Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Building Code of 1842

Hazardous wooden architecture and safer brick construction.  While the focus of the building regulations wasn't about aesthetics, the resulting buildings were certainly different in design.

In my previous post “Flames and Consequences—City Building Codes from the 1700’s,” I described how the evolution of building codes through the 18th century fulfilled both a practical and an aesthetic purpose: the rules aimed to minimize the spread of and damage from fires, and they also aimed to maximize the visual impact of the city by encouraging visual harmony and a more grandiose building standard. 

The Building Code from 1842 is basically a continuation and extension of those previous standards.  Since 1736, wooden buildings had been outlawed throughout the entire city, but this code was a) regularly disobeyed because the cost of building in brick was prohibitive for almost everyone and b) limited to the main building on a lot.  The Building Code of 1842 was more explicit and made it illegal to build wooden-framed buildings at all, even if the building was a storage shed.  The only exceptions were windmills, boathouses, tobacco drying barns, open sheds without walls, small outhouses (apparently larger outhouses were to be built of stone!), garden gazebos, and well coverings.

Buildings that were built in wood despite the new regulation were required to be razed, and the owners were required to pay an enormous penalty equaling about $23,000 today.  I don’t have information about if this regulation was followed any more stringently than previous attempts to ban wood construction.

Additionally, roofing materials including peat, wooden shingles, and planks were strictly forbidden.  Explicitly allowed materials were terra cotta tiles, slate shingles, and sheets of copper or iron.  Decorative elements on the exterior of buildings such as cornices, gables, and frontispieces were not allowed to be made of wood.  The building regulation also contained dozens of more detailed regulations specifying how roof trusses, chimneys, attic floors, fire walls, and such were to be constructed.  Interior ceilings of gips were now required—leaving the next floor’s wooden planks exposed was too great of a fire risk.  The regulations even detailed how and where wood and coal for heating and cooking were to be stored.     

Workshops with especially high fire risk such as bakeries, foundries, blacksmiths, carpentries, and barrel makers could not be built just anywhere—their siting was now subject to approval.  This was probably Stockholm’s first explicit zoning regulation. 

One of the most restrictive clauses in the updated regulations was that buildings were restricted to four floors.  I don’t think this was in concern for fire escape but instead for limiting the spread of fire.  The higher the building, the farther a burning roof can spread sparks.  

In addition to fire regulations, the Building Code of 1842 was also meant as a city planning tool.  The regulation specifies the width of new streets—main streets were to be at least 14.4 meters or 47 feet wide and secondary streets including alleys were to be at least 9.6 meters or 31 feet wide.  Extensions of existing streets were to continue in the same direction without crooks.  Streets were to cross each other at 90 degree angles.  Given the opportunity, bends in existing streets were to be straightened out.  The code also prescribed that areas that were wide enough for a firetruck to turn around should be accommodated within new streets.  The layout of all new streets were to be approved by the city. 

The Building Code of 1842 also stated that buildings should “retain an outer neatness and decoration in relation to the lot’s location.” Thus buildings on bigger lots and in the more central areas of the city were to be more “designed” than buildings on smaller lots and in the outskirts which were allowed to be simple and plain. 

While this updated building regulation doesn’t delve very deeply into aesthetics, the architecture, siting and design of compliant buildings were definitely different than the building norm.  A city of small, ad-hoc log cabins was no longer possible; instead, similar stucco buildings should march down the street, lot line to lot line.  The density and city-like nature of Gamla Stan (the old town) was to extend its reach all the way to the city limits.  

I don’t find this updated building code to be a landmark regulation; instead it continues the evolution of building codes established in the 1700’s while slightly expanding the old regulations’ reach: Building materials and construction were regulated to prevent fire, fire prevention measures began to affect the building’s appearance beyond the old brick vs wood debate, street layout was to be orthogonal and generously wide, buildings were to be designed according to their “station,” certain land uses were considered more dangerous than others and thus required special permission.  The updated regulations did, however, continue to pave the way for radical and comprehensive planning regulations in the 1860’s. 

Peter Lundewall, Stockholm den planerade staden (2006)
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