of buildings. The codes provide standards to regulate the planning of buildings for adequate ventilation, natural light, sanitation, means of egress, density, flood/hazard mitigation, topography and minimum heights and areas,” he explained.
He also pointed out that the codes provide standards for electrical and mechanical applications, and aim to promote an efficient use of resources.
Architects and Engineers, according to Mr. Whyms-Stone, are the primary pre-construction users of building codes. Their initial designs and drawings must satisfy all the requirements embedded in these codes.
“The Jamaican Institute of Architects has made Continuing Professional Development (CPD) mandatory for its members, as of January 2010,” he said.
He noted that this was necessary to ensure that architects continue updating their knowledge and technical skills, in order to keep pace with new developments in the profession, as well as to meet the qualifications for re-licensing annually.
“The JIA owes it to its members and the public to keep our professionals up to date and current on emerging technologies and standards,” he said.
Mr. Whyms-Stone said that an important factor of the Haitian earthquake, which Jamaicans need to understand, is that the January 12 earthquake was not only powerful, but was also close to the surface of the earth.
“The footage from Haiti showed many buildings which had totally collapsed. The footage also showed many buildings which, though severely structurally damaged, did not collapse. Building codes provide the standards which enable safety during a crisis and good health and comfort during regular occupancy,” he said.
“The earthquake has also demonstrated that the consequences of an under-regulated built environment can be tremendous. We would like to take the opportunity to restate that hazard mitigation does not only apply to buildings, but also to the planning of our neighbourhoods, towns and cities,” he stated.
“We are confident that the Haitian people will rise from the challenges they now face. The JIA along with other regional and international architectural associations have made contact with our Haitian counterparts and are seeking ways to contribute to the reconstruction process,” he added.
Mr. Whyms-Stone said that the JIA will continue to lobby for the implementation of best-practices policies, and to provide the citizens of Jamaica with professional architectural services.
There is constant need for the engagement of thoroughly skilled experts, who are responsible and qualified and who adopt holistic approaches with a resolute awareness of local microclimate, seismic and other requirements that modern buildings must meet, he concluded.