AHJ’s

Grenfell Inquiry Recommendations (1) – Vulnerable People

2019-11-11:  Kensington and Chelsea’s wilful disdain for the Health, Safety and Welfare of ALL the residents within its functional area … and knowing neglect of its legal and ethical Duty of Care towards ALL … resulted in a significant number of people with activity limitations living high up in Grenfell Tower prior to June 2017 … in spite of the now incontrovertible fact that, in the event of a fire emergency, many would be left behind … to die.

‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’

Article 1, 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Colour photograph showing a Firefighter watching the horrific fatal fire scene at Grenfell Tower in London, on 14 June 2017, from a nearby balcony.  Click to enlarge.

London Fire Brigade was an easy target for the Grenfell Fire Inquiry’s Phase 1 Report, made all the more so following some careless, insensitive and ignorant public comments by its Commissioner, Dany Cotton.  However, we must clearly distinguish between the behaviour of LFB’s Frontline Firefighters, who were brave and dedicated despite inadequate training, and lack of proper equipment, back-up resources and personnel strength … and LFB’s Senior Commanders … which is another matter.

Colour photograph showing the London Fire Brigade (LFB) Commissioner, Dany Cotton.  In order to ensure that transformation of the LFB actually takes place in the short term, and is fully effective, Dany Cotton and all of her Senior Commanders must resign now, or be fired !  Click to enlarge.

In England … there is widespread indifference, and some rabid resistance, to answering the desperate needs, and mitigating the agonizing plight, of Vulnerable Building Users during fire emergencies … which includes people with activity limitations, children under 5 years of age, frail older people (not All older people !), women in late stage pregnancy, people with disabilities, refugees, migrants, the poor, and people who do not understand the local culture or cannot speak the local language.  British National Standard B.S.9999 (not solely those sections previously contained in B.S.5588:Part 8) and England’s National Building Regulations – Approved Document B: ‘Fire Safety’ – offer only token, i.e. inadequate, protection for vulnerable people in fire emergencies.  When a senior representative of BSI, the British Standards Institution, was directly approached by me, and requested to open up B.S.9999 for meaningful updating … the answer was a firm “NO” !  The same attitude is deep-seated among fire research organizations in the country, and among people who develop computer fire evacuation models.

Presentation Overhead, in colour, showing the ‘Fire Safety for All’ Matrix, which outlines the scope of its application in the Human Environment and the different social groups to be targeted.  Balanced consideration must be given to people who use wheelchairs (physical function impairment) … and to people with visual, hearing, psychological, and mental/cognitive impairments … and to other vulnerable building users, e.g. people with health conditions.  Click to enlarge.  Matrix developed by CJ Walsh.

Presentation Overhead showing the definition of ‘people with activity limitations’, with its equivalent French translation … also showing from where this term is derived … and who this term includes.  During a fire emergency, confused and/or confusing disability-related language costs lives !  Click to enlarge.

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Grenfell Fire Inquiry’s Phase 1 Recommendations – Chapter #33

After hearing the first media reports about the tough Recommendations aimed at London Fire Brigade, I had naturally expected that the other Phase 1 Recommendations would be equally as tough.  But NO … they are far from comprehensive … they are fragmentary, lack depth and any sort of coherence.  Specifically with regard to Vulnerable Building Users, the Recommendations are pathetically and disgracefully inadequate !

And in case there is any doubt, the status quo in England – and to be fair, in many other countries as well – is entirely unacceptable !!

Few people realize that the fire safety objectives in current fire regulations/codes are limited and constrained.  To implement changes to the flawed regulations in England, it will take many years … and, based on recent past history, implementation will be incomplete and unsatisfactory.  Residents in high-rise buildings, whether public or private, must no longer wait in vain for this to happen.  Instead, the time has arrived to become proactive, and to immediately initiate their own comprehensive programmes of Self-Protection In Case Of Fire … which go far and beyond the pathetic Recommendations in Moore-Bick’s Phase 1 Report.

Fires Similar To Grenfell Tower Are Frequent

[ Paragraph #33.5 ]  … although not unprecedented, fires of the kind that occurred at Grenfell Tower are rare.

[ Response ]  Not true … misleading, and a complete fallacy !

Just since 2010, fires similar to Grenfell Tower have occurred in South Korea, many in the United Arab Emirates, France, Chechnya, Australia, Azerbaijan, Russia, and most recently in Turkey.  Each one of these fires has been recorded and illustrated on our Twitter Account: @sfe2016dublin.  Seeing, and understanding, this striking pattern of unusual fire behaviour … a competent person would react and plan accordingly.

Effective Fire Compartmentation Is A Delusion

[ Paragraph #33.5 ]  Effective compartmentation is likely to remain at the heart of fire safety strategy and will probably continue to provide a safe basis for responding to the vast majority of fires in high-rise buildings.

[ Response ]  Not true … demonstrates a fundamental flaw in European fire safety strategizing !

In an environment of lax or non-existent compliance monitoring … the quality of architectural/fire engineering design and the reliability of related-construction will both, inevitably, be poor and unacceptable.  Fire loads in today’s residential buildings are also far higher than a generation ago, for example, because of more electrical/electronic equipment and synthetic furnishings.  And whatever about first-built, i.e. whether it’s good, bad or ugly, later alterations and other construction work will typically compromise the original performance of fire resisting doorsets and service penetration fire sealing.  Modern ‘green’ building materials and construction methods are further aggravating these problems.  A competent person would be aware of fire research at the UL Laboratories, in the U.S.A., which confirmed the above developments.

