Tag Archives: code

Definition: vomitory

Definition: vomitory

Definition: vomitory

vomitory, n.

Here’s an architectural feature to spot as you watch football (soccer) today, Boxing Day in the UK, and American football over the weekend.

Vomitory refers to the large exit/entrance openings within the seating to concourses in older stadiums (e.g., Rose Bowl (stadium) [wikipedia]) and field-level openings in most newer stadiums that teams run back through to the locker rooms. See Vomitorium [wikipedia] for more.

The term is still at several spots in the building code, specifically related to access and exiting in Chapter 10.

(From the every increasing series of definition posts from the 2,300 page, 1975 Webster’s New Century, Second Edition, unabridged dictionary.

Utility Colors

Utility Colors

Utility Colors

A water line break in my front yard is an opportunity to review the American Public Works Association (APWA) color coding standard for underground utilities:

RED : electrical
ORANGE : data (phone, CATV)
YELLOW : gas (and oil, steam)
BLUE : water, potable
GREEN : sewer
(not seen in the photo above)
PURPLE : water, non-potable (irrigation, reclaimed)
PINK : survey
WHITE : excavation

You’ll notice the markings in my yard include two orange lines, one for telephone and the other for cable television. It’s not uncommon for multiple services to be present that are owned or managed by different companies. In the Triangle exist many other common services: fiber optic data, liquid petroleum, natural gas distribution, security, satellite downlinks, irrigation, and re-claimed water.

These conventions came about because buried services are a huge hazard and having conventions to locate and key them are critical to the nation’s infrastructure. A 1999 US Department of Transportation study was the impetus for tying local, regional, and national governments and utility companies to a clearinghouse of locating services available to the public for free. This is done through the auspices of the Common Ground Alliance.

If you’re planning any kind of construction, repair, or installation within the ground, get all the utilities located for free through the website or three-digit telephone number: 811.

SteveHallArchitecture uses these same colors in our electronic drawings for consistency with the AWPA standards and continuity with what we see in the field. In a fast growing area like the Triangle, you’ll see these markings everywhere. Next time you take a walk, test yourself on the standard!

Harrison Bergeron



Written in 1961, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s Harrison Bergeron is a classic. The three-page short story can be found online here and elsewhere.

The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

This story comes to my mind often in architectural practice. Many who know me have read it at my urging. Despite our best intentions, projects are utterly encumbered by codes, laws, and regulations in the attempt to create safety, opportunity, and equality.

Not that any of these are, in themselves, bad things. In fact, utopian vision has driven architecture for at least four millennia. I am actually a proponent for great design and good craftsmanship that is inclusive, accessible, and universal. Slightly larger spaces aren’t just for injured employees, aging residents, or disabled visitors. They also help encumbered firemen in smoke-filled air trying to rescue occupants. In that context, what’s a few more inches?

Still, our endeavor to create great is slowly being truncated by our compromise to create barely adequate. Great design takes great time, and the more factors there are to consider, the longer it is going to take and the more it is going to cost.

I suppose inflation is the natural course of civilization simply due to this ever-expanding growth of requirements. But is there a way to simplify? At what point can we no longer afford the growth of regulation? With U.S. federal government debt at $19,963,980,500,000 (trillion), haven’t we exceeded our capacity to pay for these demands?

Code Check

Back of House

Back of House

I often receive inquiries about providing permit drawings requested by local authorities for new tenants, small renovations and upfits. Business owners are moving into a new space and the local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) has required permit drawings sealed by an architect to gain legal occupancy. This can be a relatively simple process. But it can also be complicated by only a detail or two. Here are some of the more typical complicating factors.

Existing Information

Permit drawings are almost always required to be scaled. Architects produce documents that are special in many ways, but one of the most important is that they represent three dimensional space in both measurement and proportion. This enables the drawings to accurately reflect required dimensions such as distances to a fire exit, clearances, area sizes, quantities of materials, and so on.

When a space is already existing, such as in a shopping center or office tenant space, it is important that this existing facility information be presented as part of the permit submittal. Sometimes a landlord already has CAD information of the building and site, which saves time. But when this existing information is less than what the AHJ will require, the architect and his consultants need to conduct a field survey to obtain the outstanding information.

Gas meter

Gas service and meter

These drawing components include typical items required on the average building permit set.

