Archive for October, 2009

Disability Access Certificates & Accessible Toilet Facilities ? (III)

2009-10-31:  Missing so far in Ireland … but an essential starting point for any discussion about Disability & Accessibility of the Built Environment in many other countries … is the 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which entered into force, i.e. became an International Legal Instrument, on 3rd May 2008.

This Convention is important because it facilitates access, for a large group of people in all of our communities, to the Rights, i.e. basic needs, of all human beings … which were first elaborated in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Until now, access to Universal Rights has effectively been denied to people with disabilities.

How is Ireland responding to the UN Convention ?

Ireland signed the Convention on 30th March 2007 … but has still not signed the Convention’s Optional Protocol.  Furthermore … even though other European Union Member States have proceeded to ratify both the Convention and the Optional Protocol on their own, without waiting for all Member States to act in unison … Ireland has not ratified either.  Why is that ???

On the positive side … and at the time of writing …

  • 143 countries, including Ireland, have signed the Convention ;
  • 87 other countries have signed the Optional Protocol ;
  • 71 other countries have ratified the Convention ;
  • 45 other countries have ratified the Optional Protocol.

2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

Click the Link above to read/download PDF File (215 Kb) 

With regard to Accessibility … refer, initially and directly, to Preamble Paragraph (g) and Articles 9 & 11 of the Convention.

[As a matter of routine in all of our work, I prefer to go beyond the scope of the 2006 Disability Rights Convention … and to consider Accessibility for All, i.e. including People with Activity Limitations (2001 WHO ICF), to the Human Environment.]


Accessibility Implementation in Ireland, and Toilet Facilities

How more basic can you get in every day life and living ?

The WC Cubicle shown in Diagram 13 of the existing Technical Guidance Document M does not work … a black and white / open and shut case.  It has not worked for a long, long time.   It is not ‘accessible’.   Should this come as a sudden surprise to anybody ?   No.

That toilet arrangement dates back to guidance documentation published by the Irish National Rehabilitation Board (NRB) in the early 1980’s.  And since that guidance took a long time to produce … we are talking about well before the end of the 1970’s as its true date of origin.  I know, because I was there … and I have the T-Shirt !

I am not going to show that Diagram here, because I don’t want to encourage anybody to reproduce it again in a ‘real’ building … for any reason whatsoever !


Nearly 30 years later (!) … the Wheelchair Accessible Unisex WC shown in Diagram 12 of Draft Technical Guidance Document M (2009) is not a significant improvement on the earlier version.  In fact, it is a miserable effort !   And … I am not going to show that Diagram here either … for the same reason.

What I would like to present, however, are Figures 43 & 44 from the Draft International Accessibility-for-All Standard ISO 21542.  This is the level of accessibility performance which we should all be striving to achieve … as a minimum ! 

2 colour drawings showing, on top, an Accessible Toilet Facility, with corner WC arrangement ... and, on the bottom, showing that there is sufficient space for a range of wheelchair to WC transfer options.

2 colour drawings showing, on top, an Accessible Toilet Facility, with corner WC arrangement … and, on the bottom, showing that there is sufficient space for a range of Wheelchair-to-WC transfer options. Click to enlarge.

N.B. A standard, large Wash Hand Basin must no longer be considered as an optional extra in a properly fitted out Accessible Toilet Facility.

Please also note the independent water supply, on the wall side of the corner WC, feeding a shower head type outlet which can be turned on or off at the outlet head … or within easy reach of the WC.  This is Accessibility-for-All in action !

Colour photograph showing what is supposed to be an 'Accessible' Toilet Facility, with a combined Baby Change Facility.  Inadequate management magnifies the already poor accessibility performance of the cramped space.  Click to enlarge.  Photograph taken by CJ Walsh.  2009-09-19.

Colour photograph showing what is supposed to be an ‘Accessible’ Toilet Facility, with a combined Baby Change Facility. Inadequate management magnifies the already poor accessibility performance of the cramped space. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2009-09-19.

Many building owners/managers wish to combine an Accessible WC Cubicle with a Baby Change Facility.  More space is required, therefore, above and beyond that shown in the Figures above for the Baby Change fittings and associated ‘equipment’.

Without Proper Accessibility Management … Accessibility Performance will rapidly deteriorate … as shown in the above photograph.

Once we have mastered the minimum building accessibility performance required to meet the needs of a single person with an activity limitation … our next priority must be the Social Dimension of Accessibility.  Existing Building & Fire Regulations, Standards and Design Guidance are still geared very much towards the single building user.  However, for example, if 5 or 6 or 8 wheelchair users decide to use a building’s facilities … not a concept which is off-the-wall (!) … there is almost a complete breakdown and failure in accessibility.  This is no longer acceptable !!




