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Podcast Episode 42

ICC Pulse Podcast Episode 42: International Building Quality Centre (IBQC) Guidelines for Developing Countries

The following is a transcript of key sections of the ICC Pulse Podcast Episode 42 that featured Professor Alfred Omenya and Professor Kim Lovegrove RML discussing the International Building Quality Centre and the recently released IBQC Good Practice Guidelines for Low Income Countries. Professor Omenya and Professor Lovegrove were part of the working group that formulated the guidelines alongside some of their fellow IBQC board members. Rough time stamps have been provided in the below transcript in square brackets.

The Audio for the Podcast can be accessed HERE.

[2.30] Professor Kim Lovegrove  

The IBQC was established about 18 months ago and it is an initiative that was sponsored by the University of Canberra and has been provided with tremendous support by the ICC. It is an international thought leadership group that comprises international experts with a high level of experience in the design and application of regional and international best practice pertaining to the as-built ecology. So it is a thought leadership champion and to reiterate has an outstanding Board that were hand-picked on account of their international expertise.

It is an altruistic organisation in that the Board members contribute their time on a pro-bono basis which is quite remarkable mindful of the time challenges they all have. The founding vision is to come up with international guidelines on international best practice construction regulation. The IBQC has three main projects on foot at the moment – in fact, one was completed at the end of last year, the IBQC Principles for Good Practice Building Regulation. Currently, the projects preoccupying the Board are as follows:

  • developing good practice guidelines for product safety, and there is a working group immersed in that currently, and that group is chaired by Dame Judith Hackitt, and very shortly there will be a problem statement released for consideration by the international audience as a precursor to generating the good practice guidelines for product safety
  • The generation of an international best practice diploma in building inspection, and this diploma is probably going to be a world first. Many jurisdictions in light of institutional constraints do not necessarily have the capacity to generate building diplomas for building inspectors – in fact some jurisdictions do not have building inspectors as such. The ICC has very kindly provided a building inspector template which will be morphed into an instrument that focuses on the good practice science of building inspection, and countries that do not have the capability as such will be able to avail themselves of this course online.
  • The third project is the generation the IBQC Good Practice Guidelines for Low Income Countries. These guidelines are in the process of being launched. We are providing a reference point that reforming jurisdictions can have regard to when they embark upon a reform initiative in their particular jurisdiction. What is unique about the IBQC is that it is an apolitical organisation and a think-tank that is an expert hub where the Board members donate a substantial amount of their time to this thought-leadership and as we are afforded the opportunity in an apolitical construct to have a coalescence of very good thinkers, we are able to focus on the purity of regulatory constructs.

It follows that we have a great deal of excitement about the projects pending and we think the projects will have a considerable utilitarian benefit.

Moderator: Thank you so much Kim that was a very good overview of the IBQC and the big projects that are underway. Both of you have had much experience in Africa. In what ways did your backgrounds provide you with the motivation to work through the IBQC to create these new guidelines for Low Income Countries?

[9.10] Professor Alfred Omenya

I would view my work in three strands. Firstly, I have worked quite a lot in Africa in the realm of academia – basically training architects, engineers and so on – through South Africa, Malawi, Kenya and so on. So I have done quite a lot of work there as an intellectual.

The second is as a professional. I have worked as an architect in South Africa, Malawi, Kenya and Ethiopia and a number of other countries. The issues I was starting to engage with in this jurisdictions and then asking questions in respect of the presenting challenges.

The last one is that I ended up being amongst some of the consultants who were working with the World Bank in work that led to the development of quite a lot of building codes and regulations. I was involved directly as the lead for the codes in Malawi, as the lead in the codes for Uganda, as the lead in the codes for Afghanistan, and also for the planning regulations and standards in Kenya.

So how has this motivated the work we do for IBQC? My general concern as an academic, if you go back to the first strand, is training and educating architects and engineers and so on.

[12.12] There are many Western assumptions that are not prevalent in many emerging economies and in many areas the converse is the case.

A Lot of time when training architects and engineers we end up using western models to train them because we don’t have local models and local standards and local confirmations for building, so a lot of the references are Western references. Some of these references are not totally relevant to the problems dealt with by the people that we are training in the schools in architecture and engineering. Where we are training on a day-to-day basis problems become more glaring in these areas and when you start working as a professional in a number of areas, you see nobody approving buildings after building.

There is no framework for approval in some jurisdictions, no building standards in some countries, no development control requirements for many years. Only recently there has been agreement on who should be a player in the construction industry in certain African jurisdictions.

Apart from the main cities and towns, there are areas that are unregulated, where anyone can build. One ends up with a built environment that is vulnerable where nobody is clear on the minimum requirements for safety for people and investments in terms of homes and property.

