How local authorities can prevent collapse of buildings in towns
The responsibility to ensure buildings are safe rests squarely with the Local Government ministry. It’s the work of local authorities to ensure that all buildings have their designs done by registered architects and structural engineers. As is the case, the local authorities should have ensured that the Mlolongo, Lang’ata and Kasarani buildings submitted architectural and structural drawings for inspection to ensure that they would support the kind of weight exerted on them.
It’s the work of local authorities to ensure that works are supervised accordingly once designs are approved. At the moment, architects are asked when submitting applications for building permits to absolve the Local Government ministry of liabilities if a building collapses. In my opinion, this is improper in that architects do not have the capacity to enforce such roles. If the building owner decides not to involve architects, all he does is refuse pay the architect or engineer for his time and transport to supervise. And even if they managed to visit the site and instructed the contractor or owner to use materials as in the drawings, that’s as much as they could do since it’s the local authorities that have mechanisms to ensure instructions are followed.
Local government engineers are few. To enable them work at optimum levels to ensure compliance, an IT solution is needed – one that would enable just one engineer sitting behind a computer to supervise hundreds of buildings in conjunction with practicing architects or engineers via internet tools like Google Earth.
I had a meeting with the local government PS Karega Mutahi about three months ago where we discussed such a portal that I have developed. The ministry’s technical teams evaluated the portal and okeyed it. The PS recommended that I ask individual local authorities to buy into the idea. Any local authority interested in implementing this can contact email@example.com for collaboration.
Collapse of buildings in Kenya is preventable. Local authorities can utilise IT platforms such as www.a4architect.com/submit-drawings/ to work with minimum specialised labour force. With such a tool, local authority engineers could have seen the Kasarani building’s structural spans and advised on it online. They would have seen the report on the type of sand being used at the Lang’ata building and advised appropriately online as well.
The engineers could have seen the swampy grounds at the Mlolongo site, small sized columns and excessively sized slabs from images uploaded to the portal by the site engineer and advised accordingly – all from the comfort of their offices. The responsibility to ensure safety of buildings remains within the local government ministry and is the same in all countries worldwide. Unless the ministry acts, more and more buildings will continue to come down.
Gichuhi is principal architect at consultancy firm A4architect. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org