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A Clean, Fresh Mountain Stream in Glencree, Co. Wicklow

2009-10-30:  And now … for something completely different …

Well worth a visit, whenever you are passing, is the War Cemetery in Glencree, County Wicklow … about 20-25 Km south of Dublin City, in the Wicklow Mountains.

I passed by last Monday (2009-10-26) … a public holiday … in the late afternoon …

It is a calming, restful place.  And ever present in the background … is the sound of a neighbouring stream …

Colour photograph showing the Mountain Stream beside the War Cemetery in Glencree, Co. Wicklow.  Click to enlarge.  Photograph taken by CJ Walsh in the late afternoon.  2009-10-26 T 16:11

Colour photograph showing the Mountain Stream beside the War Cemetery in Glencree, Co. Wicklow. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh in the late afternoon. 2009-10-26 T 16:11

Sounds of a Clean, Fresh Mountain Stream in Ireland

Click the Link above to listen to / download WAV File (1.08 MB)



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Building Fire Emergencies – What is a ‘Place of Safety’ ?

2009-10-24:  As I have travelled around … not just Ireland, but many other countries as well … it still remains a puzzle to me, today, why so many Fire Emergency Assembly Areas are located just outside the main entrance of a building.  These locations are not safe in a ‘real’ fire emergency … and they should not even be used for the purposes of test/drill evacuations !

Is the guidance contained in current Building & Fire Regulations, Codes and Standards on what is a ‘Place of Safety’ in a fire emergency clear, simple, direct and precise ?   Are you joking ?   No way !   Let us take a few examples close to home …

In Ireland:

When you look at the array of different Technical Guidance Documents (Building Regulations) at the same time … TGD B (Fire Safety) is way out of proportion, in size, compared to all of the others.  You would expect, therefore, to find exactly what you were looking for in that document.  Wouldn’t you ?

TGD B (2006), Paragraph #1.0.9 – Definitions

Place of Safety

A place, normally in the open air at ground level, in which persons are in no danger from fire.

Clear as mud !   If there is a fire on O’Connell Street in Dublin … a person is safe on Patrick Street in Cork !   But, how is any Building or Facilities Manager expected to work with such a vague definition ? 

In England & Wales:

No practical definition, as such, is readily provided.  The nearest thing to a definition is an amalgam of the following …

Building Regulations, Requirement B1 – Means of Warning & Escape

The building shall be designed and constructed so that there are appropriate provisions for the early warning of fire, and appropriate means of escape in case of fire from the building to a place of safety outside the building capable of being safely and effectively used at all material times.

Approved Document B: Volume 1 – Dwellinghouses & Volume 2 – Buildings Other Than Dwellinghouses

The ultimate place of safety is the open air clear of the effects of the fire.

British Standard BS 9999 : Code of Practice for Fire Safety in the Design, Management & Use of Buildings : 2008

Place of Ultimate Safety

Place in which there is no immediate or future danger from fire or from the effects of a fire.

Again … all as clear as mud !   Again … how is any Building or Facilities Manager expected to work with such vague guidance ?   Have you also noticed the additional obfuscation introduced by use of the word ‘ultimate’ in BS 9999 ?

It is hard to escape the conclusion that what is urgently needed is a fundamental transformation and re-shaping of the tired, antiquated and flawed ad-hoc assembly of prescriptive ‘solutions’ contained in current national building and fire regulations, codes, standards and administrative provisions … whatever their origin !


Now … try this for clarity, simplicity, directness and precision …

Place of Safety (Fire Incident in a Building, No Explosion Hazard*)

Any location beyond a perimeter which is [100]* metres from the fire building or a distance of [10]* times the height of such building, whichever is the greater


where necessary and effective medical care and attention can be provided, or organized, within one hour of injury


where people can be identified.

* Where there is a Risk of Explosion … multiply the numbers in square brackets above by 4.

Was that good for you ?

Furthermore …

The Route to any Place of Safety must be Accessible for All Building Users, including people who use wheelchairs, the visually impaired, frail older people, women in the later stages of pregnancy, children, etc., etc.

Colour photograph showing a Typical Scene at a Building Fire Emergency, with Fire Service Vehicles and Personnel in operation mode.  The haphazard arrangement of firefighting water hoses on the ground makes access difficult for many Building Users to a 'Place of Safety' which is remote from the Fire Building.

Colour photograph showing a Typical Scene at a Building Fire Emergency, with Fire Service Vehicles and Personnel in operation mode. The haphazard arrangement of firefighting water hoses on the ground makes access difficult for many Building Users to a ‘Place of Safety’ which is remote from the Fire Building. Click to enlarge.