Many countries don’t know what the codes and standards are and what these codes and standards are to do, what has to be tied into law and regulations. Many of these countries have standards that were copied directly from Western Europe on the way you build, materials used and electrical and mechanical systems; some of which are totally irrelevant for these countries. The few countries that have codes and standards have codes and standards that are often irrelevant to them so many don’t know where to start.

[15.55] Professor Kim Lovegrove

There are different challenges in Africa, 80 percent of homes are built with traditional mediums; you can’t adopt a developed economy construct and a top-down approach and just migrate it and bolt it on, in top-down fashion to an emerging ecology ecosystem.

Engineered solution comprises modern urban cities like Nairobi, Johannesburg and a lot of buildings there are built in accordance with international engineered solution standards.

But when 70 or 80 percent of the population is living in a rural environment in homes that are built by owner builders or community members who are not qualified in building let alone engineering; and when construction techniques include Dobie bricks, mud walls, and thatched rooves – it is impossible to adopt an engineered regulatory construct and just expect it to integrate and harmonise and dance with traditional approaches to construction.

Then you’ve got the third paradigm, the informal settlement scenario, not infrequently proximate to cities and townships. They are slum areas like a no man’s land, an unregulated, half-way house paradigm and the challenges of regulating are profound, because in some respects, they are regulatory no go zones.

One has to devise regulations that are bespoke to the particular paradigm and by and large they are limited to enforcement powers, and dangerous and ruinous buildings, to protect the public and harm being occasioned to individuals. One needs enforcement mechanisms for evacuations and sometimes demolition.

It is the three rather profoundly different paradigms that legislation needs to traverse.

Moderator: is there anything else that you would like to share in respect of the challenges that the team faced in respect of creating the guidelines for developing countries?

[18.50] Professor Kim Lovegrove

One of the challenges in emerging economies is that you have the central government regulator (CGR) and local government reminiscent of advanced economies. But there is the other paradigm particularly in rural areas where you have traditional urban leaders, chiefs, village elders and they inter-generationally have been part of the leadership structure. By virtue of the fact that in the traditional and rural paradigms your village elders are the community leaders, it is absolutely critical that they are interconnected with the consultative mechanisms with local government and building controllers; a wide net that gives all a say at the table.

This hasn’t been approached with a high level of connectivity in many of emerging constructs in the past and what we have done with the guidelines is deal with this. And we are saying that legislation should have a formal mechanism whereby the CGR and the responsible operatives in local government do formally interact with the hinterland of rural chiefs, because in the vernacular building paradigm it is actually the chiefs or urban leaders that will have the ‘boots on the ground’ capability to influence safe construction outcomes with traditional intergenerational practices to building. They have to be part of the mechanism and we have designed a mechanism where every 18 months or so there would be the ability for that broader net leadership construct, to interact to facilitate cross jurisdictional harmonisation, jurisdiction within the context of city jurisdictional, local government and rural jurisdiction.

[21.33] Moderator: Alfred how do you think the guidelines assist in emerging economies and do you have advice to leaders in those economies as they look at these guidelines and trying to assess how their systems match with the recommendation?  Are the guidelines overwhelming or are they written intentionally to provide only a general direction?

Professor Alfred Omenya

These guidelines are what a lot of emerging economies need because they speak to the fundamental challenges that these emerging economies have;  they ask fundamental questions around building codes and standards and what they are meant to do. If leaders use the guidelines, they can ask more fundamental questions that will lead them to develop more relevant building codes, standards and regulations.

The guidelines ask what do we need to regulate, why do we need to regulate in the first instance and the guidelines proceed to highlight the different areas that need to be dealt with.

The guidelines highlight the legal issues around:

  • building regulations, building control and standards
  • The idea of the code itself and what it does,
  • the idea of the framework for engagement of the different parties particularly involved in construction,
  • licensing practitioners
  • Approvals and systems of approval and what sort of agencies are necessary
  • Why and how do we approve inspections; and
  • How we explore the issues around administration of codes.

The guidelines highlight the critical issues that must be taken into consideration in the administration of codes, legally and practically.

You should look at the guidelines as frameworks to ask relevant questions, and to solve unique local problems. The team has approached the guidelines at a broad level, dealing with the critical issues of operationally, in terms of human resources in order to ask relevant questions on how to develop relevant frameworks.

We ask how do we deal with rural settlements in Malawi, what do we turn into law; and in Afghanistan, how do we deal with issues of disasters; in Kenya who are practitioners, what are they allowed to do, inspectors and what do they do? What do we turn into law and how does that relate to the different local framework? What are the overarching principles and how do we problematize the most significant issues that regulations and standards need to deal with, highlight the most important issues and them priorities?

Most importantly we are running away from cut and paste codes and standards and shifting to fundamental principles of what codes need to do in order to equip leaders to be able to do what they are supposed to do, rather than telling them this is how it’s done in Western Europe and you just need to change the titles here and there.

