AIA Small Project Design (SPD) Knowledge Community supports, celebrates, and promotes small projects by engaging designers and the public.
Do we eliminate old buildings because they can't meet current codes (and are no longer "safe" by today's standards) OR do we save them as part of the historical fabric and in response to the needs of the Owner?
With regards the responsibility of you and public officials – if the building can be maintained at current status if no change occurs that triggers use of newer code, then the building can remain as is. Or if International Existing Building Code is enacted in your city – then maybe somethings need to be made as "good as possible" with the recognition that 100-year old buildings do not have all of the safety features we're required to provide today. Again, this is only if compliance with the building code is triggered.
The ability to work around current standards doesn't eliminate our responsibility, as architects, for public safety. The IEBC is legal "safe harbor" but would not eliminate the feeling that I'm responsible if people were injured or killed in the building due to old standards. For me, the same sense of responsibility applies to new buildings, even when they are code compliant. I hope that no person is injured or killed in one of my buildings due to the design of the building. In that vein, I would want the Owner to do as much work as possible to make the building as safe as it can be. Some of the buildings in my town have exterior fire escapes that would do in a pinch but are not something I would comfortable use if my life were not in danger.
But that's not the real issue for me (and maybe not for you). Historic buildings are valuable resources for their contribution to the fabric of the city and as a demonstration of the passage of time. (Full disclosure: I live in a small community that is very proud of their historic buildings and Owners/Architects go to great lengths to preserve, restore and reuse them.) If the building is structural sound this also helps to support the idea of not demolishing the building.
A third option is to choose not to be involved in the project if neither of the above options is acceptable to you.
Which leaves us in the middle with no good answer – just imperfect choices.
Best wishes for a sane resolution to your dilemma.
Margaret Godolphin, AIA
Bjerke Architects PLLC
2905 N. Montana Avenue ~ Helena, MT 59601