With regard to an Adequate, never mind a Proper, Awareness of Disability-Related Issues at a Fire Scene … it is shocking to realize how almost non-existent this is among Fire Services … not just in Ireland and Britain … but in the rest of Europe and North America as well.

Even a hint of criticism will usually … not always … meet the Neanderthal Fire Service Response: “Have you ever been in a ‘real’ building fire ?”

My Response is: “Do you have to be a hen to know when an egg is bad ?”

This discussion will continue later … have no doubt … that is a promise !




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Fellow WordPress Bloggers – A Cautionary Tale ?

2009-10-23:  Late last Tuesday night, and early into Wednesday morning … I was working quietly at my computer in a Vienna Hotel Room … carrying out some basic maintenance on this Blog Site … and deleting the latest splurge of ‘Missed’ Spam from a continuous torrent of Russian Spam being directed, I can only presume now, at many … or all(?) … WordPress Blog Sites.  I then returned to the Site’s Dashboard Page, and proceeded to Log Out.  Only … the Log Out Page was a blank.  I tried again and again to access it.  No success.  Later, I found out that we had been hacked !

You don’t believe these things, until it happens to you personally.  Well … it did … and there is no use in crying.  This is just a game being played by ‘nerds’ … for the benefit of other ‘nerds’ … and none of them have any understanding of Collateral Damage.

Our Apologies, therefore, for being off-line from just around midnight, local Irish time, on Tuesday night … until early in the afternoon of the following day, Wednesday 2009-10-21.  As part of the process of going back on-line, the Site has been cleaned and sanitized.  Unfortunately, we can do nothing about the WordPress Software itself.

Our Thanks must go to our backup ‘techies’ at 2bscene Ltd., with a special thank you to Tom.  Good work, men !   Smoke them, if you have them !!


Arriving back in Dublin, however, I again went to the Dashboard Page … and noticed this ‘cute’ little blurb on the WordPress Development Blog

” WordPress 2.8.5: Hardening Release   2009-10-21

As you know, over the past couple of months we have been working on the new features for WordPress 2.9.  We have also been working on trying to make WordPress as secure as possible and during this process we have identified a number of security hardening changes that we thought were worth back-porting to the 2.8 branch, so as to get these improvements out there and make all your sites as secure as possible.”

What a load of old rubbish … and intended to obscure what had really happened !   Serious weaknesses in the WordPress Software had been exploited by the ‘nerds’ who hacked our Site.  Let’s hope that this latest WordPress Patch will be effective.

But … how many other WordPress Blog Sites had been hacked around the same time ?

And Another issue …

On the Dashboard Page of this Blog Site, we are being told that … over a certain period of time … Akismet has protected us from approximately 4,500 Spam Messages.

However … on the Akismet Statistics Page … over the same period … we are informed that approximately 3,800 Spams have been caught … while the number of ‘Missed’ Spam is always Zero.

I don’t know about anyone else … but, for me, those figures are a long jump away from adding up.

WordPress is a great format for Blog Sites … but, this is sloppy work from the WordPress People !   Do they give a damn about the ‘users’ … the general public … you and me ?




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Friday, October 23rd, 2009 technical control, virtual environment 1 Comment

Disability Access Certificates (DAC’s) – Parts M & B ? (II)

2009-10-18:  In everyday practice, the usual short introductory text in Technical Guidance Document M (Ireland) which refers to a linkage between ‘access and use’ of a building with ‘fire safety’ has little impact, because it is not explained … and is typically ignored.

In general … the basic problem is that this issue is hardly dealt with … at all … by Local Fire Authorities right across the country in their handling of Fire Safety Certificates … and where it does become part of the process, it receives inadequate attention.  There are exceptions.

A major drawback with the current vertical approach to our Building Regulations … each of the Parts has its own separate Supporting Technical Guidance Document … is that people are not sufficiently aware of the important horizontal linkages between the different Parts.  For example, all of the other Parts must be linked to Part D.  Quick, run to find out what Part D covers !   Another two examples … Part B must also be linked to Part A and Part M … and Part M must also be linked to Part K and Part B.

So … while grudgingly having to accept that the scope of TGD M should have some limit, under the current flawed system … a precise intervention with just one or two sentences, at critical places in the guidance text, would help to improve the overall consideration of fire safety issues, relevant to Part M, by building designers … and client or construction organizations.

Here are a Few Suggestions for Discussion …

1.  Revise Paragraph #0.6 of Draft TGD M (2009) & Add a Title …

Fire Evacuation for All

” Accessibility encompasses the full range of activity related to buildings: to approach, enter, use, egress from under normal conditions, and evacuate a building independently during a fire emergency, in an equitable and dignified manner.  Provision for access and use must, therefore, be linked to provision for fire evacuation.  For guidance on design for evacuation, reference should be made to Technical Guidance Document B (Fire Safety).”

