On the night of September 2, 1666, a small fire broke out in a baker’s shop in Pudding Lane, London.
The buildings at that time were built very closely together. Feeding on the tar and pitch commonly used to seal the straw and timber houses and fanned by an east wind, the blaze soon became an inferno and spread with terrifying speed, burning fiercely for five days.
At least 80% of the city was destroyed, including over 13,000 houses, 89 churches and 52 public halls. The spiritual hub of the city, Old St. Paul’s Cathedral, was nothing but rubble. It was a disaster of unprecedented proportions. For many, it simply became known as the Great Fire of London.
From the ashes of the fire, the profession of Building Surveying grew. Drawing from local architects and engineers, the ruins were surveyed and ways of overcoming a repeat incident evolved. Buildings were separated by greater distances to avoid the spread of fire. Building materials changed from timber, straw and pitch, extremely flammable materials, to brick and stone, materials with better fire resistant properties.
Planning laws were enacted to dictate the height in stories of buildings and their setback from the River Thames that facilitated access to water to assist in firefighting. Streets were widened and fire brigades were established by insurance companies.
The professionals performing this work became known as Building Surveyors and to this day, they are responsible for the health and safety of persons occupying buildings.
The role of Building Surveyors has evolved into many professional disciplines within the building industry, as professionals who assess, certify and inspect building works; as consultants working in design, fire safety, energy efficiency and access solutions; as educators and expert witnesses in support of the legal process. The profession will continue to evolve and grow as the skills and abilities are incorporated into new and developing construction and building management roles within the community.
Primarily, Building Surveyors have a statutory responsibility for ensuring buildings are safe to occupy, energy efficient, accessible and meet all legal requirements. They review, analyse and assess plans for compliance to current standards, conduct inspections and issue relevant legislative permits, certification and approvals. They are required to be competent in local council, State and Territory legislation, guidelines, codes, policies and ministerial directions, as well as the National Construction Code and associated Australian Standards. They also need to keep abreast of technical and innovative changes in the building industry.
Building Surveyors may be employed within local government or may work in a commercial environment as single operators, or in a corporate environment or high volume building surveying businesses.
The responsibilities of building surveying professionals extend well beyond review of and ordering compliance with legislation, regulation or codes. It is a hands-on role where onsite inspections are carried out at specified intervals during the building process to ensure buildings are structurally sound, fit for purpose and able to be occupied. Therefore, the competency of the individual building surveyor is central to safeguarding all sections of the community.