Local architects express confidence in building code

Isaac Baptiste

Two architects resident in Dominica have expressed some confidence in Dominica’s institutional buildings and believe that Dominica would be able to withstand an earthquake, to a certain extent, if builders continue to adhere to the strict building code.

Claude Lauture, a Haitian employed at Millenia Land Development Co Ltd. located in Roseau, told Dominica News Online that based on his experience Dominica’s building standards are very secure.

“I think the level of standard that we have to follow when we doing the design have a lot of safety standard. The extent of damage that we could have with an earthquake of Haiti [magnitude] I don’t think we will suffer it the same way. We will have time to get out of the buildings before something could happen,” he noted.

Government’s Physical Planning Division administers the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Building Codes Dominica Standards which every architect is required to follow.

“They make sure you respect everything in terms of physical structure of the building, in terms of height of building. It’s a document prepared for the OECS so all Caribbean islands of the OECS have to follow that guide. There is some expert from Europe that was working to prepare that guideline,” the Haitian architect explained.

The document is the Common Building Code for all OECS countries, prepared in 1989 and modified by OECS countries in 1996.

“Those people in Planning [Division] really try to enforce those codes, so that means you cannot do whatever you want. If you cannot respect the codes your drawing will not be approved,” he stated.

He advises architects and builders to stick to the building codes, adding that many of the buildings in Dominica are built in a way that they should be able to withstand a major earthquake.

While Millenia Land Development Co Ltd respects the Division’s requirements, they follow the international construction guidelines.

The January 12 Haiti earthquake, recording a magnitude of 7.0, occurred 16 miles west of Port-au-Prince. The earthquake caused major damage to Port-au-Prince and other communities.

Buildings of noted significance were destroyed, including the Presidential Palace, the National Assembly building, the Port-au-Prince Cathedral, and the main jail. A death toll of exceeding 150,000 people was recorded as of January 25.

Lauture reasoned that many building in Port-au-Prince got damaged because a certain building standard was not maintained.

“Not all of the buildings old. Some of the buildings were old and a lot of them in the centre of Port –au-Prince were in bricks, and a lot of them collapsed like the National Parlour, the cathedral, some of the buildings that have 100 years; but I told a lot of people here in Haiti we don’t use riba in the partition walls so those walls are like curtain walls so we just use the grout to cover the space between … so when an earthquake occur those walls just fall down we cannot use it to sweep up the slab … so it’s why we had a lot of buildings that had the pancake effect and I hope that in the future when they start to rebuild they will have those guidelines like we have in Dominica to make sure that we build with the minimum standards so that will not happen again,” he said.

Local consultant with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Centre for Human Settlement (UNCHS) consultants who undertook the review of the OECS Building Codes, Isaac Baptiste, explained that one of documents provides guidelines for the construction of small buildings to ensure that the minimum standards are kept so that the buildings can withstand hurricanes and earthquake forces.

Baptiste, who also owns an architect firm – Baptiste and Associates, said the building code itself addresses the construction of larger structures. Although the principles are the same as the broad OECS Building Code document, the requirements are more stringent.

The OECS Building Codes evolved from the Caribbean Uniformed Building Codes (CUBIC) which applies to CARICOM Counties. However the CUBIC does not contain all the requirements to build major structures so builders would divert to the United States, Europe or even Jamaica Building Codes, according to Baptiste.

“..We’re in a pretty good situation in terms of the design of safe structures particularly with respect to the larger buildings,” Baptiste said.

Regarding the situation in Haiti, Baptiste said the country did not have sufficient building standards, adding that this could be a result of poverty. He also believes their capacity to monitor construction may have been poor.

“Their lack of steel reinforcement in appropriate location; It’s not just a matter of putting the steel in the building … you have to have the adequate size or weight and the arrangement of the steel…  I have never been to Haiti but based on the reports that I’m watching on the television it would seem that many of those buildings, particularly the residential buildings were built with inadequate steel reinforcement,” he stated.

“On its own it’s not really a strong material for concrete to really become stronger or appropriate for building when it is together with the steel because it bind with the steel so the steel’s tendency is that you pull it and it withstands the pull, the concrete you press it and it withstands the compression. So when two of them together they withstand forces better,” he further explained.

Edona Jno Baptiste -News Coordinator/Reporter

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  1. Lady Engineer
    January 29, 2010

    Winston, I am especially glad that you talked about steel, we have a problem in Dominica, where the majority of our Engineers design and detail with British Codes however some of the hardware stores and contractors import ASTM steel at grades with lower yield strength than the British Standard steel which we use in our designs. and I am quite certain that the majority of them do not import ASTM seismic application steel. I feel we need to be especially vigilant about quality control and supervision on site.

    Many of the larger homes may have structural designs performed by engineers, however it is rare except on government buildings and larger projects to have an engineer supervising the construction. Often once the home owner has had the plans approved, they will go with whichever contractor is offering the best price, and will hardly consider hiring an engineer to at least supervise critical phases such as foundation and structural frame.

    Based on my formal education and experience inspecting buildings in the North which suffered damage during the quake of 2004, when contractors do not adhere to the design and do things like increasing stirrup spacing beyond the design requirement, the result can be detrimental. There are a whole host of things that can be avoided with proper supervision and a competent contractor.

    My simple suggestion to prospective home owners/builders is to consider hiring an engineer to help you select a contractor and to supervise critcal aspects of construction, the extra cost will give you peace of mind and may even save you money in the long run.

    Finally depending on the magnitude of an Earthquake, even well designed structures may collapse, this is because most residential structures are designed to withstand up to magnitude 7, an even then some damage will be expected; designing beyond this will make construction very expensive….however an engineer is trained to design to control the types of structural failure for catastrophic earthquakes and this may save the life of occupants.

