People’s Republic of China (PRC)

LEED, PassivHaus & BREEAM Housing ~ Atrocious Fire Safety !!

2016-04-11:  It Happened One Night !

And Maybe … if it hadn’t been that particular night, during all the festivities of New Year’s Eve 2015, we would never have heard about the Address Supertall Hotel Fire, in Dubayy (UAE).  A long search on the Internet afterwards led to the detailed, post fire analysis report on the 2014 Lacrosse Docklands Fire, in Melbourne (Australia) … followed by some more searching, and a very large can of worms opened up … similar nasty façade (external fabric) fires in many, many countries … involving large chunks of flaming debris falling from terrific heights, carried by the wind to a significant distance away from the building of fire origin.

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Some people have tried to suggest that the only reason for these fires is inadequate building codes/regulations.  No … the reason for these fires is much more than that … it’s the ‘SYSTEM’ !   In other words, how the International Construction Sector is organized and goes about its ordinary, everyday activities and tasks.  We must also talk about poor quality design and construction … and a lack of stringent, independent enforcement of effective building codes/regulations and standards.  I have written this down many times before … Self-Regulation is NO Regulation !!

It is very clear that Conventional Fire Engineering … as currently practiced, internationally … is no longer ‘fit for purpose’.  For discussion at SFE 2016 DUBLIN.  Check out the Fire Conference Website: www.sfe-fire.eu … and on Twitter: @sfe2016dublin

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IN IRELAND … A 2015 TERRACED HOUSING FIRE …

The general public was shocked and stunned, to put it mildly, by a very rapid and extensive 2015 Terraced Housing Fire on the outskirts of Dublin …

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[ See my Blog, dated 2011-04-06 … about a different, but related, 2011 Terraced Housing Fire in Terenure, a suburb of Dublin City.]

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Click to enlarge.

[ Fast forward from 2011 … overtaking Priory Hall (see my series of Blogs) … to Longboat Quay, a large residential development on the south bank of the River Liffey, which flows through the middle of Dublin.  A recent visual/surface inspection of one of the units there revealed not just a poor quality of construction … but a lack of care and attention, with a mixture of incompetence and ignorance thrown in for good measure.]

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

The 2015 Terraced Housing Fire, shown above, should not have been a surprise to the ‘System’ in Ireland.  Research carried out in the U.S.A., Belgium and The Netherlands since 2012, and a serious PassivHaus Apartment Fire in Köln, Germany, on the night of 5 February 2013  … have all shown that the modern home (highly insulated, airtight, packed with electronic equipment and wiring, and fast-burning synthetic furnishings, etc.) is the ‘perfect storm’ of fire conditions and outcomes.  More open residential design + increased fuel loads + new construction systems and materials = faster development of fires, much reduced times to flashover, far less time for occupant evacuation, particularly people with activity limitations … and shorter building collapse times.

The time to flashover in modern high-performance housing, i.e. Sustainable/Green/PassivHaus/Eco/LEED/Bio/+Energy/Low Carbon/BREEAM/Zero Carbon/SMART … can be 7 times faster than in conventional/legacy housing … or less than 5 minutes, compared with just over 29 minutes !

All of this research can be found on the Links & Docs Page of the SFE 2016 DUBLIN Website.

Let us be crystal clear … there is nothing Sustainable/Green/PassivHaus/Eco/LEED/Bio/+Energy/Low Carbon/BREEAM/Zero Carbon/SMART about the post-fire scenes of destruction shown above.  And only for the physical separation between terraces, which can be clearly seen in the last photograph … the fire would have kept spreading.

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URGENT FIRE SAFETY RECOMMENDATIONS …

Without a balanced, proper approach to the issue of Fire Safety in this type of modern, high-performance housing … occupant safety is seriously threatened.  And if, in the event of a fire incident, the occupants are asleep … or people with activity limitations are living in the house … that threat will be extremely grave indeed.

Reality – Reliability – Redundancy – Resilience !

