New building code needed to enhance safety

Engeneer Shammah Kiteme. [Courtesy]

In 1905, Nairobi became the capital of the British East Africa protectorate. The head of the municipality, as it was then, was officially identified as Mayor in 1923.

By then, Nairobi was growing very fast. To realise an orderly development, a town planning consultant was appointed in 1926.

In the same year, the colonial government introduced the first building control by-laws in Nairobi. This was an attempt to realise a coordination of the development of the municipality.

These 1926 by-laws were replaced by Nairobi Council by-laws of 1948. They covered planning and zoning in the municipality. In 1950, Nairobi became a city by the Royal Charter of Incorporation.

This came as a result of a petition by the local government in Nairobi to His Majesty the King to grant this status to mark 50 years of the local government presence in Nairobi.

After Kenya gained independence from the British government in 1963, many instruments were rebranded from the crown to the Kenya government emblems.

It is in this regard that in 1968 the local government (adoptive by-laws) (building) Order 1968 became the building code via Legal Notice No. 15, the code was operationalised and to date it is the applicable code for building control in Kenya.

The Grade II by-laws were made to satisfy building control requirements in urban authorities.

This is how Kenya currently uses a building code that is 75 years, if not 97 years old.

This should be interesting because for all those years, new ways of doing things have emerged - new construction materials, advancement in engineering design codes, among others.

For instance, the code uses imperial units of measurement while we use metric units of measurement.

Clearly therefore, there is need to revise our building code to be in line with current science and technology.

There has been an effort to review the code. In 1996 when the Sunbeam building collapsed in Nairobi, the government established The Mutiso Commission with a mandate to look into ways to avoid a similar collapse in future.

The commission came with a raft of recommendations, which included review of the building code. The first draft was released in 2009 the final code is yet to be gazetted.

There is good progress made in this regard. However, during the same period, Rwanda benchmarked with Kenya and has since ratified its own building code, borrowing heavily from Kenya's draft.

With the government focus on affordable housing, it is now urgent that a revised building code is legislated into effect.

This will not only replace the outdated current code but it will also provide an avenue for enhancing building safety, encouraging research and innovation in the construction industry by adopting modern design codes and improving the economy and wellbeing of occupants of well-designed modern buildings.

A revised code would embrace multi-hazard resilience as part of good practice. Sustainability and resilience will go hand in hand in ensuring the building infrastructure we develop going forward makes sure that our buildings can withstand extreme weather events of defined magnitude.

Whether floods or wind and seismic activity, design of new buildings should factor these. The science of weather data collection, recording and forecasting is far improved now than it was 75 years ago.

Use of updated hazard maps will therefore go a long way in achieving more resilient buildings and supporting infrastructure.

Energy conservation and environmental design aspects leading to design of green buildings should form a key plank of the revised new building regulations.

These will form a key part of ensuring the construction industry will play a key role in climate action.

Standardisation generally has the added benefits of streamlining trade. This is because the application of the revised building standards would guide the industry, from designers to manufacturers and contractors, on the acceptable standards.

This in turn creates employment opportunities and with more clarity reduces construction disputes since it is clear to all parties what quality is and what it is not.

It is very crucial to the success of the Affordable Housing Plan that the new building regulations are enacted to ensure that the building control aspect is properly managed.

- The writer is a civil structural engineer and a member of the National Committee on the Finalisation of Building Code