‘ Rigorous enforcement of building codes and standards by state and local agencies, well trained and managed, is critical in order for standards and codes to ensure the expected level of safety.  Unless they are complied with, the best codes and standards cannot protect occupants, emergency responders, or buildings.’

U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology.  Final Report on the Collapse of the World Trade Center Towers.  NIST NCSTAR 1.  2005.

‘Stay Put’ Policies Are Criminal

[ Paragraph #33.5 ]  However, in the case of some high-rise buildings it will be necessary for building owners and fire and rescue services to provide a greater range of responses, including full or partial evacuation.  Appropriate steps must therefore be taken to enable alternative evacuation strategies to be implemented effectively.

[ Paragraph #33.15 ]  e. that policies be developed for managing a transition from ‘stay put’ to ‘get out’ ;

[ Response ]  Too little … and far too late !

[ Solution ]  Two fatal fires separated in time and space … the 2009 Lakanal House Fire, in London, and the 2017 Marco Polo High-Rise Apartment Building Fire, in Honolulu, continue to clearly demonstrate that effective fire compartmentation is a delusion.  Even if carried out by a competent person … it is not possible to establish with reasonable certainty, by means of a visual/surface building inspection alone, whether or not fire compartmentation is effective in an existing building.  The London and Honolulu buildings were not fitted with any active fire suppression system, e.g. fire sprinklers or a water mist system.

Buildings must remain structurally ‘serviceable’, not merely structurally ‘stable’, for a Required Period of Time.  See the Presentation Overhead below.

Presentation Overhead, in colour, explaining the concept of ‘Structural Reliability’ in fire conditions … and defining ‘Required Period of Time’, during which a building must remain serviceable.  Click to enlarge.

Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s), firefighters, client organizations, design teams, and building owners/managers must not, therefore, direct, or even suggest, that any of its building users wait (‘stay put’) in that building during a fire emergency.  A competent person always connects building fire performance with its structural performance, and vice versa … and always learns from the evidence of ‘real’ fatal fires.

All Lifts/Elevators Must Be Used For Fire Evacuation

[ Paragraph #33.13 ]  When the firefighters attended the fire at Grenfell Tower they were unable to operate the mechanism that should have allowed them to take control of the lifts.  Why that was so is not yet known, but it meant that they were unable to make use of the lifts in carrying out firefighting and search and rescue operations.  It also meant that the occupants of the tower were able to make use of the lifts in trying to escape, in some cases with fatal consequences.

[ Response ]  There is a ridiculous assumption in Moore-Bick’s Phase 1 Report that it is only firefighters who use lifts/elevators during a fire emergency, and that it is dangerous for anybody else to use them.

[ Solution ]  In order to adequately protect Vulnerable Building Users in a fire emergency … ALL lifts/elevators in a building must be capable of being used for evacuation during a fire emergency.

Until such time as firefighters arrive at a building fire scene in sufficient strength and are properly prepared to carry out effective firefighting and rescue operations … Firefighter Lifts/Elevators must be used for the fire evacuation of building occupants/users.  Prior liaison and pre-planning with local fire services is always necessary with regard to the use of firefighting lifts/elevators for the evacuation of occupants/users.

Colour photograph showing a typical sign outside most lifts/elevators around the world … ‘In The Event of Fire, Do Not Use Lift’.  This is a pre-historic dinosaur of a policy which places Vulnerable Buildings Users in immediate and very serious danger during a fire emergency.  Click to enlarge.

A fundamental principle of fire safety design is that there must be alternative, safe and accessible evacuation routes away from the scene of a fire, which can occur in any part of a building during its life cycle ;  these evacuation routes must be capable of being used by all building users, including people with activity limitations.

This is why there must always be at least 2 Fire Evacuation Staircases in High-Rise Residential Buildings !

The location of lifts/elevators and lobbies, within peripheral building cores, must always be considered in relation to the position of adjacent fire protected evacuation staircases, which must be easily found by building occupants/users, and the areas of rescue assistance adjoining those staircases.

To be used for fire evacuation, a lift/elevator must be ‘fit for its intended use’, must operate reliably during a fire emergency, and must comprise a complete building assembly which meets specific performance criteria.

A Lift/Elevator Fire Evacuation Assembly is an essential aggregation of building components arranged together – comprising a lift/elevator, its operating machinery, a hard-construction vertical shaft enclosure, and on every floor served by the lift/elevator a sufficiently large, constantly monitored lobby for people to wait in safety and with confidence, all robustly and reliably protected from heat, smoke, flame and structural collapse during and after a fire – for the purpose of facilitating the safe evacuation of building occupants/users throughout the duration of a fire emergency.

If a building is located in a Seismic Zone, Lift/Elevator Fire Evacuation Assemblies which can safely operate during an earthquake must always be specified and installed.

Gravity Evacuation Chair Devices, which are not electrically-powered and operate by gravity, facilitate downward movement, only, on straight flights of stairs.  Having descended a staircase, with the user having left his/her wheelchair behind, these devices are not fully stable when travelling the long horizontal distances necessary to reach an external ‘place of safety’ remote from a building, perhaps over rough terrain.