So … what needs to change ?   In Ireland, our immediate problem is Timber-Framed Housing (as shown above) … and the following is an outline of what must change … NOW !

  1. Party Walls, i.e. the walls separating one house from another, must be constructed of solid masonry, with a uniform and uncompromised thickness of at least 200mm … plastered on both sides, not dry-lined, for adequate smoke resistance … and be continued above the roof covering for at least 300mm.
  2. An effective Fire Detection System must be installed.  The conventional ‘package’ of one smoke detector per floor in the hallway and staircase of a standard 2 storey semi-detached house is nowhere near being adequate.
  3. An effective Residential / Domestic Fire Suppression System must be installed, e.g. low pressure water mist.  See later post, dated 2016-06-13, for a costed notional installation.
  4. If there is a Controlled Ventilation System, either mechanical or natural, in the house (for the purposes of air quality, heat exchange and energy conservation), it must be linked to the fire detection system.  In the event of a fire incident, the Ventilation System must immediately cease operation, and remain ‘fully open’.  This is in order to mitigate the build-up of high positive pressure, within a confined airtight space, caused by a developing fire … and to provide an exhaust route for smoke and toxic gases … during the short period of time prior to activation of the fire suppression system.
  5. Intermediate Timber Floors and Evacuation Routes, including fire resisting doorsets, must be reliably protected from fire and smoke.  The minimum period of fire and smoke resistance must be linked to local fire service support infrastructure.  In other words, the local fire services must be allowed sufficient time to arrive at the scene of a fire in strength … to search for any occupants still remaining in the fire building … and to bring the fire under control.
  6. Uppermost Ceilings under a trussed timber roof structure, including any trap doorsets into the roof space, must be similarly and reliably protected from fire and smoke.  Once fire enters a roof space, the light trussed timber structure will collapse within a few minutes.
  7. Front and Back Entrance/Egress Doors must be outward opening.  In the 2013 German PassivHaus Apartment Fire, the occupant found it extremely difficult to open inward opening doors and windows because of the high positive pressure caused by the developing fire.  This unusual phenomenon was confirmed in the 2015 Finnish Apartment Fire Tests, when much higher positive pressures were observed.
  8. Internal Linings of External Walls must comprise 2 layers of plasterboard, with all joints staggered … steel fixed, at not more than 150mm centres.  Once fire breaches the internal lining of an external wall, the whole building will become involved in the fire.  Horizontal and vertical fire sealing behind these linings, even if properly installed (!), are too little and too late.
  9. Frontline Firefighters must be supported by specialist structural engineering and hazard appraisal units … and light/portable/reliable Thermal Imaging Cameras must be recognized as a standard tool of firefighting.

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SUSTAINABLE HOUSING & RESIDENTIAL BUILDINGS …

These building types are more popularly known as Green, PassivHaus / Passive House, LEED, Eco, Bio, BREEAM, +Energy, Zero / Low / Nearly Zero Carbon, or SMART, etc., etc, etc.   In ALL of these cases, however, an Effective Residential Fire Suppression System MUST BE INSTALLED, e.g. low pressure water mist !

In everyday practice … Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s), and the Organizations and Individuals responsible for the far-too-rapid construction of these innovative building types are either completely and blissfully ignorant, or callously and negligently in denial, about the seriously negative impacts on Occupant & Firefighter Fire Safety and Building Fire Protection.

BUT … slowly … more and more reliable evidence is being gathered !   Please visit the Links & Docs Page on: www.sfe-fire.eu … and also view this Presentation on some very interesting 2015 Apartment Fire Tests in Finland: www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ss_ONolzLY

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ENERGY CONSERVATION & EFFICIENCY UPGRADING OF EXISTING BUILDINGS …

In refurbishment projects where insulation is fixed to the internal surfaces of external walls … similar fire safety problems exist, and they must be solved by reviewing the full checklist above.  Refer again to the PassivHaus Apartment Fire in Köln, Germany, on the night of 5 February 2013 … and to the 2015 Apartment Fire Tests in Finland

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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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