DOB preps architects for new building code

By Sara Polsky | June 25, 2009 04:26PM

As of next Wednesday, all architects in New York City will have to design new buildings in compliance with the 2008 building code, the city’s first major building code change since 1968.

Department of Buildings officials offered an overview of some of the new code requirements in a seminar at the Center for Architecture this morning.

Among other changes, the new code has different fire safety standards than the previous code, written in 1968, said James Colgate, assistant commissioner for technical affairs and code development at DOB. The 2008 code allows for new technology, such as fire sprinklers and high-rise pressurized stairs, instead of the partitions required in the 1968 code.

But dealing with existing buildings is more complicated, according to Colgate. Buildings constructed in keeping with the 1968 standards may not have the underlying structure to support new fire safety technology, for example. “You can’t make [a renovated existing building] less safe than the [1968] code would have required,” Colgate said. The 2008 code includes provisions for renovating buildings originally constructed according to an earlier code.

Accessibility requirements have also changed in the 2008 code, to make sure that buildings comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Keith Wen, DOB’s acting director of code development and interpretation, offered the architects in attendance this morning a summary of the new provisions and exemptions. The 2008 code brings together the ADA, the Fair Housing Act, and Local Law 58, none of which existed when the 1968 code was written. The first two are civil rights laws, while the third is a building law. “But the basic law is the same,” Wen said. “All three…are trying to make sure that buildings are accessible to people with disabilities.”