Note:  No such guidance is contained in TGD B (2006).  It would be a great wonder if any person with a disability could actually evacuate a building which had been designed in accordance with TGD B.  To take a simple example … all of the ‘stairways’ in Table 1.5 of TGD B – Minimum Width of Escape Stairways will not facilitate contraflow or the assisted evacuation of mobility and visually impaired people.  Furthermore, those minimum widths specified in the Table may have a clear width which is 200 mm less.  See Methods of Measurement, Paragraph #1.0.10 (c) (iii) … ” a stairway is the clear width between the walls or balustrades, (strings and handrails intruding not more than 30 mm and 100 mm respectively may be ignored) ” !   What an incoherent mess !!

2.  Insert New Sentence at the End of Paragraph #1.1.1 of Draft TGD M (2009) …

Objective (Approach to Buildings)

” Consideration should be given to the use of the approach and circulation routes around a building as accessible routes to a ‘place of safety’ during a fire emergency.”

3.  Insert New Sentence at the End of Paragraph #1.2.1 of Draft TGD M (2009) …

Objective (Access to Buildings)

” Consideration should be given to the use of all entrances to a building as accessible fire exits during a fire emergency.”

4.  Insert New Paragraph at the End of Paragraph # of Draft TGD M (2009) …

Passenger Lifts

” Manual handling of occupied wheelchairs in a fire evacuation staircase, even with adequate training for everyone directly and indirectly involved, is hazardous for the person in the wheelchair and those people – minimum three – giving assistance.  The weight of an average unoccupied powered wheelchair, alone, makes manual handling impractical.  Lifts in new buildings should, therefore, be capable of being used for evacuation in a fire situation.  For guidance on the use of lifts for fire evacuation, reference should be made to Technical Guidance Document B (Fire Safety).”

5.  Insert New Paragraph and New Sentence at the End of Paragraph # of Draft TGD M (2009) …

Internal Stairs

” To allow sufficient space to safely carry an occupied wheelchair down or up a fire evacuation staircase, and to accommodate contraflow, i.e. emergency access by firefighters entering a building and moving towards a fire, while people are still evacuating from the building to a ‘place of safety remote from the building, the clear unobstructed width (exclusive of handrails and any other projections, e.g. portable fire extinguishers, notice boards, etc.) of the flight of a single, or multi-channelled, stairs should not be less than 1 500 mm.  The surface width of a flight of stairs should not be less than 1 700 mm.”

Note:  See Footnote (5) to Table 1.5 in TGD B (2006) … ” The minimum widths given in the table may need to be increased in accordance with the guidance in TGD M: Access for People with Disabilities.”   DUH ?

And …

” For the purpose of safe assisted fire evacuation of people, the rise of a step should not have a height greater than 150 mm, and the going of a step should not have a depth less than 300 mm.”

6.  Insert New Sentence at the End of Paragraph #1.5.1 of Draft TGD M (2009) …

Objective (Facilities in Buildings)

” Consideration should be given to the use of relevant facilities within a building, by people with disabilities, for the purposes of fire safety, protection and evacuation.”

7.  Insert New Sentence at the End of Paragraph #1.6.1 of Draft TGD M (2009) …

Objective (Aids to Communication)

” Consideration should be given to the use of relevant aids to communication, by people with disabilities, for the purposes of fire safety, protection and evacuation.”

Note:  More guidance could be provided under each of the individual paragraphs of Section #1.6 of Draft TGD M (2009).  See Draft International Accessibility-for-All Standard ISO 21542.

8.  Insert New Section #2.6 of Draft TGD M (2009) …

Fire Safety in Dwellings for People with Disabilities




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BATIMAT Building Exhibition in Paris (2-7 November 2009)

2009-10-18:  Here we are, once again, approaching November 2009.  Two years have rolled by … far too quickly … since the last Paris BATIMAT Exhibition in 2007.

Compared to what we are used to in Ireland, the BATIMAT Exhibition is huge … taking at least 3-4 days in order to see everything half-decently !

Annotated, colour image showing the 2009 Paris BATIMAT Exhibition Site Layout and general information about dates (2-7 November), opening times (every morning, from 09.00 hrs), etc. Click to enlarge. Extract from Official Exhibition Catalogue.

Annotated, colour image showing the 2009 Paris BATIMAT Exhibition Site Layout and general information about dates (2-7 November), opening times (every morning, from 09.00 hrs), etc. Click to enlarge. Extract from Official Exhibition Catalogue.


