Architects predict costly outcome, fear erosion of professional standards from building bill
The Building Bill, which is on its way to becoming law, continues to stir concern among architects who fear an influx of unregistered designers and a prospective rise in the cost of doing business.
Robert Woodstock, the chairman of both the Architects Registration Board, ARB, and the Practice Committee of the Jamaican Institute of Architects, said this week that while he applauded many aspects of the bill, he is cautioning against loopholes that could lead to a contradiction of its intent.
The bill, known as the Building Act, was passed in the Senate with amendments on January 26, with a concurring vote from the Lower House on Tuesday, February 6.
Woodstock, who is also a partner in Harold Morrison+Robert Woodstock Associates Limited, is contending that elements of the bill could cause development costs to spiral, including the introduction of new steps in the certification of construction activity.
"While the need for the local authority to ensure compliance is very important, if not managed properly, and with the right staff, could have a side effect corruption. Also, unfortunately, as the new bill requires certification at every stage of construction ... this could lead to delays in completing the works and its attendant costs," the architect said.
He noted, too, that while the alignment of the Jamaican Building Code with the International Building Code, or IBC, of the International Code Council, had many advantages, it would incur costs to purchase the suite of codes and stay up to date.
Similarly, the software used by architects, he adds, requires annual licensing fees per user, which rise with each update by the software developer.
"The IBC works in a similar manner, and while the Bureau of Standards is trying its best to ensure affordability, these costs will ultimately have to be passed on to the client/developer," Woodstock said.
Still, he said architects are generally in support of the new building bill, the intent of which is to modernise the construction sector and promote sustainable developments.
The legislation is expected to replace Jamaica's century-old building code and superseded the KSAC Building Act and the Parish Councils Building Act.
"We also endorse, in principle, making new provisions for ensuring safety in the building environment, barrier-free access to all buildings, enhancing amenities, promoting sustainable development, and for the regulation of the building industry," the ARB chairman said.
He adds, however, that the legislation should not supersede laws governing professional registration, including the Architects Registration Act and the Engineers Registration Act. That concern arose from inclusion of a registration component in the building bill as well as the creation of a new job category, called a 'building practitioner'.
The architects have taken the position that the label of 'practitioner' should apply to those engaged in worksite activity. However, the definition in the bill incorporates the word 'design', leading to new concerns by the ARB that the law could open the door to substandard talent.
Woodstock said that already the profession faces competition from designers who are not registered in Jamaica which would require them to work through registered architects but whose drawings are nevertheless accepted by the planning authorities.
Attempts at prosecuting those flouting the registration laws, through referrals by the ARB to the police, have been unsuccessful; and the building bill would serve to legitimise their activity, he charged.
"The architects believe that enshrining a registration act within the Building Act is wrong...," Woodstock said.
"The term 'building practitioner' should be confined to the implementers, such as works contractors, tradesmen for site, carpentry, roofing, external plastering, brick and block laying, etc., and not persons who design buildings, as we already have an Architects Registration Act," he added.
The new code allows building practitioners or "non-professionals" as Woodstock describes them to design buildings of up to 300 square metres or 3,000 square feet.
However, the only possible exception for registration as an architect, the ARB chairman said, should be persons preparing drawings for single-family residential buildings with a maximum area of 100 square meters.