Three things an architect wants you to know about the Oakland Warehouse Fire.
Tarchitects CEO Responds to Oakland Warehouse Fire
Atlanta, GA | 5 Dec 2016
What happened in Oakland, California is something I can’t keep quiet about. As a professional architect, this one really hits home on so many levels since so much of what we do involves designing safe facilities for the public. The weight that we carry as architects, specifically, is quite massive but often overlooked. We have a serious sense of responsibility to circumvent issues like what happened in Oakland. If we’re doing our job well, these kinds of tragedies do not happen often – if at all– especially not to the degree of the loss of life Oakland experienced – 36 and counting as of today. Some simple but extremely important design principles would have avoided this horrendous catastrophe.
While we don’t know all the details about the Oakland Warehouse Fire at this point (an investigation is underway as we speak), we do know that this was an artist “live-work” community – but it wasn’t permitted for residential nor was it permitted for a place of assembly (which it should have been if it were a club). The warehouse had make-shift stairs, only one staircase and they should have had at least two possibly. The place was under investigation for a number of things including having illegal construction on the premises. Which means, they built something and didn’t have it permitted by the city or county holding jurisdiction. The neighbors complained of unkempt exterior / property (it was said they basically had trash all over the place).
It appears to me that a professional architect was not utilized to design that facility and consequently the resulting design was done in an alarmingly hodge-podge, piece-meal manner. In a way, as a professional architect, I feel that we weren’t given the proper opportunity to serve that community. With so many lost lives, it’s hard to not speak up to let the public know what to look out for in situations like these.
Don’t sacrifice safety for cost savings.
This unfortunate fire seemed eerily reminiscent of past clients who chose not to take the advice or follow the design we laid out for them. And after obtaining the design for their facility, they simply end up just building out whatever they want to build out without getting a building permit. The Oakland Warehouse Fire is appallingly reminiscent of that type of scenario. It really hits home. I’ve had so many entrepreneur clients that want to build out a facility who wish to sacrifice safety – especially as it relates to places of assembly – for cost savings.
Far too often, we as architects are seen as “professional drawers.” “We draw well,” and people think our primary concern are the aesthetics of a building. But much of what we do is the planning and engineering of safe facilities and most clients aren’t aware of that part of what we do. They simply assume our design work purely involves aesthetics - or to some degree, functionality - but they think it has nothing to do with safety or this profuse referencing of safety manuals / other design/code books that we have to go through to actually get a building designed right. Most truly are oblivious to the fact that we take safety in mind throughout the entire design process. And often, safety leads the design process or steers the design more than what we would want or like sometimes. But the client simply sees the end product. From the public’s perspective, the public needs to be educated on the fact that what we do as architects is a big part of the reason they’re safe everyday in the places they live, work and play.
Don’t look at it as cost-savings, look at it as saving lives.
If building owners realized that cutting corners and trying to avoid building permit fees from the municipality could end in such a tragedy, they wouldn’t do it at all. We have no doubt they would think twice. Most owners / entrepreneurs don’t look at it like that – they just look at it as saving costs. But if they would look at it as saving lives, they would be more responsible with their decisions. We have 36 lives that were lost and 36 families grieving the deaths of their loved ones. Completely unnecessarily.
Be cautious of who you let build your buildings. Any professional should know that they should have pulled a building permit to do any of that work; so then you, as a member of the community, at least would know they are respecting the laws in place to protect the building occupants.
We see these types of cost-savings-focused clients everyday and we either just refuse services (i.e. don’t take them on as a client), or we may just do a consultation with them - giving them some sound advice and leaving it at that or we end up having to fight tooth and nail to get them to abide by particular codes when they’re just looking to save a dime. In general, Tarchitects only accepts the type of client that will accept our professional respect for the law and safety of the public, so it’s typically not an issue for us, but there are other building owners / entrepreneurs that just don’t care to pull a building permit. They’ll try to get around the permit fee and put the community at risk. Depending on what you’re doing, a permit fee can be somewhere between $150 to $1500. But what’s the value of 36 lives?
Our three takeaways from Oakland:
1. Don’t cut corners
2. Hire an architect
3. Get a building permit from the city or county holding jurisdiction.
That’s the proper way to get a project done. Questions? Don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tariq Abdullah, M.Arch, AIA, NOMA, NCARB, NFPA
Principal Architect, CEO