Colour photograph showing a Gravity Evacuation Chair and how it is used during a fire emergency.  Click to enlarge.

If lifts/elevators in existing buildings undergo a major overhaul, or if they are replaced, they should then be made capable of use for fire evacuation.

Lifts/elevators used for fire evacuation must always have a fire protected electrical supply which is separate from the main building electrical supply, in order to ensure that they can continue to operate without interruption during a fire emergency.

In addition to conventional passive fire protection measures, Lift/Elevator Lobbies must also be protected by an active fire suppression system.  Water mist is the preferred fire suppression medium, because it is user-friendly, will not greatly interfere with user visibility, uses far less water compared to water sprinklers, and is also climate-friendly.  Furthermore, because people with activity limitations will be waiting for evacuation in lift/elevator lobbies, building designers and managers must ensure that these lobbies are properly fitted out with appropriate fire safety equipment, facilitation aids, smoke hoods, signage and communications, etc., etc.

Proper Use of Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEP’s)

[ Paragraph #33.22 ]  f. that the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to include up-to-date information about persons with reduced mobility and their associated PEEP’s in the premises information box ;

[ Response ]  There is No Recommendation or explanation in Moore-Bick’s Inquiry Phase 1 Report concerning the ‘what’, ‘why’ or ‘how’ of PEEP’s.

[ Solution ]  A Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan is a person-specific and location-specific document, and is an integral part of the overall Fire Emergency Management Plan for a building.  It is intended for regular occupants/users who may be vulnerable in an emergency situation, i.e. those with limited abilities in relation to self-protection, independent evacuation to an external place of safety remote from the building, and active participation in the building’s fire emergency procedures.

In new buildings, which are effectively accessible (including fire safe) for all, Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans are not necessary.

In existing buildings, Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans must not be used to limit or restrict access by an individual to any part of a building and its facilities.  To ensure this, sufficient accessibility works must be carried out and appropriate management procedures put in place.

In buildings of historical, architectural and cultural importance, where the historical, architectural or cultural integrity of the building must be protected, Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans may limit or restrict access to parts of a building and some of its facilities.  Refer to the ICOMOS 1964 International Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites.

High-Rise & Tall Buildings: Floors Of Temporary Refuge & Minimum Staircase Widths

There are No Recommendations in Moore-Bick’s Inquiry Phase 1 Report concerning these critical issues.

[ Solution ]  There are many fire safety problems associated with high-rise and tall buildings.  Evacuation by staircases alone can take many hours ;  the physical exertion involved in descending even 10 floors/storeys by staircase is too much for many able-bodied people and is impossible for most vulnerable building occupants/users, particularly people with activity limitations.  Passive fire protection of staircases, alone and/or supplemented by pressurization to prevent smoke ingress, is far too unreliable.  And heavily equipped firefighters cannot be expected to ascend more than 10 floors/storeys by staircase before carrying out arduous firefighting and search/rescue operations.  Furthermore, uninterrupted lift/elevator shafts, extending throughout the full height of a tall building, pose a significant risk of uncontrolled fire spread.

Colour photograph showing the very narrow, single staircase in the Grenfell Tower, London.  How anybody – ANYBODY – could ever imagine that this staircase would be adequate to serve the fire evacuation needs of a diverse occupant population in a high-rise residential building is beyond belief !  A Syndrome is a cluster of symptoms which occur together and can be taken as indicative of a particular design abnormality.  Click to enlarge.

Presentation Overhead, in colour, illustrating a sufficiently wide fire evacuation staircase … minimum width 1.5m between handrails … which will accommodate Contraflow and the Assisted Evacuation of people in wheelchairs … with a sufficiently large, directly adjoining Area of Rescue Assistance … which will accommodate people unable to independently evacuate during a fire emergency.  The space provided in an Area of Rescue Assistance, on each floor/storey, is calculated in relation to the design occupant/user population of a building.  Even if a building is fully sprinklered, an Area of Rescue Assistance must adjoin every fire evacuation staircase.  Click to enlarge.  Staircase design by CJ Walsh.

A Floor of Temporary Refuge is an open, structurally robust floor/storey in a tall building – having an exceptionally low level of fire hazard and risk, ‘intelligently’ fitted with a suitable user-friendly and climate-friendly fire suppression system, e.g. water mist, and serviced by sufficient accessible, fire protected lifts/elevators capable of being used for evacuation during a fire emergency ;  it is designed and constructed to halt the spread of heat, smoke and flame beyond that floor/storey, and is intended as a place of temporary respite, rest and relative safety for building users before continuing with evacuation, and as a forward command and control base for firefighters.

In a high-rise, tall, super-tall or mega-tall building, every 20th floor must be a Floor of Temporary Refuge, even if the building is co-joined with another building, or there are sky bridges linking the building with one or more other buildings.

Special provision must be made, on these floors, for accommodating large numbers of building occupants/users with activity limitations … and because people will be waiting on Floors of Temporary Refuge, perhaps for extended periods of time, building designers and managers must ensure that these floors/storeys are properly fitted out with appropriate fire safety equipment, facilitation aids, smoke hoods, signage and communications, etc., etc.

