x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Onward and upward, safely

When conformity dictates a city's design, its character is sacrificed. But building codes are another matter; they must be made uniform if the city is to be safe and liveable.

When conformity dictates a city's design, its character is sacrificed. But building codes are another matter; they must be made uniform if the city is to be safe and liveable.

While Abu Dhabi is building one of the fastest growing and most inspiring skylines in the Gulf, it has work to do when it comes to the guidelines that govern their construction. Better late than never. New building codes will be released early next year and builders, designers, and architects will have a coherent set of guidelines for safer, more energy efficient buildings.

Until now, the industry, one of the most important in the region, operated under a discordant mix of international rules. Buildings had to abide by American guidelines for fire safety. For structural standards, they followed British rules. The mix of rules was hardly a sound framework and left both contractors and regulators in the lurch. Soon this should change. "These regulations are bringing it all together and improving all aspects, from fire safety, to energy, to durability," Ali Bukair, a consultant for policies and regulations with the Department of Municipal Affairs, tells The National today.

The world's great cities often struggle with adopting building codes as they grow. Take New York City, for instance. More than 100 garment workers died in a factory fire in 1911 before the city began taking fire and workplace safety regulations seriously. Yet stricter regulations requiring more exits and better sprinkler systems did not stop the construction of the Empire State Building or other architectural icons.

Authorities in Abu Dhabi have had the good sense of not waiting for tragedy to prompt them into action. They have also adapted the building code in consideration for the harsh climate of the emirate. They wish not only to promote safety, but also the use of materials that will improve their energy efficiency. Unscrupulous contractors that seek to cut corners will have a tougher time under the new regime and builders may resist these new rules because of the higher costs they will incur, but there is a far dearer cost in human life when buildings are unsafe. What is needed now is for the laws to be enforced in the same seriousness in which they were developed.