Buildings & Inspection#5 |Thoughts & Retrospection

When I found this internship in February, I didn’t know what to expect. Like I had written in my first blog post, my experience with government work was limited to what I’d seen on a particular TV sitcom. After three months at my internship, I’ve learned much more about the role that government plays and how it works on the inside. I’ve worked with people from different backgrounds – architecture, law, information technology, etc. – and I’ve seen how they work together to solve complex problems.

Working in code compliance has given me a greater appreciation for the importance of law in everyday life. Small changes in the code can mean the difference between a leaky roof and a dry one, or a gas pipe installed safely vs haphazardly. It’s also opened my eyes to the fact that a lot of safety standards are developed through testing and through engineering; the code includes formulas and data tables in addition to words. Later, I was also able to see how the code was enforced in administrative hearings.

Later, working on the Elevator Annual Inspection Certification program, I was lucky enough to participate in an ongoing effort to update the program. Here, I had to consider the drawbacks of new technology – one being the cost, in time and effort, to train third-party inspectors as well as city inspectors on how to use a new system. In addition, it was interesting to see the dynamic between the IT crowd and the city inspectors – some of whom were inspecting before before the widespread use of computers!

At the Department of Buildings – and I suspect this may apply to government projects in general – so much of what gets done requires expertise in multiple fields. It’s quite the interdisciplinary exercise! The safety standards in the building code require the knowledge of architects and engineers, but also the precision of language that a good lawyer possesses. The system to keep track of inspections requires knowledge of several programming languages, but also the actual process of inspection. No single person has the breadth and depth of expertise needed, and so, being able to communicate effectively and function as a member of a group is critical for success.

And, pardon the segue, what better place to bring together people of all different fields than a city like Chicago? I’ve lived in the city for 3 months, and there doesn’t seem to be a single day where there isn’t a festival going on, a musician coming into town, a movie at the park, a cheap place to eat, or a museum open to visit. It’s a great place to live, work, and play, and nothing beats a good view of the skyline.

It’s a skyline designed by a myriad of architectural firms, as any tour guide will tell you. They’ll rattle off the firms’ names, the architects’ names, the buildings’ names, and so on. But there’s no time to mention the names of the structural engineers who made sure the building held its own weight, nor the inspectors who checked plumbing, ventilation, electrical, or a variety of other systems, nor the people who update the code that the buildings must follow. That’s the way the Department of Buildings would have it – as my supervisor said (and I paraphrase): “If you don’t hear about us, that means we’re doing our jobs right.”

I’m honored to have had the chance to see what “doing our jobs right” meant.


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