The introduction to the Chicago Building Process and Chicago building code

Michael Tobias
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    In recent years, the process of obtaining the necessary permits for building has been developing rapidly worldwide and nationwide, both in terms of making the overall procedures more accessible as well as making them additionally comprehensive. The most important nevertheless is improvement of the efficiency of permitting.  

    Streamlining of the process included creating platforms for issuing the permits online. These platforms are devised to guide the licensed design professionals through a series of steps with clear instructions, preventing the possible omissions by administrative workers or submitters. As the red tape is shortened, the overall scope of the permitting becomes more straightforward and less painful. Moreover, the Chicago Department of Buildings' internet-based service offers a broad list of subdivisions, helping to navigate the system and understand of Chicago building code.. 

    For projects of different extents, there is a multiple choice of review mechanisms, the most common being Easy Permit Process (EP), Standard Plan Review (SPR), and the Developer Services Program (DS). The last one offers a new, additional, broader approach for the large-scale redevelopments called The Direct Developer Services (DDS). The Green Permit (GP) and Self-Certification (SC) processes provide support for the respective projects qualifying to the categories, the first one offering incentives for the developments earning LEED certifications, Chicago Green Homes Program and/or other itemized criteria, and the second one relieving the licensed applicants of the Chicago Department of Building plan review.

    In any case, regardless of the review track, the plans have to be submitted to the Chicago E-plan.

    The process became more transparent. Today, even an unlicensed individual can get a simple insight into the whole array of forms for submitting and reviewing processes for every kind of construction. Moreover, the one can track the application.

    With this in mind, developing a new build should start with getting acquainted with the mandatory actions following the process from the first design sketches to the groundbreaking and finally getting the occupancy permit.

    Knowing the ropes in legal terms means complying with the Chicago Building Code as the basic set of principles to follow. This extensive array of definitions, rules, and regulations covers pretty much every segment of design, permitting, construction, use and maintenance stages of any development.

    Despite the fact that this organizational scheme has a generally rigid nature, the legislative system showed its flexible side, allowing the exceptions to the Building Code to be made as its specific rule. The Alternative Code Approval procedure provides space for the exceptions to the rules, allowing project-specific modifications to the code requirements. Of course, the success is not guaranteed and the fees, established by ordinance have to be paid in advance, making the effort to go alternative a sort of a gamble.

    Anyway, the unique, personalized and distinct building concepts are if not encouraged, then at least authorized with special permission and a good enough clarification of their overall cumulative impact. This way, the system can perhaps evolve over the course of time, evaluating and adopting good precedents as a general rule, or using the bad ones to prevent any similar problems in the future. The key ingredient to the success of the design and permitting process on both its ends remains the human factor. The decision making after all is a matter of knowledge, experience and common sense of the involved engineers.

    Yet, we are about to wait for the all-inclusive codes and standards updates in the City of Chicago. While Cook County has over the course of years made considerable effort to modernize the codes, according to Burnham Nationwide’s writing from 2014 the attempts to bring them up to date in the City have proven to be a formidable task. This transition announced by The Department of Buildings (DOB) in 2011 and meant to save the time and money was definitely a hard chew. Regardless of what the forces behind the opposition to the changes are, the innovations are slowly being implemented, and the DOB has made a handful. As of January 2018 for example, the Self-Certification process includes additional project types, the Easy Permit Process applications are reviewed immediately and the Structural Peer Review Program introduced external reviewers to hasten the review period. The Program Updates are taking effect step by step and in the meantime the Chicago Engineers have to work with what they have at this moment.

    And what they have is the unchallenged advance of software engineering tools on their side, facilitating the design routine and leading it into the new era of BIM – an intelligent, model based process aiding AEC (Architecture, Engineering and Construction) industry experts overcome their common interdisciplinary misunderstandings.

    MEP engineering has proven to be a growing factor in the building design and construction industry. The advance of various utility systems has revolutionized the meaning of architecture and its responsibilities. Aside being the art of making spaces for work and living, it became the art of orchestrating the superposition of more than ever diversified installations and equipment. Thus, the quality MEP design today is of key importance for any business or housing development, and the software incorporating all involved engineering branches its indispensable asset. 

     In addition to helping the coordination of diverse installation schedules with structural layouts and requirements of interior and exterior architectural designs, the BIM supported MEP engineering helps the synchronization of AEC standards and in this manner enhances sticking to the codes and regulations for the specific development.

    As this asset will for sure evolve faster than any legislation, the local engineers have a challenging task of spanning the gap between technology and regulations and turning it to their advantage.    

    Even the bidding is about software and web applications today. As the Department of Procurement Services (DPS) is making a transition to online eProcurement, the vendors interested in the bids have to register. The Paper Bid Opportunities still exist, but their expiration date is being set.

    The new shape Chicago is taking is lead by the technological forces more than ever before, with future, even less materialized prospects, yet all of it, in the end, boils down to the skillful engineering of the Chicago construction specialists who understands Chicago building code and can follow regulations associated with it.  

     The only part of the process promising to keep its traditional, strictly material manner and form is the act of building, the sole reason for creating this complex system of norms, limitations and procedures. And every successful permit obtaining process is to be crowned with a new building site, and eventually a new or newly refurbished piece of architecture or engineering to serve the generations to come and the Chicago of tomorrow.   

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    Tags : Building Code MEP Engineering BIM MEP Chicago Chicago Department of Buildings LEED

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