Building Code Summary — This is usually near the front of a set of documents and is a large listing of the building code requirements and existing building measurements used to explain the original or most recent building permit for the property. It prescribes the basic building construction type, occupancy classifications and uses, information about fire partitions and barriers, emergency exiting plans, and much more.

Suite Layout — Where multiple tenants are in a building, many jurisdictions require a layout of all the suites in the building.

Site Plan — A site plan shows property lines, surrounding streets, drives onto the property, all parking spaces including accessible ones, walks, plantings and natural areas, fire hydrants and sprinkler connections, and the building, its entry and exits. Where multiple buildings exist on the property, clearances between buildings must be known.

Structural Drawings — These are often needed when new equipment is being added or changed above the ground floor or on the roof. They also explain where major structural components of the building are being adapted, such as with wall openings, wall-mounted equipment, or significant ceiling suspended items.

Architectural Floor Plan — This plan shows all the spaces in the building, including areas outside those of the intended project. Particularly of interest are the corridors, stairs, exit door configurations, and fire extinguisher cabinets. The architectural floor plan needs to correctly indicate all walls, doors, windows, stairs, and elevators at the correct sizes. It also includes furniture, fixtures, and equipment that are intended in the final space, including toilets, sinks, bathroom partitions, cabinetry and casework. Any other floor-mounted trade items in the sections below are often shown on the architectural floor plan as well.

Reflected Ceiling Plan — This is a drawing necessary to show the general ceiling configuration and height, lighting, exit lighting, exit signs, HVAC grilles, fire sprinkler heads, smoke detection, and alarm horns and strobes.

Building Elevations — For an interior space, this seems an odd necessity but some AHJs (like Raleigh and Cary) are very particular about hiding rooftop HVAC systems and want to see all the views of the building exterior. A roof plan might also provide this information.

Roof Plan — This plan is be necessary if HVAC or other systems have rooftop work in the project.

Fire Protection — Usually only for sprinklered buildings, these include sprinkler piping, sprinkler heads, calculations, and the valves, connections, and supporting equipment.

Plumbing — In addition to piping, plumbing drawings show fixtures like toilets, sinks, lavatories, and janitor sinks. Also explained are water meters, backflow preventers, building water and sewer connections, and the calculations supporting the design.

Mechanical — In addition to any HVAC units and related ductwork, mechanical drawings show important information regarding calculations for air changes, humidity control, ventilation provisions, and many other details related to the mechanical design of the building.

Electrical — These drawings indicate electrical power service and distribution, lighting and controls, services to mechanical systems, and all the incidental components requiring power such as appliances, equipment, and fans. The electrical drawings often include critical fire alarm systems as well as those for data of internal and external networks, phone systems, security, intercom, and even audio-visual.

These and plenty of other items could require illustration by the local authorities during permit plan review.

Change of Use

Although it doesn’t always require large changes in the building, modifying a space from one use to another can trigger further requirements or changes. By code, the use includes both the occupancy classification (Business, Assembly, Retail, Industrial, etc.) as well as the particular function within the spaces (warehouse to auto repair, accountant office to medical office, office space to retail space, etc.) The building code has particulars about many different functions so it isn’t possible to generalize about how these could develop. I like to research these at the beginning and even discuss potential conflicts with the local authority early in the process to avoid surprises during the final inspection.

Push bar

Push bar exit device

Code Changes

Even without changing occupancy or use, the building code itself is continually adjusting in reaction to scientific, political, and cultural interests. Officially this happens every two to four years, but subtle clarifications, amendments, or local adjustments can happen any time. Just because a space was compliant five years prior doesn’t mean it satisfies current requirements. And AHJs use new tenant occupancies and renovations to review existing buildings to reflect increasing concerns for fire safety, accessibility, plumbing fixture counts, and general life safety.

Renovations, Up-fits, and Changes

Each AHJ has slightly different stipulations for just how small an alteration can be before it requires a building permit. But it is safe to assume that only a few inches adjustment to the direction, width, or configuration of a path of travel in a room, along a corridor, through any door, around an object, or across the site to the public way will require a permit submitted with architectural drawings.

This process sometimes seems picky, even to this architect. But its primary purpose is to “safeguard the public’s health, safety and welfare”, in the words of the state statute by which architects are licensed. Since even the AHJ is not licensed, the building code review process basically pins responsibility on the architect to ensure compliance. The requirement for sealed drawings is the legal method for accomplishing this.