The History of Building Codes and Construction

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The History of Building Codes, Construction, and the Aftermath of September 11
Jhimelle I. Sepulveda
Columbia Southern University

Abstract
There have been many catastrophic incidents involving fire throughout history with countless of lives lost and billions of dollars’ worth of damages. The lessons learned from these incidents have led to changes in the way we plan and how we build high-rise structures. These changes evolve into codes and building standards with people’s safety in mind. Early building construction laws were enacted to prevent building collapses as early as the Roman Empire. Laws were passed that limited the height of buildings, first to 70ft and then to 60ft. Later in history, laws were passed to prevent fires and preventing its spread; in early North American cities, structures were built in close proximity to one another and often construction started before proper building codes were in place. (Cote)
After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, tall buildings were built with safety in mind. The National Board of Fire Underwriters (NBFU) and now the American Insurance Services Group, organized in 1866, began to emphasize safe building construction, the prevention of fire spread, improvements of water supplies and fire departments. As a result, buildings would be built of concrete and steel. In 1906, the NBFU wrote that “San Francisco has violated all underwriting tradition”; although the city had concrete and steel buildings, most of the structures consisted of wood shacks. Following the damage of the San Francisco fire, the information gathered was used for the basis of early fire protection and building codes. (Cote) There have been many factors that have shaped modern building codes. The development of the insurance company and the concept of mitigating risks has been a part of building codes for years. As social organizations were created to improve building conditions, building codes were enacted to meet those needs.

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