Ah, the Air in Paris

Architect Jean-Paul Viguier must have been delighted when he was awarded two contracts- one for a Sofitel Hotel in Chicago, and one for an office building in Paris. His delight must have turned to shock when he realized the differences between the stringent French building standards and the much less strict U.S. ones. He noted that the French regulations required three times as much ventilation and twice as much soundproofing. By law, every workstation in the Paris office building needed access to natural light. Incredibly, he had to design energy consumption so that the Paris building used only half that of the Chicago building. Of course, expectations for the Paris building were that it would last for many generations, and expectations for the Chicago building were that it may last a few.

European building regulations nearly always stress the need for fresh air and air conditioning controlled room by room; U.S. building codes and practices usually depend on sealed windows and central air conditioning. European codes usually require private offices instead of cubicles as a way of controlling sound, and most U.S. office workers know how common life in the cubicle is.

Now, construction costs in Europe average nearly 50% more per square foot than in the United States, so these building codes come at a price. Also, Europeans continue to smoke cigarettes in most public buildings, making powerful air filters a necessity and not a luxury if smoke is not to infiltrate a whole building. The filters usually do circulate air much more frequently than U.S. codes call for.

Whether U.S. regulations will change to make them more like European codes or vice versa is a question that Jean-Paul Viguier cannot answer, but one can only imagine how much easier the life of an international architect would be if all countries used similar codes. Perhaps the World Trade Organization can take that up at their next meeting.

Reference

Erickson, William. 2000. "Why the Air and Light Are So Much Better in Paris," Business Week, June 5, p. 124.