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Keeping up standards

29 Oct 2019

Keeping up standards Image

By Rhonda Dredge

If there’s a fire in a building or an emergency of some kind you need to know where the exit is quick smart and a fire hydrant must be handy as well.

There’s no use making excuses after the fact, like the cladding controversy has demonstrated.

A building surveyor is the guy who has to sign off on crucial technical details.

Greg du Chateau, the director of du Chateau Chun in Docklands, said that building regulations were tough in Australia yet never has his profession come under such scrutiny.

Last week building surveyors were blamed on the ABC’s 7.30 Report for signing off on apartment buildings that had developed cracks. One surveyor has been suspended.

Greg is willing to defend the profession by making a distinction between safety and defects in construction.

“There is a separate discussion when it comes to quality rather than minimum safety standards,” he said. “We can say a building is safe but the quality may have been compromised. Buildings need to be constructed to withstand loads and winds. Cracking can be caused by concrete not being mixed properly.”

The rapid rate in which cities have been built and the increase in development has raised concerns with some of the more caring members of the industry who are looking at new ways existing buildings can be used more sustainably.

“A lot of city buildings over the last 15-20 years have been converted from office to residential,” Greg said. “This is reflected in the increased number of people in the CBD. There is no impediment to conversion.”

du Chateau Chun has signed up to do the permits pro bono for a proposal by Housing All Australians to turn a mid-rise city building into a pop-up homeless shelter.

The charity is run by former developer Rob Pradolin who in his new life is adept at getting teams together from his contacts to work on projects for the homeless. The idea of a pop-up shelter is his and he’s been working with people to make a go of converting a city building for a finite number of years.

“It’s never been done before before,” Greg said. “I think it’s genuinely a resourceful project, making use of good infrastructure and buildings that are under-utilised.”

The City of Melbourne has released details of the collaboration but has not yet formally agreed on the building. The address will be revealed when the politics are sorted.

Greg has done the surveying for 15-20 conversions over the past 25 years, most in the CBD. He is positive about the opportunities. He said that there were many misconceptions in the industry, including the one about the difficulty of improving fire ratings for re-use.

“The fire rating of commercial buildings is higher than residential buildings,” Greg explained, and that’s not just a feature of recent city offices. “It’s been like that forever.”

If the building is a commercial one and it is being converted to residential it must also have openable windows and a sprinkler system. These can be expensive. Sometimes it’s easier to come up with a shiny new vision.

The job of a building surveyor involves three distinct roles: assessment of a building, gaining of approvals and providing a permit of occupancy once the work is complete.

The number of building permits issued in inner Melbourne has dropped in 2019 from a record high of 3372 last year. “It’s down now, a bit of a downturn in the market,” Greg said.

The company is busy but there is time for reflection about the issues of construction and to help out on a project that is worthwhile rather than profitable.

“There is clearly a need in Melbourne and other major city centres for a concern for people in need. As part of our network I felt it was a good cause.”

It will take several months to get the permits for a mid-level conversion in the city. Factors include fire rating, structure, health and amenity.

“The question is how temporary is temporary? If it’s for one night or ten years, the level of safety is the same.”

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