Licensed to build (building in the times of the regulated individual)

“Infrastructures are flexible and anticipatory. They work with time and are open to change. By specifying what must be fixed and what is subject to change, they can be precise and indeterminate at the same time. They work through management and cultivation, changing slowly to adjust to shifting conditions. They do not progress toward a predetermined state (as with master planning strategies), but are always evolving within a loose envelope of constraints.”
Allen, Stan. Points + Lines: Diagrams and Projects for the City. pg. 55. Published by Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 1999.

“Infrastructural work recognizes the collective nature of the city and allows for the participation of multiple authors. Infrastructures give direction to future work in the city not by the establishment of rules or codes (top-down), but by fixing points of service, access, and structure (bottom-up). Infrastructure creates a directed field where different architects and designers can contribute, but it sets technical and instrumental limits to their work. Infrastructure itself works strategically, but it encourages tactical improvisation. Infrastructural work moves away from self referentiality and individual expression toward collective enunciation.”
Allen, Stan. Points + Lines: Diagrams and Projects for the City. pg. 55. Published by Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 1999.

You may be aware of recent changes in regulations regarding the design and construction of houses over this last year. Namely the standardisation of the Licensed Building Practitioner (or LBP) system.
For those of you not familiar here is a quick breakdown:
In order to design or build a residential dwelling you have to be a licensed building practitioner. You must have relevant and proven experience in your chosen trade (i.e. building, plastering, block laying, architecture and so forth) in order to obtain a license to practice. On top of proving your experience you must also pay a fee. What this ensures is that any building work that is carried out from this year forth will legally have to be done by experienced and qualified practitioners, thus theoretically this work will be carried out to the minimum standard required by the building code.
The LBP system also takes liability for building defects in houses (leaky buildings would be one such defect) further away from local councils and closer to tradesmen and designers.

Indirectly, such a law change says:
“when a individual builds or alters a dwelling they are adding to the nation’s building stock, which future generations will inherit, thus it must be constructed by publically sanctioned methods (and people) to ensure its quality and robustness for future dwellers”.
Individual peoples may pay for the assembly of new dwellings, yet the greater collective has a stake in the structure also.
I kind of like the idea that we legally weigh quality dwellings in the same way we might public infrastructure. By giving single dwellings infrastructural status we recognise their contribution to positive urban development (as opposed to aggressive suburban sprawl). Yet, there is a difficult middle ground where collective interest for quality building stock meets the individuals desire for defining the environment of their own dwelling.
The introduction of the LBP system could be seen as one more step to curtail individual freedom to build, yet there is a legal clause that allows owners of land to build their own structures on that land (a owner-builder exemption). From a very basic conceptual view, the ability to construct your own home is a kind of primal right, just like growing your own food (another activity which in recent times has had regulations reviewed). To over regulate primal rights stumbles into dangerous territory, it stunts the ground up initiatives which can empower entire communities.
Having a discussion about regulations such as the LBP system is important right now, as we look to Christchurch and the painfully slow progress being made to get parts of the population adequately sheltered. The wait for qualified tradesmen will be a long one amid such a huge rebuilding effort, and with high demand comes an increased cost even if tradesmen from outside of Canterbury are brought in. (As a side note, bringing in workers and housing them in quasi-prison camps as described in this article (http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/rebuilding-christchurch/7613470/Worker-camps-planned-for-Christchurch) is not a pleasant idea). Disaster relief situations can be greatly aided by community driven efforts to recuperate and rebuild, to make such activity harder to do legally is disappointing.
One hopes that a more delicate balance can be struck between the public need for healthier building stock in housing and the ability for individuals to author their own homes (to see a good example of owner builders crafting an excellent house see here: http://patchworkarchitecture.tumblr.com/).
In its current state the LBP system hints at an infrastructural agenda, yet one gets a slightly cynical undercurrent with this. To build healthy, vibrant, and responsive housing communities we can’t approach such a task from a cynical angle. Especially now, as the largest rebuild in New Zealand’s history is about to take place in Canterbury.
Individuals and sub communities must be allowed the manoeuvrability to author their own dwellings if they should choose to do so.
Of course undertaking the building of your own house isn’t a task taken on lightly. My partner’s uncle went and worked for a builder for some time before he felt he had the necessary skills to construct his own family’s house (which he drew inspiration for from the Whole Earth Catalog). One should prepare themselves adequately to build your own abode, which is one of the great reasons why doing it as a group or community is such a great notion (I remember the community I grew up in building the local school hall). The owner-builder is a important individual in our society, the product of their work can provide the necessary reflection on our regulations and conventions to which we adhere.
Bottom up initiatives can produce ideas not often perceived in conventional environments of design and build as well as providing the opportunity for people to exercise their primal rights.
I hope that room is made for such expressions in the Christchurch rebuild, and that the undercurrent of cynicism in building regulation doesn’t manifest in the city’s new urban geography.