Daily Inspired #03


The Topic

Thoughts About Rules Restriction. Today, I get to attend a sharing session by both local architect and designer from Selangor and Penang to share about their personal projects in Malaysia. Both of them faced a similar problem when it comes to an innovative design solution. In the building industry, there are laws and guidelines to be adhered to ensure the safety of the building itself. Other than that, the discourse also talks about the restriction brought by UNESCO requirements as well for the refurbishment of the old colonial buildings.

The Learning Points

The intention for having rules

First of all, we need to understand why we have rules in the first place. Personally, I think that rules are to set a common ground of understanding for everyone to participate. It is also to set a standard to ensure the quality of the product or service. Without rules, we may face problems like:

  • Communication breakdown - as every party has their own interpretation on how to do things and have a different standard
  • Difficulty in collaboration - since every party may have different standard or understanding, it is very hard to come to an agreement on any collaboration
  • Repeating Mistakes - without rules, we may need to face risk on making mistakes that will cost us time, money and even life!

Imagine that in the airline industry, there are absolutely no rules to abide, which means that pilot can fly as they please and passengers can do whatever they want on the flight. This will be chaos and the plane may not even take off.

Localization of rules

Naturally, people in different geographical context tend to have different culture background. With that, rules will be different when it comes to the different cultural entity. There may be common rules or laws for a crime like fraud and murder that would be punished heavily. However, when it comes to rules or laws for corporate practice, then each nation or even region would set up different rules like taxation, requirements to set up a business entity, investment and so on. This is because there are different contexts to be considered before setting up the rules and there is always the reason behind every rule made.

Therefore, we need to understand that rules or laws are not absolute but it is based on the situation and majority consensus to proceed on that. In the case of democracy, it may be influenced by strong corporate entities as well.

Challenge the rules?

So in the sharing discourse this morning, I get to see the challenges that the consultants faced during their project implementation period. There are different constraints in the projects which may seem to be absurd like the case of refurbishing old colonial shophouse. For your information, in the colonial era, the toilet of the shophouse used to be placed at the back of the lot. All the residents have to travel to the back of the lot to use the facility. This is due to the lack of sanitary technology and the affordability at that time. For your information, most of the residents for shophouses are not wealthy people but medium or low-income groups. Therefore, the facility provided in the shophouse is minimal. However, the time has changed and it is now the 21st century where we have accessibility to great technology that could improve our life quality. According to the UNESCO law enforcement team, the design for the toilet shall remain the same location and unit which is absurd, to be honest. No one would want to go back as to how the olden days where many inconvenience exist. Hence, the consultant tried their best to negotiate with the authority that such rules shall not overrule the basic necessity of the 21st-century people where the rooms shall be equipped with at least one bathroom.

From the case study, we can see that at one side, the authority try to enforce the rules rigidly while the consultant and owner will need to go through a hard time to negotiate the terms. In some cases, there may be a failure of negotiation that caused the owner to decide on things that are against the rule but it makes total sense in the reality (which I shall not name here). Therefore, the business owner has to take the risk of having an "illegal" premise to operate and may face a problem when it comes to insurance claim during an accident like fire breakout. Thus, should the rules be challenged? My personal take is yes and it should be done professionally and as to make the rules relevant to us. I am against adhering to rules that may already be obsolete which does not make any sense at all.

People & rule, which comes first?

This is the ultimate question on whether the priority should be given to which party. The people or the rule. It is very subjective and depends on the context. Therefore, I am putting my personal opinion on this matter. To me, it should be both ways and should not be extremist where we go one side all the way.

We should prioritize rule when it comes to a high-risk decision that it may incur a lot of liability, such as building a nuclear plant or manoeuvre an aeroplane. The rules are set for a reason which is to minimize the risk that would devastate the lives of many and even a country. Due to the complication, it is hard for a single human being to override the rules and be able to make a sound decision on what action to take which may be against the rule but beneficial to the people.

On the other hand, we should prioritize people when it comes to lesser risk decision like heritage conservation, building design requirement (not structural requirement) that any changes will not cause large liability burden to the society and even can elevate the living quality of many.

Change for the better?

After the discourse, one thing that I think about is how can we change for the better? Any channel that we can do that? Or any actions that we can take to make a difference?

Well, my first thought is to take action by spreading the awareness out to as many people as possible. This is one of the easiest ways to get about and it needs to be consistent. The overall idea is to let people around us to be aware that they are part of the society and they have the right to express and vote for a change. As long as we can deliver good values to the audience and equipped the people with the right mindset, then it is like taking a small step but creating a big impact.

Other channels would be like building a business to create leverage to challenge the rules like how the unicorns (Grab, Uber, Airbnb, etc) are changing the world now. We can also participate in the discussion of policymaking initiated by the local authority that we can voice out our opinion in changing for the better.


This discourse is a great spark for the participants where we can see how a professional should understand the needs of the people and fight for the betterment of the industry with the current obsolete rules that are constraining the development. Many of us would just listen and do nothing afterwards which is totally fine as this is the norm. However, having such discourse time to time and having people that are willing to speak out, this will be a voice that people can be inspired from and eventually being influenced to be part of the changing force for the better of the society. Looking forward to having more discourse like this and know more like-minded people.


DOMA Breakfast Club 5/9/2020 - Fabian Tan Architects & JOTA Sdn Bhd

Image Source: By Author


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