Monday, August 5, 2013

Reflection on the Construction License

We are finally through the approval process.  It actually finished at about the middle of July.  Now seems like a good time to reflect on the process.

We made our first submission at the beginning of March, so the whole thing took about 4 1/2 months.   Theoretically, the process could be completed in 3 months, but having seen the process close up, we are very pleased with our performance.  There were a number of issues that could have easily added months, but thanks to a lot of hard work from our architect and engineers, we were able to keep things basically on track.  There are stories of processes taking years to complete, and having seen the process through, we can see how that might happen.

At times, the bureaucracy itself was the cause of meaningless delay.  Each step of the process has a legally mandated deadline, but it seems that the bureaucrats seem to think that finishing BEFORE the deadline is also prohibited.  At one point we were told that all the work to complete a step was done in two weeks, but that it sat on a superiors desk waiting for a signature.  Instead of getting the step approved in two weeks, it took a month (exactly the legal limit)...  must take a long time to sign a name, maybe they were short of pens.

There are an enormous amount of requirements that have to be met, and it would be impossible to build today without the service of a good architect and engineer.  That in itself seems a bit of a shame.  The days of building your own home are over, unless you know the system, and the requirements you will never get approved for construction.

The requirements themselves are often far too rigid, especially considering that we are remodeling an antique house.  The historical center of Porto is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so it makes sense that we would need to get some additional approval and checks that we were not distorting a part of the city's patrimony.  Before we could get the specifics of our plans approved, we had to have them approved by the historical society of the city.  The historical society was very concerned with the exterior appearance of the building, but they were less concerned with the interior construction.  We had no problems getting our approval from the historical society, but latter in the process we came up against requirements that seems directly at odds with preserving the patrimony of the city.   For example, we would have loved to construct our space using completely traditional methods, but there is no way that that could reasonably be done and still meet modern insulation requirements.  If we were not changing the floor plan of the building, then we could have repaired it as it was, but our changes required us to bring the building up to current specifications.  This is sad because it means that over time, the beautiful historical buildings of Porto will only be an authentic looking veneer, inside the buildings are slowly being 'modernized'.  Even if the 'new is better' motto of our consumerist world were always true, it would still be nice to see SOME of these buildings kept in their authentic form.  Granted, we did change the building from it's original layout, having to meet the modern specifications for disability access, insulation etc caused yet more changes.  There were cases where we were aloud a dispensation from the rules because of historical nature of our building, but these had to be fought and won on an individual basses.  It didn't make sense of us to fight every battle, and some of the battles we fought didn't go our way.

So the process has been a bit frustrating at times.  At least it's over.  Now we are focused on finding a contractor and putting them to work.