02 Oct 2018

Archi-scar – That Will Leave a Mark!


There’s a scar on my right external abdominal oblique where a set of 6-pack abs should be. It’s a lazy L-shaped mark with less pigment than the surrounding skin and a distant reminder of an injury sustained when a 5-year old me slid fireman-style down a swing set pole. A rusty bolt slowed my descent. Skin vs. metal? Yes, metal wins. The scar is neither ugly nor noticeable unless you search for it. When I notice it, I remember the incident and most importantly what I learned from the incident – Ow, that will leave a mark!

All lessons don’t involve injury, but perhaps the most famous Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry example of learning from mistakes is the content contained in the International Code Council (ICC) building codes such as the International Building Code (IBC), International Residential Code (IRC), International Electric Code (IEC), etc.

Codes didn’t develop because an entity wished to standardize construction. There were no codes when native inhabitants formed original communities. International immigrants settling in North America did not introduce building codes. The Constitution of the United States of America did not include building codes. Mistakes, some of them fatal, propagated building codes. New mistakes reshape codes every publishing year (typically – a 3-year cycle) and address everything from windows, fire safety, egress and building type.


Why are some windows tempered glass? Windows in certain locations, sizes or orientation relative to circulation paths fall into a category called Hazardous Locations (IRC R308.4.3). How did this requirement originate? Probably from injury. An occupant walking toward a door stumbled, reached to brace themselves but stiff-armed the window instead. Maybe a wind gust slammed an exterior glass door shut and shattered the pane. The code evolved to add a requirement for tempered glass in windows designed in hazardous locations. Fail to provide tempered glass in hazardous locations and that will leave a mark.

Fire Safety:

Why smoke and fire control barriers? Fire needs three things. Heat, Fuel and Oxygen. When all of those exist, fire moves fast. People in the past The Great Chicago Fire: 1871) and more recently in the MGM Grand; 1980, perished in ravaging blazes like these. Code officials realized safety required obstacles to slow fire such as low flame spread materials combined with smoke & fire control barriers. Slowing or controlling the fire provides time for occupants to evacuate and rescuers to respond. Section 803.1.1 Wall and Ceiling Finishes specifies flame spread criteria for different material classes and the testing standard that these assemblies must meet. The building code addresses smoke and fire control barriers in Chapter 7. The concept is to design containment areas to prevent smoke, flame and fire from obstructing egress paths (summarized below). Fail to slow or control fire so people can evacuate and rescuers can respond and that will leave a mark.


Why isn’t a door enough? Egress is an action people perform every day when they enter and exit buildings, but the code addresses egress during emergency situations. Code officials learned it wasn’t enough to provide alarms, exits, exit lights and exit paths because in an active alarm situation occupants don’t necessarily evacuate promptly. In an article titled Why Building Occupants Ignore Fire Alarms published by the National Research Council of Canada, the author explains some occupants don’t recognize an alarm, others ignore it and some people don’t hear it and continue as usual. In response to fire behavior and human behavior, code officials crafted language to provide multiple alarm signals, multiple exits and controlled exit paths. The code officials probably thought they drafted codes to protect occupants from hazards, but ultimately learned errant humans needed protection from themselves. Fail to provide sufficient alarms, exits and egress and that will leave a mark.

I cannot recall how many times an Owner of rural county property declared, “There’s no code here“. For affect, Imagine that phrase delivered with a vowel-twisting drawl and a wheat shaft protruding through half as many teeth as a human should have.

The no-code proclamation is untrue. The code version adopted by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) applies to all building types listed in Chapter 3, Use and Occupancy Classification regardless their geographic location. The absence of a local entity to actively enforce the code does not negate the requirement to follow it. Ignoring the code is akin to ignoring the rusty bolt on the swing set pole – Ow, that will leave a mark!

Read these articles to learn how other architects or industry professionals learn from their mistakes.

Architalks Entries

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
some kind of mistake

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Learning from mistakes in architecture

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Archi-scar – That Will Leave a Mark!

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
“Learning from Mistakes…”

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Forgotten Mistakes

Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Are Architects Experts?

Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign)
A, B, C, D, E…

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
Learning from Mistakes

Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
Learning from mistakes

Steve Mouzon – The Original Green Blog (@stevemouzon)
How Living Traditions Learn From Mistakes

Architalks Credits

This is another entry in Bob Borson’s blogging brain-child titled, “ArchiTalks”.

The #ArchiTalks goal is to inspire blogging architects with similar educational and professional requirements to opine on the same topic and simulpost their response so other architects and a broader audience can enjoy the rampant thought-diversity within the architecture profession

Select the links in “Architalks Entries” above to read how architects responded to the “Learning From Mistakes” topic.

image/video credits:


About the Author

Your Architect is Eric Faulkner -- an architect licensed in Texas & Oklahoma with 32 years experience in design, construction observation and life.

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