A society without building standards to regulate the erection or construction of buildings, or a society with land regulation laws should be prepared for anarchy. This article gives useful insights as to why building standards exist.
As cities become the center piece of contemporary development and as land become more scarce and inaccessible for requisite developmental purposes, the quest to ration supply and control or regulate its use become more compelling.
This is the rationale for the evolvement and enactment of various land use control laws and regulations designed to safeguard, conserve, disburse and regulate the use of land in the interest of the overall public.
Such laws include: zoning regulations; building bye-laws; density control, land acquisition laws; effluent discharge laws etc. These regulations fall into the realms of space-use density control, health sanitation laws and community facilities and service provision standards.
Since land for residential purpose is the single largest use of urban land, land for human settlement purpose need to be husbanded in a way that will balance long and short term need of the community and resolve the conflicting claims of different interest groups.
The functions of evolving and enforcing land use regulations and resolving conflicting land interests are vested in urban planners whose ultimate goal is to achieve a healthy, conducive, satisfying and aesthetically pleasing environment in which to pursue different kinds of human activities.
However, a healthy, conducive and satisfying environment may not evolve from human settlements unless there is adequate provision for the monitoring and control of housing units.
In developing nations, ravaged by poverty and characterised by bad governance, majority of human settlements are of the informal types that hardly meets the requisite building standards of their respective countries.
These housing units in unwholesome environments are deemed substandard and therefore unfit to live by humans. They are thus declared illegal by housing and governmental authorities. Yet, this is where between 50% and 80% of residents in many developing countries and cities live.
Since they are illegal, they are often targets of demolition. The issue of critical concern here, therefore, is what constitutes illegality and from whose point of view? How are the residents in many of developing countries/cities coping with it?
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that five million deaths and another two to three million cases of permanent disability could be prevented annually if housing conditions could meet a safe standard level. In most countries of the world, building regulations represent a collection of current and past wisdom on what constitutes a building that is both safe and will not impair the health of the occupants.
Many of the building standards used today have their origins in building, health and sanitation codes formulated in most European and American countries in the late 19th Century. For example, the compulsory inclusion of pipe-borne water in new buildings was a reaction to the spread of diseases among the population, while the quest for protection from fire outbreaks led to the evolution of fire regulations for different types of buildings.
As new problems in the level of the habitability of homes arose, and as these problems impaired the satisfaction of occupants with their housing and especially their safety, new building regulations were evolved. By virtue of the social, economic and cultural heritage of most developing countries, especially Nigeria, building standards have become a veritable agent of regulatory authorities.
Unfortunately, unlike the process of evolution of standards in response to observed failures in the developed countries, the building legislation adopted in most developing countries was imported from the developed nations without serious modification to fit the socio-cultural and economic circumstances of the country it was imported into.
In the Commonwealth countries, including Nigeria, British based legislation was introduced. In Nigeria, the existence of two cities within a city (the 3 traditional and the modern), the consequent adoption and use of two different sets of building/planning legislation and the eventual application of modern legislation to all segments of the city at independence, caused the use of unduly expensive, culturally and climatically unsuitable building materials and techniques.
Similarly, the basic health reasons why those laws were evolved in the first instance in their country of origin may be inappropriate for Nigeria. Whether imported or fashioned locally, building standards as a codification of the rules specifying how individuals may build in any given country have different names within and between countries.
The most common ones are: Building Rules and Building Regulations. Whichever name is adopted, the rules/standards often carry a sufficient dose of authority and coercion derivable from the statute books of the land. Ideally, a good building regulation should not only be prescriptive or regulatory; it should be educative and easily understood by all the parties involved in the building process.
An acceptable code must be technically feasible in that all the materials and techniques specified must result in safe and sanitary structures; there must be economy in the use of materials, labour and land.
The code must be sympathetic to the needs of the poor by not penalizing them and taking undue advantage of their poverty, ignorance and lack of influence, and it must be compatible with the use of traditional skills and local materials.
It must be easy to administer from the view of administrative resources such as manpower, time, accommodation, transport and equipment; enforceable to the extent that the code is not so permissive that it can be totally ignored
It must be consistent with the national housing policy and must be essential to public health, safety and well-being.
In the Nigerian context, it is not clear to what extent the existing building standards conform to these requirements of an acceptable and good standard, especially as they relate to technical feasibility, economy in the use of materials and especially, sympathy to the needs of the poor.