Cracking the code

What do the rules set for building houses in the United States just after World War I have to tell us about how to build in New Zealand today?

Nigel Isaacs holding building act books outside Victorian style homes in Wellington

A Victoria researcher is looking to the past to see if there are lessons to be learnt from historic codes.

Dr Nigel Isaacs, senior lecturer in Victoria’s School of Architecture, has been granted a Fulbright Scholar Award to investigate the impact of an American code on the first New Zealand code, prepared over ninety years ago.

“The first New Zealand national code was published in 1924, and was based on the first United States national code published just two years earlier,” says Nigel.

“This link with America is important and one that has not been previously identified, especially as many people think it was not until the 1931 Napier earthquake that a building code was created.

“This discovery raised questions about each code—why was the American code structured the way it was, and what impact may it have had on the New Zealand code? And what may we have lost as we moved away from these early codes?”

Nigel’s experience with the New Zealand Building Code stretches back nearly thirty years, including helping develop the energy efficiency requirements for New Zealand and Australia.

He will spend more than three months in the United States, using archives in Maryland, Minnesota and Iowa, while based at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center at the University of Illinois.

“The results will contribute to the wider discussion of the future development of the New Zealand Building Code,” says Nigel. “It will enhance the understanding of our code and add value to our decisions in the future.”