ruminations about architecture and design

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

hammurabi appreciation post

This is a stone tablet that purportedly depicts Hammurabi. The inscriptions on the stone are his code of laws, which among other things, outlines some very basic building codes. There aren't many of them, because times were simpler, and they demonstrate a rigorous mathematical simplicity in their application. If you are a builder and a house you have constructed collapses and kills the owner, then you are put to death. If the collapse also kills the owner's son, then your son is killed also. (I don't think the law mentions daughters)
It's a bit harsh, but I like to imagine it was effective. Hammurabi's building code is a performance based code--it doesn't specify methods or materials, it only specifies results. More accurately, it spells out punishments if acceptable results are not achieved. Modern codes tend to be a mixture of performance and prescriptive measures. Certain materials are identified and prohibited, assembly methods are detailed, spatial relationships and proportions are given fixed values. The evolution of codes is reflected in the great safety associated with modern buildings. It is a price of blood, and I would like to think that in the future, the more critical life and safety issues have been resolved. Codes of the future will not be, cannot be, stone tablets or paper documents--they should be instead interactive online media that are being constantly updated and improved. A baseline code will cease to exist for many construction systems. Taking its place will be forums for ideas that will be organized by geography and culture.
That would blow Hammurabi's mind.

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