Presentation Overhead, in colour, illustrating and explaining the design concept of Floors of Temporary Refuge.  Click to enlarge.

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Conclusion: Fire Engineering Capacity in England is Lacking

In England … the very important 2005 and 2008 U.S. NIST Recommendations following the 9-11 (2001) Attacks on the World Trade Center, in New York City, were completely ignored.  Following the 2009 Lakanal House Fire, in London, the 2013 Coroner’s Recommendations were only partially implemented.

With regard to Vulnerable Building Users … there is NO capacity within the English Fire Establishment, including the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), English Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s), and its Building Design and Fire Engineering Communities … to properly respond to … never mind understand … the Fire Safety, Protection and Evacuation for ALL in Buildings.

Avoiding responsibility and pointing fingers at other Organizations appear to be the initial reactions to Moore-Bick’s Phase 1 Recommendations so far.  Refer, for example, to the NFCC Statement, dated 30 October 2019 … https://www.nationalfirechiefs.org.uk/News/nfcc-responds-to-grenfell-phase-1-report

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Belmayne Timber Frame Construction – Cometh An Inferno ?

2013-07-11:  Further to the Posts about the ongoing Fire Safety Fiasco at Priory Hall in Dublin, beginning on 2011-10-18 … and my recent reply to Ms. Saffron Willetts, dated 2013-06-09, which can be found at the top right-hand corner of this Page …

A house with a timber-framed party wall, whether the wall projects above the roof covering or not … in a terrace, or semi-detached … and constructed in 2004 (approaching the height of the Celtic Tiger frenzy in Ireland) ??   Not even torture in Guantánamo Bay (Cuba) would persuade me to buy … or rent !

One last word of caution … carefully examine any ‘Opinion on Compliance’ covering this property.

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On Sunday evening last, 7 July 2013, I received an e-mail notification from Mr. Del Tillyer about a Belmayne ‘Fire Safety’ Press Conference to be held in his home … 19 Churchwell Place, Belmayne, Dublin 13 … on Tuesday, 9 July 2013, at 11.00 hrs.  I was pleased to attend.

Belmayne, Dublin 13 - Fire Hazard (1)

Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2013-07-09. Click to enlarge.

Back in ye good olde days of the Celtic Tiger … the price paid for this 2 Storey Timber-Framed Dwelling Unit was a staggering € 530,000 !   However, following occupation of their new home, it was noticed by the family that there were BIG problems concerning nuisance sound transmission from neighbouring units.  And that’s when their long shabby saga of ‘Fire Safety at Belmayne’ began … or, more correctly, it should be called the tortuous saga of a ‘Serious Lack of Fire Safety at Belmayne’ !!

Belmayne, Dublin 13 - Fire Hazard (2)

Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2013-07-09. Click to enlarge.

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In order to satisfy the Legal Requirements of Part D: ‘Materials and Workmanship’, Second Schedule to the Irish Building Regulations … this form of construction was covered by an Irish Agrément Board Certificate …

Front Page of IAB Certificate No.04/0198 (rev.2007) - Kingspan Century Medium Rise Timber Frame Construction SystemKingspan Century Medium Rise Timber Frame Construction System – IAB Certificate No.04/0198 (rev.2007)

Click the Link Above to read and/or download PDF File (1.43 MB)

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Unfortunately … any connection between IAB Certificate 04/0198 and the bitter, cold reality of how 19 Churchwell Place was actually constructed … is, at best, extremely tenuous … as the following photographs clearly show …

Belmayne, Dublin 13 - Fire Hazard (3)

Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2013-07-09. Click to enlarge.

Belmayne, Dublin 13 - Fire Hazard (4)

Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2013-07-09. Click to enlarge.

[ It was difficult … but I resisted the temptation to add an elaborate caption to each image which would describe the original Shoddy, Careless, Incompetent Site Workmanship !   And please bear in mind that the opening-up shown was limited … more problems cannot be seen, or will only become apparent in the future, e.g. the inevitable settlement of low-density thermal insulation !! ]

Belmayne, Dublin 13 - Fire Hazard (5)

Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2013-07-09. Click to enlarge.

Belmayne, Dublin 13 - Fire Hazard (6)

Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2013-07-09. Click to enlarge.

[ This is the other unreported and completely hidden Irish National Debt … over 20 years of ‘Lite’ National Regulation of the Construction Sector and an Entirely Inadequate and Ineffective National System of Local Authority Building Control / Independent Site Technical Control have resulted in a New National Building Stock which will require an enormous amount of difficult and costly repairs during the next decades … which will have to be paid for by the citizen !   Those responsible … National Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s), Professional Institutes and Societies, Property Developers, Construction Product Manufacturers, and Politicians … have all quietly slipped away from the crime scene !! ]

Belmayne, Dublin 13 - Fire Hazard (7)

Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2013-07-09. Click to enlarge.

Belmayne, Dublin 13 - Fire Hazard (8)

Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2013-07-09. Click to enlarge.

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The Fire Consultant on this Project is Mr. Noel C. Manning.

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Explanatory Note:

In the event of a fire incident at this dwelling unit … why are the construction failures shown in the photographs above so risky, so hazardous, so dangerous for its occupants (more precisely – their health, safety and welfare) ??

