Designing with the Process in Mind
Building codes exist to protect the life, health and safety of the individuals who will inhabit buildings and related structures. They are written to govern the design, construction, repair and general maintenance of buildings. However, Building Codes are often seen as a financial burden and at times can feel like the bane of a business owner’s existence. SCOPE’s Principal Steve Engelhardt addresses how an industrial architect uses these parameters to influence an industrial building’s design.
As an industrial architect, what do you want to know first about any new industrial project?
I want to know about the process the building will house and specifically if the process includes chemicals or other possible hazardous materials. We gather this and other information through meetings with leadership, plant managers and other employees. We volunteer a couple of days at the existing facility to observe and study the process as it currently operates.
What is it about hazardous materials that is so central to a building’s design?
You want to first bear in mind it is not simply about the materials housed in a building, but any materials that are to be stored on site. Most zoning restrictions don’t allow outdoor tanks or storage, but I-2 Industrial Zoning does allow for these types of storage.
To your question, the materials a building contains and the methods used for moving those materials are both part of what drives the applicable building code. Allowable quantities for hazardous chemicals and gases are very low and can easily push an occupancy classification into a Hazardous classification that will completely heighten the code requirements. For this reason, MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) should be available for everything that will be in use or stored in or outside of the facility. It’s really when you know the boiling points, flash points, and appropriate fire fighting media, that a building design begins to take shape.
But doesn’t the manufacturing process drive the building’s design?
Yes, but not initially. You first must have a clear understanding of the parameters to which your design must conform. The code imposes these parameters and guides the facility’s design. It’s our job as the architect to make sure the building’s design conforms to applicable code to keep employees safe and allow our clients’ businesses to be successful.
Could it happen that you begin designing on assumptions of what the code will be?
We don’t assume anything. We meet with the County and City early on in the design process to discuss the code and zoning implications of the project. From here, SCOPE performs a code assessment which maps out the parameters of the facility’s design. With these design parameters in hand, we have clarity on such basic considerations such as the size allocation of spaces and their shapes, electrically classified areas, ventilation, deflagration, containment of hazardous materials and much, much more.