I have been going there for many years … to spot new trends, discover innovative building products and systems … and meet up with friends from CSTB or CTICM.  In a good year, I would expect to find at least 7-8 good new ideas …

Colour photograph showing an exterior view looking up the main avenue towards Pavillon (Hall) 7. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2001-11-09.

Colour photograph showing an exterior view looking up the main avenue towards Pavillon (Hall) 7. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2001-11-09.

When I first enter the Exhibition, I usually become emotional … almost close to tears … with FRUSTRATION (!) … not at the enormous scale of the event … but because so much on view never appears in the Irish Construction Product Marketplace … and if they do appear, it is not until many years later.  I kid you not !   There are reasons … but, that is a discussion for another day …

Colour photograph showing an interior view looking over Pavillon (Hall) 1. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2001-11-09.

Colour photograph showing an interior view looking over Pavillon (Hall) 1. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2001-11-09.

I wonder if the Current Recession in the European Construction Sector will have an adverse impact on this year’s exhibition …




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Disability Access Certificates (DAC’s) – A Time to Worry ? (I)

2009-10-17:  Some of you are already hitting the Internet Search Engines … with fierce intent altogether … about  Disability Access Certificates (DAC’s) !

Is it Time to Panic ?   No.

For a simple and direct hit, the 2 most relevant Irish Legal Instruments are:

1.  Statutory Instrument No. 352 of 2009 – Building Control Act 2007 (Commencement) Order 2009.

This states …

” The 30 September 2009 is appointed as the day on which the provisions of Sections 5 and 6 of the Building Control Act 2007 shall come into operation.”

Section 5 covers the Amendment of Section 6 (Building Control Regulations) of the Building Control Act 1990.

Section 6 covers the Amendment of Section 7 (Appeals) of the Building Control Act 1990.

2.  Statutory Instrument No. 351 of 2009 – Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2009.

This states …

” These Regulations shall come into effect on 1 October 2009, except for the provisions of Article 8 which shall come into effect on 1 January 2009.”

Article 8 covers Disability Access Certificates and Revised Disability Access Certificates.

For you, yourself, to properly examine all of the ‘ins and outs’ of this New Certification Scheme … download the PDF File below … and then search the document (making sure that it is not case-sensitive !) using the phrase ‘Disability Access Certificate’.  You will find 99 instances where the phrase is used.

Enjoy !

Ireland: Statutory Instrument No. 351 of 2009 – Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2009

Click the Link above to read/download PDF File (223 Kb)

In order to make full sense of all that is happening, and is intended to happen in the not too distant future … there are a few other Legal Instruments, related to the two listed, which also need to be consulted … but that is an exercise meant for masochists !

In comparison, the European Union Lisbon Treaty was a sweet bedtime story !   Seriously !!


Is it Time to Worry ?   Yes.

Here are just a few random ideas for your cogitation …

  • If the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government (DEHLG) pays little heed to Submissions made during and after this summer’s ‘consultation’ process … the proposed New Technical Guidance Document M: ‘Access & Use’ will end up looking like a real dog’s dinner of an absolute mess !   FUBAR.

Years were spent in the preparation of the New TGD M.  When it does eventually appear, it will be an accurate reflection of technical capacities within both the Department and the National Disability Authority (NDA).

Deeply regretted is the absence of Mr. Kevin Spencer … a gentle soul … from the DEHLG.  Things have not been the same since his departure.  He knew what he was talking about.

  • Who will deal, at a technical level, with Applications for Disability Access Certificates in the Local Authorities ?   Will they be competent to do so ?   Will their interpretation of the Part M Legal Requirements be harmonized … not just with other/different Authorities … but even with other technical personnel in the same Authority ???
  • In order to make this new certification scheme work, will the Guidance Text in Technical Guidance Document M (whatever version appears !) be operated as if it were Prescriptive Regulation … which will be totally illegal ?

This has been exactly the story … for many years … with the Guidance Text in Technical Guidance Document B … in the course of operation of the Fire Safety Certification Scheme.  FUBAR.

  • If, as I hinted above, the proposed New Technical Guidance Document M: ‘Access & Use’ will be a real dog’s dinner of a mess … falling far short of what can now be reasonably described as minimal accessibility performance (see the Draft International Accessibility-for-All Standard ISO 21542) … this will certainly open Building Owners/Managers of newly completed buildings to Complaints under Irish Equality Legislation.  Why is the Disability Sector so inactive with regard to making complaints ?

and finally …

  • Are the relevant Irish Decision Makers, as I suggested might happen in a previous post, in the process of actually sleepwalking into an unquestioned acceptance of the inadequate British Standards BS 9999 : 2008 and BS 8300 : 2009 ???   Do they know how to do anything else ?