Even within the Construction Sector, it is not well understood that the Fire Safety Objectives of Building Regulations, generally and not just in Ireland, are limited in scope to the protection of people who use and/or occupy buildings from fire (i.e. heat, smoke and flame).  These Fire Safety Objectives only ‘extend’ to the protection of property (i.e. the building fabric) … insofar as the protection of that property is relevant to the protection, including the safe evacuation, of people in the building.

The biggest original construction failure shown above is that there is an extensive warren of continuous, hidden cavities within the walls, floors, service duct and ceilings of the house … which facilitates the unseen spread of fire, including toxic smoke, very rapidly throughout the building and to adjoining dwelling units.  This type of insidious fire spread cannot be detected by smoke alarms located in the area of a staircase.

The serious ‘cavity’ failure is compounded by another serious construction failure … the weak and inadequate protection from fire (i.e. heat, smoke and flame) to the staircase itself … which is the only means of evacuation from the house for the occupants.

The limited Fire Safety Objectives of Building Regulations must be clearly distinguished from Project-Specific Fire Engineering Design Objectives which have a much wider scope.  For an elaboration of this issue … go to:  https://cjwalsh.ie/2012/12/sustainable-fire-engineering-for-all-sdis-professional-service/ 

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Urgent ! … Next Generation Architectural Design Concepts

2013-05-30:  Further to the recent post here, dated 2013-04-02 … and this Page on our Corporate WebSite …

Pausing … and stepping back … to consider conventional architectural practice, how architects are educated, and whether or not the professional institutes are helping, or handicapping, the forward progress of Architecture for a Better, More Sustainable World … I am deeply concerned about the future …

1.  Should it be ‘Multi-Disciplinary’ or ‘Trans-Disciplinary’ ?

The word ‘trans-disciplinary’ is confusing to a lot of people … surprisingly, to many at senior levels in construction-related industries, research sectors, and academia … not just in Ireland, but internationally.  The more senior the level, it seems the higher are the walls of that proverbial ‘box’.  But, let me reassure you, thinking outside the ‘box’ is not confined to people in their early 20’s !!

Looking over just the initial list of Consultant Specialists in a complex architectural project … it is the task of the Architect to transform a widely ‘multi-disciplinary’ input into a coherent ‘trans-disciplinary’ output.  These two concepts are very different.

Next Generation Architectural Processes and Procedures are urgently required …

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2.  EU Climate & Energy Policies – Key Driving Forces for Sustainability !

Recently, the European Commission issued this Green Paper … (which, by the way, has absolutely nothing to say about Climate Change Adaptation !) …

European Commission - COM(2013) 169 final Cover

Click to enlarge.

European Commission COM(2013) 169 final – Brussels, 2013-03-27

EU Green Paper – A 2030 Framework for Climate and Energy Policies

Click the Link Above to read and/or download PDF File (104 Kb)

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Concerning this Green Paper … Two Important Points …

(i)    Current European Union (EU) Climate and Energy Policies are not just a passing fad … they are here to stay.  With certainty, we also know that they will become more and more stringent … and that higher levels of performance will be mandated … not just on paper or a computer printout … but in reality, for example, in buildings which are constructed and actually occupied by ‘real’ building users.  Refer also to recent findings, in Europe, about the large and growing discrepancy between car fuel efficiencies claimed after testing in a laboratory, and when later monitored under ‘real’ driving conditions.

(ii)   It has now become obvious that the European Commission has lost the plot … big time !   Policies and Actions in closely related fields have been permitted to become fragmented, disjointed, and even counter-productive.  Written into the EU treaties is the term ‘sustainable development’ … an intricate, open, dynamic and continuously evolving concept.  However, senior levels (both political and bureaucratic) in the different Directorates-General of the European Commission have long ago forgotten, mislaid and/or lost the proper meaning of ‘sustainability’ … and the essential interdependency of its many aspects.

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… which brings me to the urgent necessity for Next Generation Architectural Design Concepts

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In Europe … the 1990’s and early 2000’s, taken together, was a period of construction experimentation and research.  We thought we could afford the resources and the lazy times … to try this, that and the other.  Little emphasis was placed on practical implementation in ‘real’ buildings.  However, the scale and immediacy of today’s Sustainable Development Challenges in the Built Environment have, within a few short years and much more quickly than expected, become unprecedented.

The Yanks (Gringos) are very strong on marketing … much stronger than Europe … so let’s examine a small model building … and see if its Architectural Design Concept is both coherent and comprehensive …

Mr. Amory Lovins, of the Rocky Mountain Institute in the USA ( www.rmi.org ) … has produced a very snazzy Visitor’s Guide to the sprawling complex that is ‘his home, bioshelter and office’ in Snowmass, Colorado … a Guide intended for wide public circulation.

Concerning this Building … Three Points of Interest(?) …

(i)    For a fleeting moment … let us imagine that a percentage – not even all – of the vast populations living in Africa, India and China wanted the same sort of lifestyle, including the house, that Amory Lovins possesses.  What would be the resource implications for this planet ??

RMI / Amory Lovins House, Colorado, USA - Exterior - Roof Photovoltaic (PV) Panels

Click to enlarge.

