Focus: Building Codes

Code to building excellence

Neom ... among Saudi Arabia’s mega projects that will implement the codes.

A unified building code for the Gulf region could be published and released to the public shortly, according to the International Code Council, a world-leading building safety association, which has been playing a key role in drawing up the framework of the code.

“Probably within the next six months, these Gulf codes will be released and available for public scrutiny,” Mark A Johnson, Executive Vice President and Director of Business Development of the ICC, told Gulf Construction in an exclusive interview.

This new Gulf Building Code will support the harmonisation of building practices, enhance safety and facilitate commerce in the region.  Once implemented, the Gulf Code is expected to reflect the latest advances in building safety, affordability and sustainability and be a driving force for innovation and safety advances in building design and construction.

Building codes not only have an impact on the affordability of construction and safety but also have an impact on trade by reducing trade barriers, according to Johnson.

Johnson ... ICC has a complete eco system in place.

Johnson ... ICC has a complete eco system in place.

The new Gulf Building Code will facilitate consultants, engineers, architects and designers who would not need to master different codes as there would be one set of codes throughout the region, he said. 

“It will also make it easier for individuals that are responsible for enforcing one or more of these model codes, providing more mobility throughout the region,” he added.

The International Code Council became involved in the process of creating a Gulf Code for the region in 2016, when it was already working with the Saudi Building Code National Committee in the process of updating their building codes.

“This was when we signed an agreement with Gulf Standardization Organization (GSO) to allow usage of the ICC codes as the framework for a set of Gulf codes for the region,” Johnson said.

Johnson was part of a top-level delegation from the ICC that visited the region last month.

The building safety association has recently opened a regional office in the Middle East in Dubai and hosted its inaugural workshop on the occasion, focusing on a safety-first approach to innovative building systems.

The event commenced with opening remarks from notable industry leaders including Dominic Sims, CEO, International Code Council; Meghan Gregonis, US Consul General, Dubai; Aisha Al-Mulla, Head of Research and Building Section, Dubai Municipality; and Engineer Riyadh Al Rasheed, Director of Technical Affairs, Saudi Building Code National Committee.

More than 90 delegates attended the event from the industry’s leading authorities having jurisdictions (AHJs), developers, contractors, architects, designers and manufacturers, among others, during which International Code Council showcased its on-ground support to organisations involved in building safety.

Zakreski ... offering a one-stop shop for building safety needs.

Zakreski ... offering a one-stop shop for building safety needs.

Hosted by Mohamed Amer, Regional Director of Operations, ICC Mena, the workshop explored the need for increased compliance in the construction industry, especially in the growing markets of the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region.  The workshop delved into the challenges and opportunities in the region, touching on the importance of a robust regulatory framework for advanced and new building systems.

“The region is poised for huge growth in the building and construction industry, especially with the UAE’s 2050 vision to make the country the first in the Mena region to achieve net-zero emissions. It’s crucial to underpin these projects with effective building codes and standards, especially where innovative materials, systems and methods are being deployed,” said Sims.

Amer said: “There’s no doubt the region is pushing the boundaries of engineering and architecture with ambitious projects like The Line in Saudi Arabia, and recently completed projects such as Atlantis The Royal and the Museum of the Future in Dubai. They all need to start with a solid foundation, stringent compliance, education and technical knowledge sharing back to the community.”

Dubai was selected as the location of ICC’s first overseas office because the code council and its various subsidiaries have been involved in projects in the Mena region for more than over 25 years, according to Judy Zakreski, Senior Vice President, Global Operations & Solutions.

Zakreski, who joined ICC in 2018, said her goal has been to put together a global strategy for the organisation by breaking down the silos between the organisation’s various subsidiaries, and present the code council as a family of solutions, and as a one-stop shop for building safety needs.

ICC offers a comprehensive set of model codes.

ICC offers a comprehensive set of model codes.

ICC established this first overseas office in Dubai at the end of 2019, which was followed by the organisation’s second such office in Canberra, Australia.

ICC is a membership-based organisation which provides a wide range of building safety solutions including product evaluation, accreditation, certification, consulting, codification and professional development. With more than 60,000 members worldwide – from government officials, architects and engineers, regulators and contractors to manufacturers and students – the ICC develops model codes and standards used worldwide to construct safe, sustainable, affordable and resilient structures.

Several jurisdictions in the region use its International Codes (I-Codes) as the basis for their building safety regulations. In 2012, the Abu Dhabi government, through its Department of Municipal Affairs, introduced the Abu Dhabi International Building Codes, which are based on the I-Codes, to guide the development of construction projects in the emirate.

Commenting on how Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia have adapted the ICC’s codes, Johnson said: “Some of the adaptations involve administrative provisions, such as how the code is enforced, because each jurisdiction has its own set of regulations or laws but also there were adjustments made with regards to seismic requirements, wind speeds, climate zones and energy requirements. However, the base codes, with regards to both the Saudi and the Abu Dhabi versions, have largely remained pretty much intact. I would say that most jurisdictions that adopt our model codes might make five to 10 per cent changes within the code itself.”

While the I-Codes have been widely referenced in specific projects in Saudi Arabia for many years, including most of Saudi Aramco construction, in 2018, the Saudi Building Code National Committee introduced a mandatory suite of codes based on the I-Codes. The Gulf Building Codes, which were announced by the GSO at the end of 2022, are in turn based on the Saudi Building Code, which draws heavily on the I-Codes.

Some of the new Saudi giga projects, including Neom, will see the implementation of the codes to create resilient projects.

“One thing that you see some of these mega projects doing is focusing on the performance requirements within our building codes,” said Johnson. “There’s prescriptive requirements and performance requirements, but some of these mega projects are really pushing the envelope. So, they look towards the performance provision of our model codes, which allows new methodologies and new design techniques that are sometimes validated to peer review.”

“This also allows the use of new products, innovative building systems, tools such as ICC evaluation reports, which are basically reports that have new products and new building systems reviewed for compliance to one or more of our model building codes.”

ICC has a complete infrastructure of supporting services that help entities that use its codes to adopt, adapt and enforce them. These services include training, product certification, and certification of personnel that support the implementation of its codes.

“It’s one of the few organisations globally that has a complete eco system in place that provides not just codes and standards, but the tools needed to implement them effectively,” Johnson stresses.

The leading global source of model codes and standards and building safety solutions, which has 15 titles in its family of model codes, streamlines processes for entities looking to draw up codes as developing their own model regulatory system from scratch would be very challenging and costly, Johnson points out.

“Another advantage of the international codes is that they’re contemporary, as they’re updated every three years. So, they always remain current, and address new technologies and new advancements in building safety,” he adds. “Apart from health safety and structural safety, our codes have expanded to address some performance aspects of buildings with regards to energy efficiency, effective use of water and other resources.”

In addition, the codes also focus on other areas of building costs apart from construction costs, and the lifecycle of these buildings. And besides new construction, the codes also address existing buildings and the maintenance of buildings. 

“ICC is not just a provider of model building codes, we currently have approximately 20 standards that we produce, that are referenced within one or more of our codes. So, ICC always is working with different parties and industries, to develop standards, where we feel there could be a gap, or where there could be an opportunity to push codes and standards forward. We would look to continue to work with parties throughout the world on various standards that may be needed to fill a gap,” he adds.

Johnson also points out that the development of codes is “an inclusive process where anyone can participate in shaping that code in the future, through participation by submitting changes to that code”.