Quick Break

So Kim can you explain some of the context of some of the regulatory systems in low income

[29.10] Moderator: within the context of regulatory systems in lower income countries how do you think the guidelines will play out?

Professor Kim Lovegrove

The three paradigm theme in good practice legislation that will resonate with the reality on the ground will require the Building Act to have three major components to it. The largest will be the engineered solution component, very reminiscent of Western regulation where: the CGR has a qualification mechanism for licenced practitioners; there is an articulated building permit system where building officials are appointed to issue the building permit, carry out inspections and issue the occupancy permit; there are conventional dispute resolution systems where you have dedicated dispute resolution theatres for resolution of construction disputes or permit disputes housed in the part of the Act that deals with engineered solutions, highly regulatory and very prescriptive.

The second tier will comprise vernacular buildings as 80 or 70 percent of the construction in the rural hinterland of many regions comprises traditional vernacular buildings. One cannot have top-down highly intrusive regulations that presuppose a high level of scientific robustness in terms of the construction process. One has to recognise this reality as the tone is dealing with traditional construction mediums where there are profound economic challenges so in the second part of the Building Act there would be the promulgation of good practice guidelines for the traditional medium

Informal settlements are not regulated because there are no legal controls or urban controls because this is an illegal construct, comprising slum, favela-like, and organic, ad hoc building. As this is the “no man’s land” area, the unregulated area, there is profound risk particularly with the proximity to built-up areas, so the act has to give the CGR and local government the ability to intervene where there are dangerous buildings to evacuate and effect demolition.

A good practice Building Act that resonates  with the contemporary reality of emerging economies will have 3 discrete divisions to it, engineered, vernacular building guidelines; enforcement powers for the informal settlement and there  will be a building code and the code will contain the technical regulations but the code will predominately concern itself with the engineered solution construct. But there will be a part of the technical guidelines for construction in rural areas that use traditional vernacular and intergenerationally adopted connection techniques.

[33.32] Moderator: So, Alfred, as Kim has already mentioned and described, the IBQC Guidelines for Low Income Countries refer to three separate paradigms. I am interested in your perspective as an architect how you would explain a bit further about what each of these is and why is it important to address each of them separately in the guidelines.

[34.00] Professor Alfred Omenya

The IBQC has done pretty well in terms of the categorisation, which is important if you are going to regulate buildings. If you are going to have standards around buildings, you want to have standards that are relevant to the majority of building stock. If you start from that perspective, and you look at the West you will find that most of the buildings have been built by professionals and by large construction industries and been subjected to standards.

But when you come to developing countries in Africa, parts of Asia and Latin America, you find that in addition to the formal buildings there is a huge stock of buildings that have stood for many years, what are called slums and informal settlements, characterised by poor quality construction, not having been subjected to building controls and by illegal buildings for example buildings that have been built on road reserves but pose great danger to the users.

Whether you are looking at Mumbai, Delhi, Johannesburg, Nairobi, or Lagos and so on you will find that a lot of the slums and informal settlements with high density, run down conditions and poor serviceability are found largely in urban areas. But then in Africa and parts of Asia, we are still urbanising, so we also have a huge stock of buildings that are not informal but at the same time they are not engineered.

We are also talking about buildings that exist in rural areas, where buildings have been built for many generations and some of those buildings are quite safe, passed from one generation to another.  Typically, different ways of building have been mastered. These building in tribal areas you will find in rural Malawi, in rural Afghanistan, in rural India, in Masai land in Kenya, in South Africa. These rural areas are not that dense and are not illegal as such because they are not subjected to rural controls and within the team at the IBQC we were looking at the overall building stock in developing countries and these became the dominant typologies.

The thinking was that if you regulate the engineered buildings and then the informal and vernacular, you have regulated a huge percentage of the building stock; you are then, in a democratic sense, provisioning  maximum safety and security to the highest number of people and the highest numbers of building typologies.

In respect of the definition of the typologies, when we are talking about the engineered solutions, we are talking about formal buildings in cities and towns that are typically built in formal legal areas with titles, typically built by qualified and registered contractors with appropriate equipment. Engineered buildings tend to be undertaken by a set of professionals, architects, engineers quantity surveyors and so on trained in the trades. They tend to follow the codes and standards even though they don’t exist in particular jurisdictions so they adopt codes and standards from different jurisdictions and apply them, so a lot of building in Africa fits into that paradigm.

Then we have informal buildings that UN habitat has been working on for many years; poorly built in many instances. They don’t have titles to their land because the building is not carried out by registered people. These people can’t afford access to professionals, so they do things themselves, some of the buildings are of a reasonable standard so that they can be upgraded, to be approved, but most of them are a threat to those who live in them. Both in terms of the context of the areas where they are building but also in terms of the way they have been built technically, and by way of their materiality. Whenever you have disasters  in Afghanistan when you have floods in Malawi building collapses in Lagos, these areas represent some of the largest fatalities and there was thinking that we need to look at these areas carefully.