(ii)   In a first construction ‘try’ … separate solar and/or photovoltaic panels fixed in place on a roof … attached to the building, almost as an afterthought … were the norm.  Now, however, these building systems are no longer innovative … they must be properly shown to be ‘fit for their intended use’ (to comply with building regulations and codes) … and they should now be fully integrated into the architectural design concept for the building … which is not the case in the photograph above.  [ Car manufacturers face a similar design challenge today … how to successfully integrate new technologies, e.g. satellite navigation screens, smartphone docking stations, usb sockets, bluetooth, etc., etc., into the front dashboard.]

RMI / Amory Lovins House, Colorado, USA - Exterior - Tracking Photovoltaic (PV) Panel

Anyway … how reproducible is this model building in urban and suburban contexts … in the USA … or elsewhere in the world ??   How many people would have access to sufficient land outside a building to ‘plant’ one, or a series of photovoltaic panels ?   Tracking photovoltaic panels, as shown above ??   And as seen in Italy, with those ridiculous photovoltaic fields (in a post, dated 2011-11-07 ) … good agricultural lands should not be used for this purpose … not now, not ever, never !

RMI / Amory Lovins House, Colorado, USA - Interior - Building Services

Photograph taken by Judy Hill Lovins. Click to enlarge.

(iii)  Sustainable Buildings are ‘high-tech’ … and a very large amount and variety of electronic and mechanical equipment is necessary in order to reliably monitor and tightly control their performance … in other words, to operate a building in accordance with its design specification.  Again … these services should be fully integrated into the architectural design concept for what is, no longer, just a simple dwelling.  Do similar houses without basements, for example, now need a central well-ventilated service room, complete with compact workstation ?

RMI / Amory Lovins House, Colorado, USA - Interior - Battery Array

Photograph taken by Judy Hill Lovins. Click to enlarge.

In my opinion … the Architectural Design Concept for this building is not coherent.  The overall architectural impression is one of a large sprawling house, on a very large plot of land … with many different ‘environmental/energy’-related appendages, or add-ons.  Can you see any coherence ?

It is the task of the Architect to consider all facets of building performance at the earliest stages of design … whether a small building, or a very large complex building … and to integrate those many diverse, but interdependent, facets into a coherent architectural statement … having a conceptual single crystalline shape … while also bearing in mind ‘person-centredness’‘flexibility’, ‘adaptability’, ‘accessibility for all’, and a ‘long and useful life cycle’.

[ An aside … closer to home … we are now witnessing the rise of the ‘Passive House Designer’.  This person, who is able to use a specific computer software package … no less, and no more … need not necessarily be an architect, or have any architectural education/training.  Is it possible to refer to the realized output from this software as ‘architecture’ … or are they merely drab, boring boxes ?? ]

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3.  Sustainable Buildings, Fire Safety & Fire Engineering ?

In the elaborate Amory Lovins Visitor’s Guide above … there is only one mention of fire hazard in the building … and that is in relation to a Passive Clothes Dryer (Page 40).  End of story with regard to the Fire Safety Issues for its Users … and the Fire Engineering Implications arising from a chosen architectural design and chosen construction materials and methods.

When I was referring to a centrally located service room in # 2(iii) above … that room should also be structurally hardened, and fire and smoke ‘separated’ from other spaces in the house.  Or … if the service equipment is located in a roof space, there are implications for roof structural reliability in a fire situation, and the fire resistance of the ceiling construction beneath.  Or … if the equipment is located in a basement, a simple intermediate timber floor construction overhead is inadequate.

Furthermore … an intelligent fire detection and warning system … and a suitable domestic fire suppression system … are no longer luxuries or optional extras, but essential requirements !   Who would want to lose such a valuable investment ??

And insofar as fire safety issues are not being considered … it seems, at all … in the case of most ‘high-tech’, sustainable buildings … and certainly not in the case of the Lovins House … the Architectural Design Concepts for these buildings ‘suffer’ from a gaping hole … an enormous void … they are incomplete and, therefore, entirely inadequate.

Fire Engineering involves much, much more than mere compliance with building regulations and codes … whose fire safety objectives are limited, and whose performance requirements are sometimes inadequate and always minimal.

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Unfortunately … there is a fundamental conflict between Sustainable Building Design Strategies and the current state-of-the-art in Fire Engineering Design.  As an example … for cooling, heating and/or ventilation purposes in a sustainable building, it is necessary to take advantage of natural patterns of air movement in that building.  On the other hand, fire consultants in private practice, and fire prevention officers in Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s), will demand that building spaces be strictly compartmented in order to limit the spread of fire and smoke … thereby dramatically interfering with those natural patterns of air movement.

In everyday practice, there is a vast chasm in understanding and communication between these two very different design disciplines.  As a result, serious compromises are being enforced on Sustainability Performance.  If, on the other hand, adequate independent technical control is absent on the site of a Sustainable Building … it is the fire safety and protection which is being seriously compromised.

A range of critical fire safety issues (fatal, in the case of firefighters) are also arising from the Innovative Building Products and Systems being installed in Sustainable Buildings.

And because the emphasis is on pre-construction design ‘intent’ rather than the ‘real’ performance of the completed and occupied building … all of these problems are being conveniently sidestepped or ignored … and they remain hidden from everybody’s view.

