Ar C.J. Walsh – Consultant Architect, Fire Engineer & Technical Controller – International Expert on : Sustainability Implementation + Accessibility (including Fire Safety) for All + Sustainable Fire Engineering
Sustainable Fire Engineering (SFE) is a Facilitator – no more than Architecture, Structural Engineering, or Spatial Planning – in the task of realizing a Safe, Resilient and Sustainable Built Environment for All. However, SFE has an essential role to fill throughout the difficult journey towards that target. In close collaboration with other design disciplines, many iterations … twists and turns along the road … will be necessary.
Beware Greenwashing !
Sustainability is NOT a graft-on, or an optional extra, to Conventional Fire Engineering. This intricate, open, dynamic and continuously evolving Concept must cut right to the core of everyday design practice, and must positively impact all areas of that practice.
In this third decade of the 21st Century … the Safety Objectives in current Fire Codes / Regulations are limited, inadequate, and lagging far behind today’s creative moulding and re-shaping of the Built Environment ; they are almost, but not entirely, irrelevant in the context of the urgently required transformation of conventional fire engineering. For anybody who cannot see the broad, beautiful landscape beyond codes and regulations … this SFE Road Map is definitely not for you. For those who can see, your constant companion … your compass … will be a Personal Code of Ethics.
Essential Considerations Before Starting Out On The Road …
1.World Trade Centre Attacks in New York City, on 11 September 2001. Two sets of important Recommendations were issued by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in 2005 and 2008. Not only is the implementation of these still incomplete, but the solid progress which has been made e.g. on Firefighter Safety, is continuously under threat from vested interests. Other jurisdictions have tended to ignore the Recommendations. SFE takes full account of this Extreme Man-Made Event.
2.Grenfell Tower Fire in London, on 14 June 2017. Evidence at the Official Inquiry continues to shock and horrify ; the entire fire safety regulatory edifice in England is dysfunctional, and it poses a real and serious danger to Public Health and Safety. Inquiry Phase 1 Recommendations were issued in 2019. Already, the Recommendation concerning Evacuation for Vulnerable Building Users & PEEP’s (#33.22 e and f) has been discarded by AHJ’s … and it has also been stated (#34.14) that as everything about the single narrow staircase in the Tower appeared to be OK, it will not be investigated in Inquiry Phase 2 … a sure sign of dysfunctional dysfunction ! SFE sees beyond these major flaws.
3.Sustainable Buildings Il Bosco Verticale Towers in Milano … this exciting Project, designed by Stefano Boeri and completed in October 2014, has become the International Icon for innovative / environment-friendly construction. These new approaches to building design are posing enormous fire safety challenges. [ Remember back … was it 15 years before fire codes were able to ‘solve’ the Atrium in buildings ? ] SFE, however, must cope with this extraordinary level of architectural creativity ; and Fire Engineering Practitioners must be capable of active participation, collaboratively, within Project Design/Construction Teams.
Looking past the Milan Project … it is important for the reader to experience a more rounded flavour of where the exciting synergy between Creative Design and the Inclusive Language of Sustainability is at present, and where it is tending to go …
4.Building Energy Performance Rating Schemes Under enormous environmental and political pressures, the headlong rush to conserve energy in buildings, and to make them more energy efficient … especially after the 2022 Russian Invasion of Ukraine … is proceeding in blissful ignorance of fire safety and necessary independent technical controls. Measurement of real building performance, after energy refurbishment has been completed, is generally avoided.
The Road Ahead … From Gro Harlem Brundtland To Reliable Fire Statistics …
‘ The creative, person-centred and ethical Fire Engineering response, in resilient built form and smart systems, to the concept of Sustainable Human and Social Development – the many aspects of which must receive balanced and synchronous consideration.’
