I spent a month in Wales at an ecovillage called Lammas several months ago. Every family in this village had their own mini-battle against the planning authorities and building regulation officials. After all, they were building roundhouses. 

My host, Ayres, would give impromptu speeches about his battle, and they often held a valuable lesson. The speech I remember best is one about not complying for the sake of compliance.

There is a huge book that lists all the regulations a building has to meet before it is deemed safe to live in. The regulations, for the most part, work well in making sure new builds are safe. However, occasionally you get a person like Ayres. He is building a roundhouse in a world of square houses and straight lines. He has no detailed architect’s plan. He has no previous experience in construction. His labour force is a bunch of 18-25 year olds he found on the Internet working for him for free.


The building regulations don’t work for Ayres. He wants to build a good house – this is clear. Him, his wife and three children will live in the house, he clearly is going to do everything he can to make sure what he builds won’t collapse. But because of the unconventional method and atypical materials he is using, complying with the tickbox building regulations won’t necessarily equal a safe home, yet they still want him to comply.

Here is what happens: the officials look at their checklist. Then they look at the building. They look back at their checklist. And then to their large manual for times of uncertainty. Now they look at the building again. Slowly, they turn their heads towards Ayres, dumbfounded.

The life of a building regulations officer consists of visiting different new builds to inspect them. He makes sure they meet the code and then ticks a box. However when he is met with someone like Ayres, the ‘tick-a-box-‘ method doesn’t work. Instead, he is forced to begin a dialogue – a real interaction with another human being.

Ayres could comply, he could figure a way to make it possible for the officials to tick the box and move on, but he chooses not to. He wants to have the dialogue.

The officials are forced to change their stream of thought and begin thinking about the flaws of their regulations.

I don’t know the exact reasons why Ayres is doing what he is doing, but he is, and two things are being forced to happen because of him – innovation and a human dialogue.

Now most of you probably aren’t fighting against building regulations. However there are many examples for when complying for the sake of compliance might not be the best option.

You can comply when people say you have to be rich in order to travel.

You can comply when your optician tells you myopia is incurable and wear glasses for the rest of your life.

You can comply when your parents tell you never to talk to strangers.

I’m not saying don’t comply. I’m saying, or rather Ayres is saying, don’t comply for the sake of compliance.

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