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Sustainable Fire Engineering Design, on the other hand, is the creative response to Sustainable Design … and the powerful drivers of Climate Change Adaptation, and Energy Conservation/Efficiency in Buildings.

Sustainable Fire Engineering Design Solutions are …

  • Adapted to Local Conditions … Geography, Climate (change, variability and severity swings), Social Need, Culture, and Economy, etc., etc ;
  • ‘Reliability-Based’ … the design process is based on competence, practical experience, and an examination of ‘real’ extreme events, e.g. 2001 WTC 9-11 & 2008 Mumbai Attacks, and 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Incident … rather than on theory alone ;
  • ‘Person-Centred’ … ‘real’ people are placed at the centre of creative endeavours and proper consideration is given to their responsible needs … and their health, safety and welfare … and security … in the Human Environment.

Sustainability continues to fundamentally transform our Fire Engineering, Architectural and Consultancy Practice at Sustainable Design International Ltd (SDI) !

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SDI Practice Announcement – New 32 Storey Hotel in China

2013-04-02:  Sustainable Design International Ltd. (SDI) is pleased to announce that its Managing Director, C.J. Walsh, has been invited to be ‘Project Design Architect’ / ‘Design Professional in Responsible Charge’ for a New 32 Storey Hotel in Yunnan Province, People’s Republic of China (PRC).

He will have responsibility for the Project’s Architectural Concept Design and General Schematic Design … including the overall architectural character and profile of primary exterior surfaces.

Project Approximate Value = € 65 Million (Euros) … excluding interior design, finishes and furnishing (which could end up doubling, or even tripling, the overall project value).

Sustainable Design International Ltd.  maintains a strict practice policy of Client Confidentiality.

[ If this Type of Professional Design Service Appeals to You, or Your Organization – Contact Us Immediately ! ]

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2012 ‘Understanding China’ Policy Briefing Friends of Europe & EuroChambres

An estimated One Billion People will be living in China’s cities by 2030.  This large-scale and very rapid urbanization demands that a sustainable transformation of their urban built, social, economic and institutional environments commences Today – not at some notional point in a far distant future.

Furthermore … replicating a European approach to sustainable design and construction in other regions of the world is doomed to failure.  Urban Transformation in China must be adapted to Local Geography, Climate, Climate Change, Social Needs, Cultures, Economy, and Local Severe Events (e.g. earthquakes, flooding).  With European support and collaboration … China must, and will, find its own way.

Greening China's Cities of Tomorrow (2012) - Report CoverGreening China’s Cities of Tomorrow (Spring 2012)

Click the Link Above to read and/or download a PDF File (4.42 Mb)

Report on a One-Day China Advisory Council Roundtable, co-organized by Friends of Europe and EuroChambres, which was held in Brussels on 8 March 2012.  This event was part of an ‘Understanding China’ Programme (mid-2009 to mid-2012), co-funded by the European Commission.

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2013 Asian Development Bank (ADB) Guidebook: ‘Increasing Climate Change Resilience of Urban Water Infrastructure’ 

This Guide describes a practical approach to bridge the gap between theoretical analyses of climate change impacts and the planning decisions that need to be made by city authorities and utility managers to increase climate change resilience of the water sector in the city of  Wuhan, Hubei Province, People’s Republic of China (PRC).  It focuses on answering the questions currently being asked by city planners and managers all over the world, as follows:

  • What changes might be caused by climate change ?
  • How will these changes affect services and utilities ?
  • What can we do now to prepare for them ?

The long lead time required to plan, finance, build, and commission city infrastructure facilities means that decision makers cannot wait for more detailed data on the effects of future climate change, especially those relating to local circumstances, but must make investment decisions based on what is known now and what can be readily predicted.  An important principle in this kind of ‘robust’ decision-making is provided by the  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  tenet that adaptation investments, which move a city’s infrastructure toward sustainable development (such as providing safe drinking water and better sanitary conditions), are justifiable even without climate change.

This Guide is arranged in clear steps to provide direction and information for similar exercises in other areas.  Having grown out of a specific locality and its needs, the principles and solutions developed in this guide are founded on real world situations and problems …

ADB Guidebook: 'Increasing Climate Change Resilience of Urban Water Infrastructure' (2013) - Cover PageIncreasing Climate Change Resilience of Urban Water Infrastructure (ADB, 2013)

Click the Link Above to read and/or download a PDF File (2.31 Mb)

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***  THIS TALL BUILDING IN YUNNAN PROVINCE  &  SIMILAR COMPLEX ARCHITECTURAL PROJECTS  ***

Working within the professional constraints of ‘client confidentiality’ … it is possible to have a general discussion about current building design, construction and operation issues in an international sector which is operating, more and more, beyond national borders … without adequate, or very often any, national and local regulation.  By ‘regulation’, I mean a flexible system of building-related legislation which is operated in conjunction with mandatory and effective technical control.

In order to cope with today’s complex built environment and the enormous variation in the size and scale of construction projects … a ‘flexible’ mix of functional, performance and prescriptive legal requirements is the sharpest and most appropriate instrument.

And you can forget the hype about performance-based building codes coming out of the USA … hot air, and much ado about little !

Of course, the biggest issue of all is the competence of those individuals who work in Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s), i.e. technical controllers.  Even in the most developed economies of the world … there are many occasions when the level of individual incompetence in an AHJ is astounding … and institutional arrangements within the AHJ itself are a mess, i.e. the AHJ is not fit for purpose.