For some sublime moments of meditation, however, please chew on the information provided at these Pages on the SDI Support WebSite

Disability Rights & Removing Physical Restrictions on Participation in Society ;

Towards a Sustainable Social Environment, Accessibility-for-All & Facilitation Design (2001 WHO ICF) ;

Fire Evacuation-for-All & Principles of Fire Engineering.




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Buildings of Historical, Architectural & Cultural Importance !

2009-10-08:  Deeply interested … and ‘luuuving’ … a hands-on and direct involvement in the Sustainable Restoration of Buildings which are of Historical, Architectural or Cultural Importance … or even those buildings which are not so important … I am deeply frustrated and angry when I look around at what has happened … and continues to happen … in Ireland … horrible, damaging interventions and alterations of all kinds … too many of which cannot be undone.

Certain guru-like organizations and individuals must be robustly challenged !

Yes … in everyday practice, there are pressures concerning an improvement of energy performance (BER Certificates !) … an improvement of accessibility performance for people with activity limitations (2001 WHO ICF) … an improvement of fire safety performance, etc., etc. … and, in the next few short years, adaptation to climate change will require serious attention.

BUT – BUT – BUT … in dealing with these buildings (a priceless heritage for our children, and their children, which cannot be replaced !) … some absolutely core principles must influence the minds of decision-makers in client and construction organizations, national authorities having jurisdiction, regulators … and, most importantly, the minds and souls of architects and engineers.  (I am wondering … do engineers have souls ?)


ICOMOSInternational Council on Monuments & Sites / Conseil International des Monuments et des Sites – works for the conservation and protection of cultural heritage places and is the only global, non-governmental organization of its kind.  It is dedicated to promoting the application of theory, methodology, and scientific techniques to the conservation of the architectural and archaeological heritage.  Its work is based on the principles enshrined in the 1964 International Charter on the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites (Venice Charter).

From practical experience, I have found the 16 Principles of the 1964 Venice Charter to be enormously helpful …

ARTICLE 1    The concept of an historic monument embraces not only the single architectural work but also the urban or rural setting in which is found the evidence of a particular civilization, a significant development or an historic event.  This applies not only to great works of art but also to more modest works of the past which have acquired cultural significance with the passing of time.

ARTICLE 2    The conservation and restoration of monuments must have recourse to all the sciences and techniques which can contribute to the study and safeguarding of the architectural heritage.

ARTICLE 3    The intention in conserving and restoring monuments is to safeguard them no less as works of art than as historical evidence.

ARTICLE 4    It is essential to the conservation of monuments that they be maintained on a permanent basis.

ARTICLE 5    The conservation of monuments is always facilitated by making use of them for some socially useful purpose.  Such use is therefore desirable but it must not change the lay-out or decoration of the building.  It is within these limits only that modifications demanded by a change of function should be envisaged and may be permitted.

ARTICLE 6    The conservation of a monument implies preserving a setting which is not out of scale.  Wherever the traditional setting exists, it must be kept.  No new construction, demolition or modification which would alter the relations of mass and colour must be allowed.

ARTICLE 7    A monument is inseparable from the history to which it bears witness and from the setting in which it occurs.  The moving of all or part of a monument cannot be allowed except where the safeguarding of that monument demands it or where it is justified by national or international interest of paramount importance.

ARTICLE 8    Items of sculpture, painting or decoration which form an integral part of a monument may only be removed from it if this is the sole means of ensuring their preservation.

ARTICLE 9    The process of restoration is a highly specialized operation.  Its aim is to preserve and reveal the aesthetic and historic value of the monument and is based on respect for original material and authentic documents.  It must stop at the point where conjecture begins, and in this case moreover any extra work which is indispensable must be distinct from the architectural composition and must bear a contemporary stamp.  The restoration in any case must be preceded and followed by an archaeological and historical study of the monument.

ARTICLE 10    Where traditional techniques prove inadequate, the consolidation of a monument can be achieved by the use of any modem technique for conservation and construction, the efficacy of which has been shown by scientific data and proved by experience.

ARTICLE 11    The valid contributions of all periods to the building of a monument must be respected, since unity of style is not the aim of a restoration.  When a building includes the superimposed work of different periods, the revealing of the underlying state can only be justified in exceptional circumstances and when what is removed is of little interest and the material which is brought to light is of great historical, archaeological or aesthetic value, and its state of preservation good enough to justify the action.  Evaluation of the importance of the elements involved and the decision as to what may be destroyed cannot rest solely on the individual in charge of the work.

ARTICLE 12    Replacements of missing parts must integrate harmoniously with the whole, but at the same time must be distinguishable from the original so that restoration does not falsify the artistic or historic evidence.

