Archive for March, 2010

Mitigate or Adapt – Climate Strategy for the Built Environment ?

2010-03-31:  Before the official announcement, in New York, of the independent InterAcademy Council (IAC) Review of the WMO/UNEP Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) … on 10th March 2010 … clear indications had been given, at meetings in the Institute of International and European Affairs (Dublin), that serious question marks hovered over the IPCC, its 2007 4th Assessment Report, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri’s position within the IPCC … the actions of many of the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) who were at Copenhagen during the 2009 UNFCCC Climate Change Summit … and the Science of Climate Change itself (refer, for example, to revelations following the hacking of e-mails and other data from a server in the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit in England, and the irregularities/errors in the IPCC’s 4th Assessment Report).

The 2009 Copenhagen Accord was a political agreement between a small number of Heads of State, Heads of Government, Ministers, and Heads of Delegation – Brazil, South Africa, India and China (BASIC) and the USA – who attended the Climate Summit, which concluded on Saturday, 19th December.  At the time of writing, many countries have made voluntary submissions, i.e. they are not legally binding, to Appendices I and II of the Accord.

A general overview of the submissions made by Developed Countries, however, reveals the following about the Voluntary Emissions Targets being undertaken …

–   they are highly conditional on the performance of other countries ;

–   they are very disappointing, being far below what is required to cap the planetary temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius ;   and

–   there is no consistent emission base year … varying from 1990 and 1992, up to 2000 and 2005.

This is very far from being a signal of serious intent from Developed Countries … and is not … in any way, shape or manner … an acceptance of historical responsibilities.  It would be reasonable, therefore, to surmise that the process of achieving a global, legally binding, consensus agreement on greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets will be long and difficult.  The Climate Change Mitigation Agenda is, to put it mildly, fraught with problems … and has an unclear future in the short term.

On the other hand, anyone involved in the design, construction, management or operation of the Built Environment must think ‘long-term’ … the minimum life cycle for a sustainable building should be at least 100 years.  Today in Dublin, buildings which are 250 or 350 years old still look remarkably good, and are well capable of fulfilling an important function within the social and economic environments of the city.  ‘Politically’ and ‘technically’, therefore, it would be more appropriate for the built environment if we were concerned with the Long-Term Climate Change Adaptation Agenda … rather than a problematic, short-term Mitigation Agenda.  But, in terms of a building … is there really a clear difference between measures undertaken for the purpose of mitigation and those undertaken for adaptation ?   For example, measures to incrementally improve energy efficiency and conserve energy, in accordance with short-term legally binding targets, will serve to mitigate CO2 emissions … but the same measures will also serve to adapt the building to rapidly dwindling supplies of climate-damaging fossil fuels.  The long-term perspective will exert pressure for more radical actions in the short-term.

But, should we not already be undertaking these sorts of measures as part of the Mainstream Sustainability Agenda … in order to increase building durability and prolong life cycle ?

Generally … Climate Change Adaptation encompasses urgent and immediate short, near and long-term actions at local, national, regional and international levels to reduce the vulnerability and strengthen the resilience of the Human Environment, including ecological and social systems, institutions and economic sectors … to present and future adverse effects of climate change and the impacts of response measure implementation … in order to minimize the local threats to life, human health, livelihoods, food security, assets, amenities, ecosystems and sustainable development.

More specifically … Built Environment Climate Change Adaptation means reliably implementing policies, practices, projects and institutional reforms in the Built Environment … with the aim of reducing the adverse impacts and/or realizing the benefits directly/indirectly associated with climate change, including variability and extremes … in a manner which is compatible with Sustainable Human and Social Development.

Climate Change Adaptation is one of the most important drivers for Sustainable Design !




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Social Rights in Ireland – Why the Constant Struggle ?

Attention anybody who is screaming, struggling, protesting … being forced to revolt against an unjust and uncaring ‘system’ … so that Vulnerable Individuals and Groups … older people, children, people with disabilities, the homeless, etc., etc., etc … will be treated with dignity, equality and respect in our society … Ireland and the European Union.  Pinch yourselves … we are Irish and Europeans !

It is helpful, as an introduction, if a distinction is made between human rights and social rights …

Social Rights:  Rights to which an individual person is legally entitled, e.g. the right to free elementary education [Art.26(1), 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights], but which are only exercised in a social context with other people, and with the active support of a competent legal authority, e.g. a Nation State.

