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Bartlett School Developing New Fire Safety Program

Thursday, October 31, 2019

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The Bartlett School of Architecture, at the University of London, is reportedly developing a new course on fire-safe design that will aim to deliver a shift in how architects create buildings.

The program development is in response to London’s Grenfell Tower fire—which killed more than 70 people in June 2017—and an ensuing report that suggested that the Architects Registration Board assess the competency level of architects in relation to fire-safety design.

The Fire

On June 14, 2017, Grenfell Tower—a 24-story, 120-home apartment building—caught fire and resulted in the death of 72 people. The building had recently undergone a $12.73 million renovation that was completed in the spring of 2016 and is largely believed to be responsible for why the fire spread so quickly.

At that time, the building was refurbished with a system of polyester powder-coated aluminum rain-screen panels, insulated exterior cladding and double-glazed windows, as well as a communal heating system.

Natalie Oxford, CC-SA-BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Bartlett School of Architecture, at the University of London, is reportedly developing a new course on fire-safe design that will aim to deliver a shift in how architects create buildings.

After the fire, a criminal investigation was opened by the Metropolitan Police Service.

In April of 2018, new investigations revealed that the cladding fitted on the Grenfell Tower had been downgraded before it was installed on the London high-rise. According to tests that BBC News uncovered from 2014 and 2015, a zinc cladding had originally been specified for the tower, but another brand was substituted for a savings of roughly $388,700.

By the end of August, guidelines of engineer Dame Judith Hackitt’s “Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety” had been published. According to the release, the purpose of the independent investigation was two-fold: ensuring that regulatory systems are robust enough for the future, and to ensure that current buildings remain safe for residents.

On Dec. 18 of the same year, Hackitt gave the review and her preliminary report to Parliament, calling for a complete overhaul of the construction industry, as the report detailed concerns with privatization of inspections and a lack of knowledge among local authorities.

Hackitt says that the way regulations are written is causing a problem. Partly because there are too many opportunities for loopholes and shortcuts, she says, but also because many are made to be more complex then they need to be, resulting in a lack of understanding on how to enforce—or even look for—certain requirements.

She also called for an end to cost-cutting on materials, taking a stance just short of banning materials altogether (a call that brought out reactions of anger among the Royal Institute of British Architects, some politicians and survivors). Hackitt also announced that a final report would be issued in the spring.

By May 2018, the updated and highly anticipated government review of building regulations was released. The report went on to say that “[restricting] or prohibiting certain practices will not address the root causes,” and thus created a “race to the bottom,” in which projects simply had the goal of being completed the quickest and the cheapest, and the report recommended a new standards regulator as the center piece for a reformed system.

The official recommendation was for a new regulator called the “Joint Competent Authority,” which should be made up of local building officials, fire and rescue officials and health and safety officials. The key, though, is that it should be independent of building owners and it will approve designs prior to construction.

The Program

“It was one of those moments where you had to stop in your tracks and ask what can we do about this," said Bartlett Director Bob Sheil.

“One of the things we have come to realize is there is a huge amount of research and development and education that can go into understanding building design through safety as a fundamental starting point, not as a late fix.”

In an interview with the Architects’ Journal, Sheil noted that the issue of safety has been approached as “‘an add-on or a rationalization of something else that has already been proposed.”

The curriculum, which has not been approved, would reportedly cover issues such as escape routes, fire separation and fire suppression systems.

The Journal reports that the one-year master’s program could begin to see students in September 2021.

   

Tagged categories: Architects; Education; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); EU; Fire; Good Technical Practice; Health and safety; Safety

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