ARTICLE 13    Additions cannot be allowed except in so far as they do not detract from the interesting parts of the building, its traditional setting, the balance of its composition and its relation with its surroundings.

ARTICLE 14    The sites of monuments must be the object of special care in order to safeguard their integrity and ensure that they are cleared and presented in a seemly manner.  The work of conservation and restoration carried out in such places should be inspired by the principles set forth in the foregoing articles.

ARTICLE 15    Excavations should be carried out in accordance with scientific standards and the recommendation defining international principles to be applied in the case of archaeological excavation adopted by UNESCO in 1956.

Ruins must be maintained and measures necessary for the permanent conservation and protection of architectural features and of objects discovered must be taken.  Furthermore, every means must be taken to facilitate the understanding of the monument and to reveal it without ever distorting its meaning.

All reconstruction work should however be ruled out ‘a priori’.  Only anastylosis, that is to say, the reassembling of existing but dismembered parts can be permitted.  The material used for integration should always be recognizable and its use should be the least that will ensure the conservation of a monument and the reinstatement of its form.

ARTICLE 16    In all works of preservation, restoration or excavation, there should always be precise documentation in the form of analytical and critical reports, illustrated with drawings and photographs.  Every stage of the work of clearing, consolidation, rearrangement and integration, as well as technical and formal features identified during the course of the work, should be included.  This record should be placed in the archives of a public institution and made available to research workers.  It is recommended that the report should be published.


Note on BER Certificates for Historical Buildings in Ireland

Unless and until that magnificent marketing and public relations firm … Energy Ireland (SEAI) … can openly show that the DEAP Software has been properly modified to handle buildings of historical, architectural or cultural importance … and this modification is fully transparent … Building Energy Rating (BER) Certification for these building types must be put on hold.




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Another Faulty Tower – John Cleese, Where Are You ?

2009-10-07:   A Cautionary Tale for Clients/Client Organizations … from across the Pond … and a serious lack of Technical Control over the processes of Building Design and Construction …

Where there is no proper Technical Control … can there ever be an appropriate safety factor to incorporate into the design  ?

And before it’s too late … how is it possible to establish that there is no proper Technical Control ?

An artistic rendering of the oval-shaped Harmon Hotel & Spa, in Las Vegas, Nevada (USA), at its original designed height of 49 stories.

An artistic rendering of the oval-shaped Harmon Hotel & Spa, in Las Vegas, Nevada (USA), at its original designed height of 49 stories. Click to enlarge.


2009-10-26‘Who’s to Blame for Faulty Foster Tower ?’ … by Tony Illia, Architectural Record ( …

Despite the recession, CityCenter continues to rise on the Las Vegas Strip, with several buildings scheduled to open later this year.  One project that certainly has not turned out as planned is the 400-room Harmon Hotel Tower, designed by Foster & Partners, which will be nearly half its estimated height due to construction defects.  The problems have escalated into finger-pointing between project parties, resulting in legal actions and project reviews that are still under way.

The 28-story oval-shaped high-rise broke ground in July 2006.  Pacific Coast Steel, a San Diego-based subcontractor to Perini Building Co., improperly installed reinforcing steel inside link beams on 15 floors, a Clark County Building Department investigation revealed.

The problem should have been caught by inspectors, but a third-party California inspection firm, Converse Consultants, falsified 62 daily reports between March and July of 2008, stating that the steel was properly installed, according to county inspectors, who also missed the problems.

The defects were discovered in July 2008 by the project’s structural engineer, Halcrow Yolles Structural Engineer, temporarily halting construction and leading to the Harmon’s redesign.  Owner MGM Mirage declined to disclose the cost of the errors.

This April, Pacific Coast Steel paid $14,105 in fines after a Nevada State Contractors Board investigation discovered ‘workmanship’ issues.  As part of a settlement, the firm did not admit fault.  In August, Converse Consultants was suspended from seeking new work in Southern Nevada for six months, and its inspectors had their qualifications revoked or suspended.

The subcontractor says Foster & Partners is partly to blame.  “Perini stands by its opinion that design conflicts contributed to the Harmon Hotel structural issues and that portions of the structural drawings, as designed and permitted, contained elements of reinforcing steel that could not be installed as drawn,” said Perini President Craig Shaw in a statement.

The Harmon’s design called for pouring top portions of 2.4m thick link beams at the same time as the floor slab, which is a tricky procedure given the tight and exact spacing of reinforcing rebar.  However, the contractor made installation adjustments in field.  Stirrup hooks, in some cases, were spaced incorrectly and extended past the floor, prompting workers to cut them off so it wouldn’t show, the county inspectors say.