Commentary:  In contrast to Human Rights, it is not protection from the State which is desired or achieved, but freedom with the State’s help.

Social Rights, as distinguished here, include and extend beyond current understandings of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.


Early in the year 2000 … the European Parliament issued a Working Paper (reference PE 168.629) with the title: ‘Fundamental Social Rights in Europe’.  The authors were Mark Eric Butt, Julia Kübert and Christiane Anne Schultz.  The manuscript was completed in November 1999.

Without getting into the fine detail of the Working Paper … the following Table, on Page 31, is very enlightening …

Click to enlarge this Table.

Click to enlarge this Table.

In the Working Paper, the Table is explained …

‘ The following Table is an overview of the contents of the Member States’ constitutions.  It shows what fundamental social rights are enshrined in the constitutions.  It is impossible, however, to forge a link between the existence of fundamental social rights and the existence and level of social benefits and institutions in the Member States concerned.  This is clear, primarily, from Austria and Great Britain, their columns being empty – whereas they do, of course, have social rights.

The symbol … simple black box … in the table means that the right concerned is referred to in the constitution.  The other symbol … shadowed white box … means that, though not explicitly enshrined in the constitution, it is recognised.’

The Countries are listed in the order … Belgium (B), Denmark (DK), Germany (D), Greece (GR), Spain (E), France (F), Ireland (IRL), Italy (I), Luxembourg (L), The Netherlands (NL), Austria (A), Portugal (P), Finland (FIN), Sweden (S) and Great Britain (UK).


Now … compare and contrast … paying particular attention to Ireland …

Interesting … isn’t it ?




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ISO/IEC Guide 71 & CEN/CENELEC Guide 6 – Flawed ?

International Guidance Document … ISO/IEC Guide 71 : Guidelines for Standards Developers to Address the Needs of Older Persons and Persons with Disabilities was issued in November 2001.

European Guidance Document … CEN/CENELEC Guide 6 : Guidelines for Standards Developers to Address the Needs of Older Persons and Persons with Disabilities … a similar document … was issued a little later, in January 2002.

These Guides provide basic guidance to people drafting International & European Standards on how to take into account the needs of people with activity limitations, particularly older persons and people with disabilities.  While recognizing that some people with very extensive and complex impairments may have requirements beyond the level addressed in these documents, a very large number of people have minor impairments which can easily be addressed with a very small change of approach by people writing the Standards.  Typically, the problem is solely a lack of awareness.

Unfortunately, few Standards Developers … in either organization … are paying the slightest bit of attention to these Guides.

People with Activity Limitations:  Those people, of all ages, who are unable to perform, independently and without aid, basic human activities or tasks – because of a health condition or physical/mental/cognitive/psychological impairment of a permanent or temporary nature.


1.  A full six months before the appearance of ISO/IEC Guide 71 … all of the 191 Member States of the World Health Organization endorsed, and officially adopted, the International Classification of Functioning, Disability & Health (ICF) on 22nd May 2001 … which replaced the earlier International Classification of Impairment, Disability & Handicap (ICIDH), dating from 1980.

While the previous health indicators had been based on the mortality (i.e. death) rates of populations … the new 2001 WHO ICF dramatically shifted the focus to ‘life’ and ‘living’ … in other words, how everyone is living with his/her health condition(s) and how improvements can be made to ensure a productive, fulfilling life in society.

This had important implications for medical practice; for legal, social, economic, institutional, design and spatial planning policies to improve accessibility, equal opportunity for all and inclusion; and for the protection of the rights of all individuals and groups.

Of special interest for people involved in any of the technical fields mentioned above … the 2001 WHO ICF also introduced a new disability-related language and terminology.

BUT … But … but … ISO/IEC Guide 71 and CEN/CENELEC Guide 6 do not use the 2001 WHO ICF’s innovative language and terminology.  Consequently, these International & European Guides are flawed.

For a very good example of WHAT MUST BE AVOIDED (!) in the drafting of International & European Standards … please examine the following text …

ISO DIS (Draft International Standard) 21542 : Building Construction – Accessibility and Usability of the Built Environment … dated November 2009 …

Section 3   Terms & Definitions

‘ #3.36  Impairment

Limitation in body function or structure such as a significant deviation or loss which can be temporary due, for example, to injury, or permanent, slight or severe and can fluctuate over time, in particular, deterioration due to ageing.