Organized by FireOx International (Ireland, Italy & Turkey), in joint collaboration with Glasgow Caledonian University’s School of Engineering & Built Environment (Scotland) … and having a widely multi-disciplinary attendance from the U.S.A., Hong Kong SAR (China), Spain, Finland, Scotland, Norway, Germany, England, The Netherlands and Ireland … SFE 2016 DUBLIN was a unique, and very successful, two-day gathering within the International Fire Engineering and Fire Service Communities.
SUSTAINABLE FIRE ENGINEERING fulfils a Critical Role in the realization of a Safe, Resilient and Sustainable Built Environment 4 ALL !
SUSTAINABLE FIRE ENGINEERING facilitates Positive Progress in implementing the United Nation’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, which incorporates 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 Performance Targets !
SUSTAINABLE FIRE ENGINEERING fast-tracks Proper Compliance with the 7 Basic Performance Requirements – functional, fully integrated and indivisible – in Annex I of European Union Construction Products Regulation 305/2011 !
A NECESSARY & LONG OVERDUE TRANSFORMATION !
A Building is a permanent construction, complying with basic performance requirements and capable of being easily adapted … comprising structure, essential electronic, information and communication technologies (EICT’s), and fabric (non-structure) … having a minimum life cycle of 100 years … and providing habitable, functional and flexible interior spaces for people to use.
Building Users have a wide and varied range of abilities and behaviours … some having discernible health conditions and/or physical, mental, cognitive, psychological impairments … while others, e.g. young children, women in the later stages of pregnancy and frail older people, are also particularly vulnerable in user-hostile, inaccessible environments. Not everyone will self-identify as having an activity limitation because of the high level of social stigma associated with ‘disability’. Building designers and fire engineers must accept that building users have rights and responsible needs ; the real individual and group fire safety requirements of vulnerable building users must be given proper consideration by both design disciplines, working collaboratively together.
Following the savage 2008 Mumbai Hive Attack in India, and the more recent 2015 and 2016 Attacks in Europe, i.e. Paris, Brussels, Istanbul and Berlin … it is entirely wrong to assume that the main and/or only targets will be specific high-risk buildings types, i.e. Tall/High-Rise, Iconic, Innovative and Critical Function Buildings (refer to 2005 & 2008 NIST WTC 9-11 Recommendations). All buildings and adjoining/adjacent public spaces must be carefully assessed for the risk of direct or collateral involvement in an Extreme Man-Made Event.
It is a fundamental principle of reliable and resilient structural engineering that horizontal and vertical structural members/elements of construction are robustly connected together. All buildings must, therefore, be capable of resisting Disproportionate Damage. The restriction of this requirement, within some jurisdictions, to buildings of more than five storeys in height is purely arbitrary, cannot be substantiated technically … and ethically, must be disregarded.
Fire-Induced Progressive Damage is distinguished from Disproportionate Damage – a related but different structural concept – by the mode of damage initiation, not the final condition of building failure. This phenomenon is poorly understood. But, unless it is impeded, or resisted, by building design … Fire-Induced Progressive Damage will result in Disproportionate Damage … and may lead to a Collapse Level Event (CLE), which is entirely unacceptable to the general population of any community or society. All buildings must, therefore, be capable of resisting Fire-Induced Progressive Damage.
All buildings must also be carefully assessed for the risk of involvement in a Severe Natural Event, e.g. earthquakes, floods, landslides, typhoons and tsunamis.
In all of the above Risk Assessments … the minimum Return Period (also known as Recurrence Interval or Repeat Interval) must never be less than 100 years.
Reacting to surging energy, environmental and planetary capacity pressures … with accelerating climate change … Sustainable Buildings are now presenting society with an innovative and exciting re-interpretation of how a building is designed, constructed and functions … an approach which is leaving the International Fire Engineering and Fire Service Communities far behind in its wake, struggling to keep up.
Passive and Active Fire Protection Measures, together with Building Management Systems (whether human and/or intelligent), are never 100% reliable. Society must depend, therefore, on firefighters to fill this reliability ‘gap’ … and to enter buildings on fire in order to search for remaining or trapped building users. This is in addition to their regular firefighting function. Therefore, there is a strong ethical obligation on building designers, including fire engineers, to properly consider Firefighter Safety … should a fire incident occur at any time during the life cycle of a building.
