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The Legislation we suffer from

Still The Fortune Cookie (1966)

It has been twenty-nine years now that I have been working as an architect. Over the years I have seen how legislation affecting building and urban planning has spread like cancer, invading everything, increasingly binding us at the hands and feet, draining us and stifling us to the extent we have virtually no leeway any more.

We live in an increasingly liberal society aiming to deregulate everything deregulatable, yet at the same time codify everything, even what seems hardly “codifiable”.

This huge mass of legislation is not part of a racket or system. It is a tangle. It is complex, chaotic, contradictory and absurd. And, of course, impossible to comply with.

For instance, the Technical Building Code was divided up into sectors, each of which was codified by a different team. Naturally, these teams did not coordinate with each other. So those who strove above and beyond anything else for energy efficiency demanded in their code that in several areas of the country the windows be airtight. Meanwhile those who strove for healthy indoor air demanded permanent openings in the windows. Conclusion: you could not install inexpensive sliding windows because the air would filter through. You had to install pricey airtight windows and then make a hole next to them.

Once this crass, shameful defect was detected, another no less crass solution was found: smart windows that were ultra airtight but had a detector that opened a slit when the air was stale. In other words, instead of ventilating as people have done since the beginning of time or leaving a little slit, now you have to spend a fortune on stupid windows that provide a poor solution to a poorly written code.

The code often forces architects to justify the unjustifiable or unascertainable. And then there are municipal, Regional, and national codes that never dovetail.

Subjected to this unbearable oppression of codes, many choose to react “Spanish style”. They don’t comply. They go through the motions of the dictated steps and add lists, tables, graphs and empty, meaningless appendices, whatever it takes for the project to “get through”. They are certain that if the design poses no problems it will not matter at all that the paragraph, table or appendix in question was copied from another project, and that if something does go wrong, the paragraph or table in question would have been of no use even if it had been done properly. (Deliberately? We architects face more and more demands while our work is becoming more and more precarious).

Every time someone in power has a bright idea, another requirement for another annexed document is generated, which ends up being complied with in a table drawn up by whoever that all of us end up using for whatever.

The codifying frenzy is not matched by any monitoring frenzy meaning Spain in one of the countries with the most codes about everything that are least complied with. No one cares. Until something happens. Then, in each word they wrote or failed to write and in each line they drew or failed to draw, architects see they are sentenced.

The cover photograph: is a shot from Billy Wilder’s 1966 film The Fortune Cookie. Walter Matthau plays Willie Gingrich, a cheating lawyer involved in a legal scheme to obtain juicey compensation payments for his clients.


Text translated by Beth Gelb
Autor:
Soy arquitecto desde 1985, y desde entonces vengo ejerciendo la profesión liberal. Arquitecto “con los pies en el suelo” y con mucha obra “normal” y “sensata” a sus espaldas. Además de la arquitectura me entusiasma la literatura. Acabo de publicar un libro, Necrotectónicas, que consta de veintitrés relatos sobre las muertes de veintitrés arquitectos ilustres.

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