Date of Award

Spring 2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Urban Systems - (Ph.D.)

Department

New Jersey School of Architecture

First Advisor

Gabrielle M. Esperdy

Second Advisor

Jeffrey Robert Backstrand

Third Advisor

Barbara Caldwell

Fourth Advisor

Michael S. Zetlin

Abstract

This study seeks to understand the forces that influenced changes (i.e., amendments) to the Building Code of New York City over an approximately one hundred and ten year period spanning from 1898, the year of the city’s consolidation, through 2008, the year of the major code amendment following September 11, 2001. Although the emphasis is on this period, building codes specific to New York City since 1625 are researched to cultivate a broader understanding of the changes to building codes throughout the city’s history. In particular, the focus is on the building issues that the amendments sought to change and the specific conditions or forces that prompted those changes. Qualitative and quantitative data analysis is performed, which demonstrates that 884 total amendments were passed between 1898 and 2008 as a result of technical, cultural, and political forces. Three complex factors are identified as being responsible for amending the building code: new materials, methods, and technologies; cultural changes in use and occupancy; and fire disasters. This finding undermines the prevailing belief that building codes are amended primarily because of fire disasters.

Throughout the history of New York City, changes in the building code usually numbered around six per year. However, this study documents that a significant spike occurred in the number of amendments promulgated in the early 1950s. In 1951 alone, the building code was amended 56 times. In addition to new material sciences, cultural changes in new uses and occupancies of buildings and new architectural styles accounted for the largest increase in amendments during this period. Fire disasters accounted for a limited number of changes to the building code and were not nearly as influential on the code amendment process as some researchers have asserted.

This study demonstrates the complex, retroactive nature of the amendment process and how specific and responsive the building code is to the minutiae of changes in construction and occupant uses. These findings contribute to a better understanding of the retroactive amendment process, allowing for the potential to begin a proactive amendment process with the goal of increasing public health, safety, and welfare.

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