Structural Serviceability, Fire Resistance Performance and ‘Fire Safety for All’ in a building must, therefore, be related directly to the local Fire Service Support Infrastructure … particularly in developing and the least developed countries. AND … Fire Codes and Standards must always be adapted to a local context !
The fire safety objectives of current Fire Codes and Standards are limited, usually flawed … and will rarely satisfy the real needs of clients/client organizations, or properly protect society. Fire code compliance, in isolation from other aspects of building performance, will involve a consideration of only a fraction of the issues discussed above. There is once again, therefore, a strong ethical obligation on building designers, including fire engineers, to clearly differentiate between the limited fire safety objectives in Fire Codes and Standards … and Project-Specific Fire Engineering Design Objectives … and to explain these differences to a Client/Client Organization. Facility Managers must also explain these differences directly to an Organization’s Senior Management … and directly inform the Organization’s Board of Directors … as appropriate.SFE Mission: To ensure that there is an effective level of Fire Safety for ALL – not just for SOME – in the Built Environment … to dramatically reduce all direct and indirect fire losses in the Human Environment … and to protect the Natural Environment.
To transform Conventional Fire Engineering, as practiced today, into an ethical and fully professional Sustainable Design Discipline which is fit for purpose in the 21st Century … meaning … that fire engineers can participate actively and collaboratively in the sustainable design process, and can respond creatively with sustainable fire engineering design solutions which result in Effective Fire Safety for All in a Safe, Resilient and Sustainable Built Environment.
To bring together today’s disparate sectors within the International Fire Engineering (and Science) Community … to encourage better communication between each, and trans-disciplinary collaboration between all.
To initiate discussion and foster mutual understanding between the International Sustainable Development, Climate Change and Urban Resilience Communities … and the International Fire Engineering and Fire Service Communities.
The realization of a Safe, Inclusive, Resilient & Sustainable Built Environment demands a concerted, collaborative, very creative and widely trans-disciplinary effort at national, local, regional and international levels across the whole planet – Our Common Home. The informed operation of appropriate legislation, administrative procedures, performance monitoring and targeting, and incentives/disincentives, at all of these levels, will facilitate initial progress towards this objective … but not the quantity, quality or speed of progress necessary. Our time is running out !
This Code of Ethics applies … for those who subscribe to its values … to policy and decision makers, and the many different individuals and organizations directly and indirectly involved in the design, engineering, construction, and operation (management and maintenance) of a Safe, Resilient & Sustainable Built Environment for All.
The Purpose of this Code of Ethics is to guide the work of competent individuals and organizations in a context where incomplete or inadequate legislation, administrative procedures and incentives/disincentives exist … but, more importantly, where they do not exist at all … and, amid much confusion and obfuscation of the terms, to ensure that implementation is authentically ‘sustainable’, and reliably ‘safe’ and ‘resilient’ for every person in the receiving community, society or culture … before it is too late !
3. New CIB W14: ‘Fire Safety’ Research Working Group VI Reflection Document: ‘Sustainable Fire Engineering Design, Construction & Operation’, which will establish a framework for the future development of Sustainable Fire Engineering.
Preparation of this Document will soon begin, and the following issues will be explored:
Conceptual Framework for Sustainable Fire Engineering (SFE), with a necessary accompanying Generic SFE Terminology ;
Strategy for Future SFE Development ;
Implementation of 2005 & 2008 NIST WTC 9-11 Recommendations ;
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 …
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 – Brussels, 2013-03-27
Click the Link Above to read and/or download PDF File (104 Kb)
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.
… which brings me to the urgent necessity for Next Generation Architectural Design Concepts …
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 ??
(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.]
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 !
(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 ?
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 ?? ]
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.
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.
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) !