Vernacular represents the way buildings have been built for many years, but outside the regulations and a lot of those areas tend to be rural, but there’s no standard, no consistency, so some of the buildings are of good quality but a lot of them are very vulnerable in that those who built them do not follow strict standards and principles.

Hence the discussion in the IBQC you need to look at all of the typologies, unique in their own ways with hey their strengths and vulnerabilities. The building codes and standards need to be framed in a way that optimises the strengths and deal with the areas of vulnerability, so that ultimately, we end up with codes and standards that ensure maximum safety for maximum building stock and maximum safety for the maximum number of people.

[41.05] Moderator: so given all of that what is the significance of the guidelines and what will be their impact?

[41.20] Professor Kim Lovegrove

We haven’t been able to locate any research that recognises this three-paradigm regulatory construct, maybe it was considered too hard; conceptually it was very challenging.

One thing one has to do is to inoculate oneself against looking at an emerging economy paradigm when one is looking at regulation through, in my case, antipodean or Western lenses. One has to change lenses and look at it through local lenses too – that was challenging.

Now that we have generated these guidelines, we have generated an instrument that can be used as a conceptual mechanism that recognises the three-paradigm dynamic to impress upon policy makers that one cannot adopt a ‘one size fits all approach’ that is based upon engineered solution regulatory approaches, to a diverse trinary dynamic. The fact that we have recognised the three-paradigm approach, where you can have highly prescriptive regulations for the engineered and in terms of the vernacular you can have guidelines and the informal setting you must have formal powers for local government and the CGR to remove harm for the dangerous buildings we have generated very important and useful reference instrument that channel law reformers along the right track.

[43.25] Moderator: Alfred, what is your perspective about this as well?

[43.47] Professor Alfred Omenya

One of the major challenges is that a lot of developing countries have been developing building codes without asking the fundamental question what are these building codes and standards trying to achieve? What problems are they trying to solve? They have not dealt with that question, they see building codes as being desirable, one must have them, so many countries have simply cut and paste codes. For those of us that have worked in this area we know that this is one of the biggest challenges, some countries copy codes from other countries, they copy standards and then a lot of those codes and standards become irrelevant for the jurisdictions. The problem with that is that you can’t apply the code and the standards that have put in place without asking these fundamental questions.

The game changer here is that we are not starting with codes and standards, we are starting with principles. We are starting with the whys: why does a country need good building codes and regulations? Good building laws – what are they meant to achieve if successfully implemented? What would have been achieved if they had not been there in the first instance? Then what must they contain? And then we deal with that.

We are doing advocacy around building codes and standards, trying to explain why they must be there and why they must be generated from first principles so that they can start speaking to their problems. So that they have  relevance of the code, so that the ordinary citizens embrace the code because they know that the code is there to protect them, to give them a good quality environment to live in, to protect them from the vagaries of disaster, to protect their investment. Rather than seeing the codes as instruments of the state to police and repress or use as the basis for revenue generation, and nothing beyond that.

We are starting a global advocacy of the fundamental importance of building codes and standards, what they are meant to do. We are shifting that discourse from prescriptive to more fundamental questions: why do we need a code, what does a good code look like? Then after that, countries can look at their own jurisdictions and developing solutions. Don’t be afraid to discuss your issues; don’t be afraid to put your building problems on the table; don’t worry about what other people have done as such. Deal with your problems, sort out your issues and build that incrementally rather than having a huge document that is likely to be irrelevant for your jurisdiction, so I see this as a game changer

[48.20] Moderator so what are the next steps for IBQC in general and these newly published guidelines?

[48.32] Professor Kim Lovegrove 

One set of guidelines was published in October 2020, they are perennials and I encourage anyone who listened to the podcast to avail themselves of same.

In terms of these guidelines, we want them to be shared ‘holis bolis’, the IBQC is an altruistic organisation, a unique collection of some of the finest law reform thinkers on the planet.  When you have this collective cross-regional cosmopolitan group of individuals, it is a wonderful melting pot of people that are able to develop pure concepts. It is that purity, the generation of instruments in an apolitical environment where insofar as there is an agenda it is to save lives, to generate better efficiencies in the construction process and, hopefully if some of these concepts are picked up, thousands and thousands and thousands of lives can be made better by way of the dividends of good practice regulation. That’s our raison d’etre in this organisation, it is what motivated all of these people, incredibly time challenged to get together and contribute their time so generously and freely. It’s for the betterment of the global citizen.

Moderator: It makes me proud that the ICC is associated with this altruistic initiative with Dominic Sims as a board member of the IBQC.