Corrective work and a structural building redesign are in progress.  The building will safely reach 28 stories; pricier work would be needed to meet the originally designed height of 49 stories, say project officials, who would not elaborate.  Foster & Partners declined to comment for this story.




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Human Rights Must Have ‘Real’ Meaning in a Civilized Society !

2009-10-07:  As previously discussed … but deserving much repetition … the 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) became an International Legal Instrument, i.e. entered into force, on 3rd May 2008.

This UN Convention simply aims to ensure that persons with disabilities are able to access human rights on the same basis as everyone else in society.  And rights are no more than an elaboration of the responsible basic needs of all human beings.

It is worth recalling that the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights was directly born out of the large-scale death, human misery and environmental destruction of the Second World War in Europe, North Africa, the Middle-East … and throughout Asia and the Pacific.

Human Rights must have – do have – ‘real’ meaning in a civilized society !


Israel signed the UN Disability Rights Convention on 30th March 2007.  At the time of writing, it has not yet signed the Convention’s Optional Protocol.  Israel has definitely not ratified the Convention or the Optional Protocol.

[To be fair, Ireland is in exactly the same position as Israel.  Why am I not surprised ?!?]

With regard to Situations of Risk, e.g. a fire emergency in a building … or Humanitarian Emergencies, e.g. the Gaza Conflict from December 2008 to January 2009 … the language of Article 11 in the UN Convention is very clear and straightforward:

States Parties shall take, in accordance with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters.”

On 3rd April 2009, the President of the UN Human Rights Council established the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict with the mandate “to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, whether before, during or after.”

The President appointed Justice Richard Goldstone, former judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, to head the Mission.  The other three appointed members were:

  • Professor Christine Chinkin, Professor of International Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science, who was a member of the high-level fact finding mission to Beit Hanoun (2008) ;
  • Ms. Hina Jilani, Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and former Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, who was a member of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur (2004) ;   and
  • Colonel Desmond Travers, a former Officer in Ireland’s Defence Forces and member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for International Criminal Investigations.


The Report of the Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict was presented to the Human Rights Council, in Geneva (Switzerland), on 29th September 2009.

The following is a short extract from that Report

Section A – XVII  The Impact of the Blockade and of the Military Operations on the People of Gaza and their Human Rights

Persons with Disabilities (Paragraphs 1283-1291)

1283   Information provided to the Mission showed that many of those who were injured during the Israeli military operations sustained permanent disabilities owing to the severity of their injuries and/or the lack of adequate and timely medical attention and rehabilitation.  Gaza hospitals reportedly had to discharge patients too early so as to handle incoming emergencies.  Other cases resulted in amputations or disfigurement.  About 30 per cent of patients were expected to have long-term disabilities.

1284   WHO reported that by mid-April 2009 the number of people with different types of permanent disability (e.g. brain injuries, amputations, spinal injuries, hearing deficiencies, mental health problems) as a result of the military operations was not yet known.  It reported speculations that there might be some 1000 amputees; but information provided by the WHO office in Gaza and based on estimates by Handicap International indicated that around 200 persons underwent amputations.

1285   While the exact number of people who will suffer permanent disabilities is still unknown, the Mission understands that many persons who sustained traumatic injuries during the conflict still face the risk of permanent disability owing to complications and inadequate follow-up and physical rehabilitation.

1286   The Mission also heard moving accounts of families with disabled relatives whose disability had slowed their evacuation from a dangerous area or who lived with a constant fear that, in an emergency, their families would have to leave them behind because it would be too difficult to evacuate them.

1287   One testimony concerned a person whose electric wheelchair was lost after his house was targeted and destroyed.  Since the residents were given very short notice of the impending attack, the wheelchair could not be salvaged and the person had to be taken to safety on a plastic chair carried by four people.

1288   The Mission also heard a testimony concerning a pregnant woman who was instructed by an Israeli soldier to evacuate her home with her children, but to leave behind a mentally disabled child, which she refused to do.

1289   Even in the relative safety of shelters, people with disabilities continued to be exposed to additional hardship, as these shelters were not equipped for their special needs.  The Mission heard of the case of a person with a hearing disability who was sheltering in an UNRWA school, but was unable to communicate in sign language or understand what was happening and experienced sheer fear.

1290   Frequent disruptions in the power supply had a severe impact on the medical equipment needed by many people with disabilities.  People using wheelchairs had to face additional hurdles when streets started piling up with the rubble from destroyed buildings and infrastructure.

1291   In addition, programmes for people with disabilities had to be closed down during the military operations and rehabilitation services stopped (for instance, organizations providing assistance were unable to access stocks of wheelchairs and other aids).  Many social, educational, medical and psychological programmes have not yet fully resumed.




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