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Concerns Raised Over Flammable Material in Mac

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

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Details of the Glasgow School of Art’s 51 million-pound refurbishment are now under scrutiny amidst an investigation into a fire that ripped through the famous building in June—the second devastating blaze in four years.

What Happened

The blaze broke out in the 110-year-old Mackintosh building after 11 p.m. on June 15, with 120 firefighters and 20 engines on the scene. By the time crews arrived, flames had spread to the neighboring Campus nightclub and the O2 ABC music venue (one of the region’s most popular concert spots). No one was injured in the blaze.

The building, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and considered to be an art nouveau grade A-listed masterpiece, also caught fire in 2014 when a projector overheated and ignited flammable gases from a foam canister that was being used for an art project, destroying about a third of the building, including its library.

The building was still undergoing a 35-million-pound renovation from that incident, led by contractor Kier Group, and was set to reopen next spring. Officials said there were no operational sprinklers at the site.

Information Emerges

A description from the Page/Park architecture firm (which has not commented) that appeared in the RIBA Journal in March is now coming to the forefront as it details that PIR insulation (polyisocyanurate)—panels made of plastic foam held between two sheets of aluminum foil—were used in the roof of the Mackintosh building.

A planning application that was submitted to Glasgow City Council also shows that 165 mm PIR was specified in the roof.

Experts are now saying that, while that specification is compliant with building regulations in general, it should not have been the choice for a building that posed such a high risk, and was already damaged by fire.

“If you are looking only at energy efficiency within a fixed dimension, then PIR is a logical selection,” said fire expert Geoff Wilkinson in an interview with the Architects' Journal.

“However, when you are refurbishing a fire-damaged listed building, especially such a high-profile one as the Mac, you would expect an increased awareness of the need to prevent fire spread. Therefore, while it is likely that the use of PIR would have complied, it’s disappointing that more traditional non-combustible alternatives were not proposed, even if they would have resulted in a slightly worse thermal performance.”

The investigation into what started the fire is still ongoing, and what will happen to the site remains to be seen.


Tagged categories: EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Fire; Health and safety; Insulation; Maintenance + Renovation; Safety

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