…on Building Facade Inspections, and Falling Facades

If you’re heading downtown anytime soon, you may want to pack a sturdy umbrella.

The city recently pulled back on requirements for building facade inspections, much to the chagrin of some architects and engineers who warn that rescinded regulations on the exams could threaten public safety.

Previous to the revisions, buildings 8 stories and taller were subject to critical examinations, termed below, in 4-, 8- and 12- year intervals:

“… a close-up visual examination of the condition of all elevations of the exterior walls and enclosures.  All examinations shall be performed by or under the direct supervision of a professional employed by the owner for the purpose of determining if remedial work is required.” – Municipal Code of Chicago section 13-196-031

These inspections are implemented to check for damages and disrepair on building exteriors that could potentially lead to falling materials.

As of Oct. 22nd, qualifying buildings that have been deemed safe by past examinations are no longer required to undergo the routine exams. Owners are now instead required to file on-going “short form only” reports, a less extensive survey conducted at ground level with binoculars, in two year intervals. If a building’s façade is deemed at risk by these inspections, a more thorough exam will be required.

“At this time we felt it was acceptable to change the requirements of the inspections without impacting public safety,” said Department of Buildings spokesperson Bill McCaffrey.

While the revision could be a blessing for building owners financially stretched by inspection costs, some on engineering side say the new regulations are too lenient.

“It’s a difficult balance to strike between lessening the cost and yet maintaining enough rigor in the ordinance and the rules and regulations to make it effective,” said William Bast, Principal with the structural engineering firm Thorton Thomasetti.

The ordinance directing building façade examinations was drafted over 30 years ago, spurred by the 1974 death of a pedestrian who was struck by a piece of falling cornice from the 16th floor of a building on West Madison.

For more on the new inspection rules, check out an article I wrote for this week’s Chicago Journal Skyline


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