Navigating Local Architectural Requirements

Navigating local requirements can be time consuming and confusing.In this workflow guide, we will discuss tips and tricks to understanding local jurisdictional requirements, such as zoning codes and r

Understand How Local Laws & Requirements Impact Design 

Getting the Authority Having Jurisdiction to award your project with the necessary permits is a crucial step towards completing a successful project. However, navigating local requirements can be time consuming and confusing.

In this workflow guide, we will discuss tips and tricks to understanding local jurisdictional requirements, such as zoning codes and review boards.

There are potential requirements that architects and engineers must adhere to. Here is a list of some that you should be aware of before embarking on your project:

International Building Code (IBC)

The International Code Council established building codes to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Several states have adopted the IBC and modified them based on their region and politics. Fire prevention and means of egress are among the several restrictions described in the IBC. Compliance with code requirements ensures that buildings are safe for occupants and the surrounding community.

Zoning Regulations

Zoning boards regulate land use, density, setbacks, and other aspects of urban planning. Architects need to ensure their designs align with these regulations to prevent land use conflicts. There may be cases where clients will apply to change the zoning of the land in favor of their project.

Community Impact

Design review boards focus on the aesthetics and visual impact of buildings within a community. You and your client may need to present your project to a community board for their feedback and approval. 

Environmental Considerations

Some boards may have specific requirements related to sustainability, energy efficiency, and environmental impact. Gathering this information ahead of project kick-off can help you ensure that your design incorporates the necessary considerations.

How do code requirements influence design?

Layer Local Requirements

International and local code requirements influence all aspects of a design - from the overall size, to the materials specified, to the direction of the door swing. Francis Ching’s Building Code Illustrated and Architectural Graphics Standards are two well regarded resources in the industry that illustrate and communicate common international code requirements.

As mentioned earlier, local authorities adopt the ICC and incorporate their own local requirements. Local requirements may be more restrictive than international standards. For instance, some local municipalities may require certain aesthetic standards to ensure new projects blend in with the existing fabric.

What are some tips for navigating building and zoning codes?

Non-compliance with local regulations can lead to costly legal issues and project delays. Architects must ensure their designs meet all legal requirements to avoid legal complications.

  • Identify which jurisdiction your project belongs to. 
  • Understand which local codes govern that jurisdiction. If you haven’t worked on a project in this jurisdiction before, you can consult with a local architect to review your plans.
  • Sometimes firms working in new places hire a local architect of record.
  • If your client wants to rezone the land or apply for a variance, start the conversation with the local community and AHJ early.


Compliance with building codes and zoning regulations ensures that structures can withstand various hazards, such as fires and earthquakes. Additionally, adherence to legal requirements maintains the integrity of the architectural profession, fosters public trust, and avoids costly legal repercussions that can arise from non-compliance.

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