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1.  Sustainable Design – Design Process Efficiency & Proper Preparation for Construction

A tremendous amount of waste is associated with and generated by the processes of conventional building design, construction and operation.  There is a more up-to-date and efficient way of doing things … an essential way for Sustainable Design … and it’s called Building Information Modelling (BIM) !

Furthermore … consider, for a moment, just the initial list of Specialist Consultants who will be engaged directly by the Chinese Client when the project’s conceptual design has reached a sufficiently developed stage.  How can all of these individuals and organizations – listed in the revised and agreed Project Design Agreement – obtain accurate and reliable ‘real time’ information about the rapidly evolving project from a central design library / information database … then feed their new work back into the centre without unnecessary delay ?   How, next, can everyone else who needs to know, be updated with the new design input … again, without delay ?   And perhaps, these consultants may also be based in different countries … working in very different time zones …

  • Building Information Modelling (BIM) Consultant
  • Local Design Institute (LDI) … a local architectural practice which will produce the project’s working drawings, handle local spatial planning and building code approvals, carry out site inspections, and deal directly with construction organization(s), etc., etc.
  • Interior Design Consultant
  • Traffic / Parking Analysis Consultant
  • Curtain Wall Consultant (Curtain Wall, Skylights & Special Roof Structures)
  • Retail Market Analysis Consultant
  • Landscape Design Consultant
  • Quantity Surveying & Cost Estimating Consultant
  • Furniture Design Consultant
  • Geotechnical, Civil Engineering & Structural Engineering Consultant (including structural performance under fire and earthquake conditions, resistance to fire-induced progressive damage and disproportionate damage … and also including climate resilience)
  • Acoustic & Audio-Visual Design Consultant
  • Mechanical, Electrical & Plumbing (MEP) Engineering Consultant
  • Integrated Building Automation & Management / Telecom / Security / Networking Consultant
  • Fire & Life-Safety Engineering Consultant
  • Water Feature Consultant
  • Wind Tunnel Test Consultant
  • Kitchen Equipment and Layout Design Consultant
  • Art, Artefact and Accessories Consultant & Procurement Services for Art, Artefacts, and Accessories
  • Tenant Storefront Design Consultant
  • Helicopter Landing Pad Design Consultant
  • Universal Design / Accessibility for All Consultant [including access to the building, electronic, information and communication technologies (EICT’s), and services offered at the hotel … and including fire safety, protection and evacuation for all]

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2.  The ‘Design Professional in Responsible Charge’ !

The Project Design Agreement requests that the Client receive advice on who might be the different Specialist Consultants listed above.  In addition, it will be necessary to demarcate the boundaries within which each Consultant will operate … and, where appropriate, to prescribe a design performance target (see below) for each speciality … which must be ‘realized’ in the completed and occupied building !

Recalling the many previous posts, here on this Technical Blog, concerning NIST’s 2005 & 2008 Recommendations on the 9-11 World Trade Centre Building Collapses in New York City‘somebody’ must ensure that the many individuals and organizations listed above – members of the Larger (2nd Stage) Design Team – use consistent design data and assumptions … must co-ordinate design documents and specifications to identify overlaps and eliminate gaps … must serve as ultimate liaison between the Client, the Local Design Institute, AHJ officials, and the Construction Organization(s) … and must ensure that everybody is on the same communication wavelength, and working towards the same objective in a trans-disciplinary manner.

That ‘Somebody’ … the Design Professional in Responsible Charge … must be the Project Design Architect !

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3.  Some Sustainable Design Performance Targets

Actual construction and building user performance shall be carefully (i.e. reliably and precisely) monitored … and independently verified …

A.   Basic Functional Requirements … the Building shall comply with the Basic Requirements for Construction Works – elaborated in Annex I of European Union (EU) Regulation No.305/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council, of 9 March 2011, laying down Harmonized Conditions for the Marketing of Construction Products and Repealing Council Directive 89/106/EEC.

See my Post, dated 2011-09-13 … https://cjwalsh.ie/2011/09/new-eu-construction-product-regulation-3052011-halleluiah/

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B.   Good Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) … Two high-level performance indicators have been developed with the aim of protecting Human Health, and are both now referenced in International Standard ISO 21542: ‘Building Construction – Accessibility & Usability of the Built Environment’

      –   Radon Activity (incl. Rn-222, Rn-220, RnD) in a building should, on average, fall within the range of 10 Bq/m3 to 40 Bq/m3, but shall at no time exceed 60 Bq/m3 ;

      –   Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Concentrations in a building should not significantly exceed average external levels – typically within the range of 300 parts per million (ppm) to 500 ppm – and shall at no time exceed 800 ppm.

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C.   Energy Conservation & Efficiency + A ‘Positive Energy’ Return + Assured Building User Thermal Comfort

See my Post, dated 2013-09-10 … https://cjwalsh.ie/2013/09/passivhaus-standard-is-not-enough-in-new-building-projects/

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D.   Project-Specific Sustainable Fire Engineering Design Objectives

See my Post, dated 2014-04-20 … https://cjwalsh.ie/2014/04/sustainable-fire-engineering-design-targeting-mrv/

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