  2. January 29, 2010

    “Haitian”, ordinary residences less than 2 stories in height do not even need the the blessings of a professional engineer, but that is done in Dominica anyway. Because someone from DSC processes your application for a permit, it does not hold that the individual is the one doing the review. Reviews are held periodically by committee. All architects are required to study basic structural design and analysis; so for the small buildings that are built in Dominica, architects are quite capable of designing for adequate structural integrity.

    I am not saying this to lull Dominicans to sleep on the issue of seismic design; those buildings on the hillsides supported on small columns are threatening the safety of occupants; likewise those apparently strong-looking buildings with massive beams designed by civil engineers become dangerous elements when dislodged upon the heads of occupants. One of the statistics yet to emerge from the Haiti earthquake is the number of people suffering from brain damage.

    Earthquakes are not new phenomena; uneducated people have built structures that have survived when those bult by professionals have failed. When I practised in Dominica as an engineer, I came across steel being used from anywhere it was cheapest to obtain. Earthquake engineering calls for ductile steel; how can an engineer use the parameters of design assigned for a standardised material in an environment where it does not exist? In this case his calculations are useless!

    For Dominica, we need soil investigation at building footprint, light ductile materials above the foundation-ground interface, redundancy of support locations, attention to detail at connection points of structural members. This is not a solution, but fundamental to the technique of minimizing injury during a seismic event.

  3. B.Stoute
    January 29, 2010

    To Haitian

    While you question Mr. Warrington`s knowledge on building practices in Domininica you yourself have shown a lack of knowledge in that department. Yes it is true that most of the guys who do the INITIAL check on the drawings are DSC graduates the ultimate decision is made by a board of professionals who meet every other thursday of the month. this board is made up of Senior Architects, Engineers and Planners. Furthermore recent legisslation was passed where by buildings of a certain size most have an Engineers certificate and a stamp from a registerd Engineer. One can argue that there should also be an Architect’s seal on there as well.
    As a young Architect i take offence to your comment “what do Architects know about the building code all they do is design the building “. My friend you should be advised that most Architects are very knowlegable as to the structural integrity of buildings, as a matter of fact their cant be true architecture without the structural aspect being taken into consideration, for it is one of the four generators of Architecture.we may not allways agree with the Engineer as some of them are brutal in thier design approach. We do not do the regorous training in structural analysys as Engineers do but the knowledge that we have allows some of us to come up with designs that are Aesthetically pleasing and Structurely sound.

  4. Haitian
    January 28, 2010

    did winston warrington say ‘plans must face the intense scrutiny of the Planning Division before permit approval’? u obvoiusly never biult a house in Dominica or know anything about the planning division here. Most of the BOYS checking over building plans are just DSC graduates- and these guys are checking over plans Professional Engineers make. so they cant be trusted to be competent- and if u in D/a u would know people building houses all over a.k.a anywhere(on slopes.. on road side..etc etc) they want cuz those boyz lettin all plans go though.

    Also what do architects know about building codes- all they is design the building, its engineers that make sure the structure is capable is supportin itself. architects are given minimal engineering training in college so in all they are in no position to comment on any building code.

  5. January 28, 2010

    we build to close to roads for one…I have know knowledge of codes in DA so Im not gonna talk about stuff I dont know but I think that is one thing that needs to be looked at…if a road needs to be expanded its a very difficult task because homes practically in de road…which brings me to these engineers…if they study in deve’d countries and know what good road design is ….why everything goes out the window in DA?? I honestly am curious about that….I mean a new road is built and it is as small as all the other roads around…no thought or room for expansion in the future….

  6. Mouth of the South
    January 28, 2010

    Steve I agree with you. yes we have strong building codes but are they really enforced NOPE. we have alot of houses in Dominica that appears strong but in truth they are mere paper. There is no supervision when these houses are being built and so the building codes are useless. As for those houses that are being built .. In the south for example in Pointe Michel there are so many houses that are built etc and being built and no building code is followed. No inspection by housing. Dont talk about the people who have their homes in wood and are putting it in block no building code is followed. What about those who have built their one floor house then decided to add a peice on the top. Does housing come to ensure that the bottom floor building can withstand the top that is being added. NO NO NO. Look at the houses on pillars that are on slopes there is one right in Pointe Michel did housing inspect that nope. the soil there erodes very quickly thats all I will say. In Dominica we just have things on paper looking good thats all but no action.

  7. January 28, 2010

    KG, I should bring to your attention that structural engineers in Dominica are degreed engineers who studied at universities comparable to yours. In poor countries and certain developed countries, good design practices might not deter the builder from shoddy construction methods. Even a rigorous enforcement of the building code will not permit an inspector to monitor a construction site 24/7. Many residences in Dominica are relatively safe because of their small dimensions, yet before construction the plans must face the intense scrutiny of the Planning Division before permit approval.

  8. KG
    January 28, 2010

    The ability of structures to withstand earthquake and other lateral forces is not simply a matter of having steel reinforcement in the design. Adequate lateral load resisting systems such as shear walls and/or moment frames need to incorporated into the design of the structure. I hope that the design professionals in Dominica, particularly the structural engineers who should know better, are aware of these fundamental principles and are applying them as needed.

  9. January 28, 2010

    @ Steve. Were you shouting at us or did u forget your Caps Lock on?

  10. Anonymous
    January 28, 2010

    I agree with Steve suggestion of construction inspection, but the solution is much more complex that just policing. A knowledge base campaign needs to be spearheaded by the engineering and architects. All contractors and suppliers (especially per mix concrete) need to be certified, they need not only to be told what they need to do but should have some basic reasons they are doing it.
    Work quality will increase is a contractor need a license operate and know he can lose it if for poor work.

  11. sharma
    January 28, 2010

    thumb up

  12. steve
    January 28, 2010


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