Unpacking Ambiguity in Building Requirements to Support Automated Compliance Checking

Zijing Zhang, Ling Ma, Nicholas Nisbet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry, manual compliance checking is labor-intensive, time-consuming, expensive, and error-prone. Automated compliance checking (ACC) has been extensively studied in the past 50 years to improve the productivity and accuracy of the compliance checking process. While numerous ACC systems have been proposed, these systems can only deal with requirements that include quantitative metrics or specified properties. This leaves the remaining 53% of building requirements to be checked manually, mainly due to the ambiguity embedded in them. In the literature, little is known about the ambiguity of building requirements, which impedes their accurate interpretation and automated checking. This research thus aims to address this issue and establish a taxonomy of ambiguity. Building requirements in health building notes (HBNs) are analyzed using an inductive approach. The results show that some ambiguous clauses in building requirements reflect regulators’ intention while others are unintentional, resulting from the use of language, tacit knowledge, and ACC-specific reasons. This research is valuable for compliance-checking researchers and practitioners because it unpacks ambiguity in building requirements, laying a solid foundation for addressing ambiguity appropriately.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Management in Engineering
Issue number5
Early online date4 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2023


  • Ambiguity
  • Automated compliance checking (ACC)
  • Building requirements


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