Tue, Mar 06, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Building integrity must be enforced

By Su Nan 蘇南

The powerful earthquake that struck Hualien on Feb. 6 raises the question of whether the earthquake resistance of buildings is affected by the demolition of interior masonry walls in the course of interior renovations.

Article 77 of the Building Act (建築法) stipulates: “The ownership holder and the user of a building shall maintain the legal usage as well as the structure and equipment safety of the building.”

However, it is common, after large buildings are completed, for users or renovators to knock down interior masonry walls, columns or beams, or to remove floor slabs without authorization, thus damaging the original structural system and misusing it.

The Act stipulates that the use of a building cannot be altered without applying for a usage license.

However, Article 9, Paragraph 1, Subparagraph 4 of the act defines “repair” as “repair or alteration by [more than] half of any of the foundation, beams and columns, bearing walls, floor slabs, roof truss or roof structures.”

The use of the phrase “[more than] half” in the wording of the act is problematic, as it can mislead unscrupulous renovators or other members of the public to think that if a building has plenty of columns or masonry walls, it does not matter if one, two or several of them are removed.

The National Center for Research on Earthquake Engineering has issued a warning about buildings constructed more than 20 years ago that incorporate covered walkways that are only supported by columns, saying that the design regulations in force when they were built were not as rigorous as they are now.

The center said that if the buildings are close to seismic faults, their first stories might be too soft or weak to resist the force of an earthquake, and when interior renovations are done on such buildings, it is vital not to damage the existing weight-bearing masonry walls, beams and columns.

Crucially, it said that buildings up to five stories tall that were built before the 921 Earthquake of 1999 and contain many interior masonry walls were able to withstand the power of the earthquake when it struck, even though their structure was not specifically designed to be earthquake resistant.

Considering the role played by such interior walls, they should definitely not be demolished without making structural assessments.

Interior decoration and repairs must comply with the Regulations for the Management of Interior Decoration and Repair of Buildings (建築物室內裝修管理辦法), but the regulations contain a legal loophole, as they do not explicitly prohibit damage to architectural structures.

Article 23 of the regulations lists the forms, documents, plans and illustrations that need to be attached to any application for a review of proposed interior renovations.

However, there is no wording to the effect that internal masonry walls, beams and columns cannot be demolished without first conducting a structural analysis. Consequently, it is common for such structures to be knocked down during renovations without any assessment having been made. The regulations should be amended to remedy this flaw.

Article 26 of the regulations stipulates that the responsible local authority or reviewing department should review applications with regard to three items: whether there is a complete set of illustrations and documents, whether the renovation materials and interior wall structures comply with technical standards for construction and whether the proposed renovations would obstruct or damage fire prevention and escape equipment, firewalls and the main structure of the building.

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