One thing I do have a strong belief in is that no matter how creative you may be, you need to know your local building codes. You can’t play the game if you don’t know the rules. I have recently seen two sets of plans that were preliminary designs that never panned out. With one quick look, it smacked me in the face that the stairs were too close together. They were no where near meeting code pertaining to how far apart egress exits had to be. I as an architect would find this to be embarrassing. If you don’t get your basics down, everything you build on in your future designs is flawed. “Laypeople”, pardon my Catholic upbringing, have no idea if what you have shown them meets the current codes. That is why they hired a professional. I can’t imagine spending months on a project and having a client pay you months of a fee to come to a point when someone points out that your stairs are to close. People do not have any idea how difficult it is sometime to move items in your design. Sometimes it is a minor thing, but other time it requires a redesign. Something like stairs, if they had to be moved could screw up an entire design. What do you tell the client? “Sorry I didn’t know?” I am sure more times than not they blame the inspections department.
I have a friend who is a permits and inspection administrator in another state, but extremely knowledgeable about the International Building Code. I often call her during the design process to discuss code interpretations. I am well aware I need to verify with my local inspections department how they would interpret the particular section of the code as it applies to my area, but sometime I need a basic understanding so I can discuss the topic intelligently and that is the information and understanding that this friend provides me. I am shocked when she tells me that some local architects are not knowledgeable about the code and consider it her job, as a public servant, to provide that code compliance review services as part of her job? I am not making this up!
To me it is like a professional baseball player who hits a homerun. He runs around the baseline and comes home only to have the catcher turn around and tag him out. Shocked he asked the umpire why? “Well you didn’t touch second base.” The player responses, “Well I thought if I knocked it out of the park, running the bases was just a formality. I didn’t know I had to touch all the bases. Hey it is not my fault, the umpire should have told me when I was running the bases!” Best analogy I could come up with at this time.
Having other individuals review your drawings for code compliance doesn’t relieve the architect from knowing the guidelines under which he can design. It amazed me on a daily basis how I get stumped and confused about the code. I would think after 26 years I would have this down pat, but I don’t. The code can be a tricky thing. I learned the hard way, after buying a wall’s worth of sheetrock, that you have to look in several sections of the code, not just one for certain criteria. Like my roommate in college use to say “It’s not knowing the answers, but where to go find the answers” I admit that I do not know all the answers in the code book, but I have a pretty good idea of where to look. When all else fails I use my “life line” and call a very special friend!