Slocum Center for Orthopedic and Sports Medicine, LEED Gold, by Neenan Architects, Annie Lilyblade, Interior Designer and Medical Planner. Courtesy of The Neenan Company, LaCasse Photography
Zoning ordinances are locally created regulations that are used to control the type of development that may occur in a defined area or zone. They regulate land use and address such issues as the location of a building on the site, the allowed use of the building depending on its location, the height and size of a building, and the number of parking spaces required. Zoning ordinances are not based on life safety issues, but are planning tools that may control the character of a neighborhood, protect environmentally sensitive areas, and/ or conserve open space.
Building codes are regulations that help protect the health, safety, and welfare of the occupants by setting minimum standards for construction materials and methods, as well as setting standards for design and construction that protect the building occupants from hazardous conditions. The development of building codes was instigated by disasters, usually fires, that resulted in deaths to occupants. Each serious disaster led to a strengthening in codes, including the September 1 1, 2001, bombings of the World Trade Center in New York, which has led to more stringent construction and safety requirements for tall buildings. Architects and interior designers are professionally obligated to design buildings and interiors that meet code requirements.
The most commonly adopted building code in the United States is the International Building Code, or IBC. However, the interior designer must first check with the local j urisdiction to determine which code is being used. Not all jurisdictions have adopted the IBC, and/or there may be specific modifications to the code to reflect the conditions of the locality. For instance, NFPA 101 is a life safety code established by the National Fire Protection Association that may be adopted as a stand-alone code or in conjunction with another code. In addition, building codes are supported by specialty codes such as fire codes, residential codes, and electrical, mechanical, and plumbing codes. Environmental regulations, such as requirements for sustainable design, may be adopted by a specific jurisdiction and incorporated into a local building code. In some jurisdictions, publicly funded buildings must meet LEED standards.
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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law ensuring that people with disabilities have equal access to places of employment, state and local government services, public transportation, public accommodations and commercial facilities, and communication services. The ADA is not a building code, but local jurisdictions have generally adopted ADAAG, the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines, as part of their building codes. Although ADAAG is the most stringent accessibility code, other similar accessibility guidelines such as the original accessibility standards, ANSI 117.1 may be adopted by individual jurisdictions. Federal buildings are covered under the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA), which has standards similar to the ADA. The Americans with Disabilities Act is concerned with allowing access to buildings, and interior finishes become an issue if they create a barrier to accessibility.
To design a space that meets building codes, the designer must know the occupant type, occupant load, and building construction type. The occupant type is a category based on the risk associated with the type of use of the building; it determines an allowable number of people (per square foot) that can safely occupy a building or the space within a building. For example, a restaurant may be categorized as “assembly without fixed seats” and has a higher occupant count (15 square feet per person) than a business occupancy, which allows 100 square feet per person. The occupant load is determined by dividing the size of the space in square feet by the number of occupants allowed per square foot. The building construction type is based on the level of combustibility of the materials used to construct the building, both exterior and interior, and is used to determine the allowable height and floor area of the building. The occupant type, occupant load, and construction type are used together to determine design criteria such as allowable use of construction materials on both the interior and exterior of a new building and on any interior construction in an existing building. This information is used to guide the selection of materials used for construction assemblies; the design of fire barriers; the selection and placement of finish materials, doors, and windows; and the selection and placement of furniture.