[ISO/TR 22411:2008]

NOTE 1   Body function can be a physiological or psychological function of a body system; body structure refers to an anatomic part of the body such as organs, limbs and their components (as defined in ICIDH-2 of July 1999).

NOTE 2   This definition differs from that in ISO 9999:2002 and, slightly, from ICIDH-2/ICF: May 2001, WHO: ‘any loss or abnormality of a body function, or body structure’.

NOTE 3   The word ‘abnormality’ is strictly used here to refer to a significant deviation from an established population mean, within measured statistical norms. Impairments can be physical, mental, cognitive or psychological.’

As clear as mud … what a mess !   This does nothing only sow needless confusion in the mind of a reader.

Unless and Until … we properly harmonize, at a technical level, disability-related language and terminology … in order to improve communication … we will all continue to run around in circles and make little forward progress !!!

[ At the level of the individual, people should always be free to use whatever language they wish. ]

Our Guidance to All Standards Developers is … whether working within the International Standards Organizations (ISO & IEC) or the European Standards Organizations (CEN & CENELEC) … or both …

People with Activity Limitations must be properly considered at all stages in the development of a Standard … and any disability-related terminology used … should be fully consistent with the World Health Organization’s 2001 International Classification of Functioning, Disability & Health (ICF).  Confusing and contradictory texts should be avoided.’


2.  In relation to ISO/IEC Guide 71 & CEN/CENELEC Guide 6 – Table 7 (Page 13 in both Guides) … #8.23 Fire Resistance requires a complete re-assessment.  On Page 21 of ISO/IEC Guide 71 and Page 22 of CEN/CENELEC Guide 6 … the supporting text for #8.23 has the different heading of ‘Fire Safety of Materials’ ?!?   Confusing, isn’t it ?

The Revised Title in Table 7 and the supporting text should read … Fire Safety.  ‘Fire Resistance’ is but one of many passive fire protection concepts … a very small sub-set in the wide technical field of ‘fire safety’ in buildings.  ‘Fire Resistance’ is not used in connection with the ignition and fire development behaviour of materials or fabrics.

Relevant Factors for #8.23 are not properly indicated, in Table 7, under Columns #9.2, #9.3, #9.4 (a glaring omission !) & #9.5.


3.  Pertinent to ‘fire safety’ in buildings … this text was removed from ISO CD (Committee Draft) 21542 … the previous version of the ISO Standard, dating from December 2008 …

ISO CD 21542 – Annex A.1.2 – 2nd Paragraph

‘ Building users should be skilled for evacuation to a place, or places, of safety remote from the building.  In the case of people with a mental or cognitive impairment, there is a particular need to encourage, foster and regularly practice the adaptive thinking which will be necessary during a ‘real’ fire evacuation.’

The Definition for the Term Skill (#3.60) is still retained in the later ISO DIS 21542 version of the Standard …

‘ The ability of a person – resulting from training and regular practice – to carry out complex, well-organized patterns of behaviour efficiently and adaptively, in order to achieve some end or goal.’


4.  While there are eight references to ‘Cognitive Impairment’ in both Guides … nowhere is this term defined … or distinguished from ‘Mental Impairment’ …

Cognitive Impairment:  A deficiency of neuropsychological function which can be related to injury or degeneration in specific area(s) of the brain.

Mental Impairment:  A general term describing a slower than normal rate in a person’s cognitive developmental maturation, or where the cognitive processes themselves appear to be slower than normal – with an associated implication of reduced, overall mental potential. 

A deeper understanding, at a technical level, of the many different types of health conditions and impairments (physical/mental/cognitive/psychological) … can only result in a better designed, more facilitating Human Environment.

One final important term … when considering Fire Safety in Buildings

Panic Attack:  A momentary period of intense fear or discomfort, accompanied by various symptoms which may include shortness of breath, dizziness, palpitations, trembling, sweating, nausea, and often a fear by a person that he/she is going mad.

I have long held the view that, in Fire Engineering, dramatic breakthroughs will result from a closer study of Cognitive Psychology.




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‘Climate’ Politics – From 2007 Consensus to 2009 Fracture ?

The 2007 UNFCCC Climate Summit held in Bali, Indonesia, from 3rd-15th December … resulted in a strong global consensus in favour of immediate and concerted action on climate change … and a sharply worded document, the 2007 Bali Action Plan … key parts of which state …

‘ The Conference of the Parties,

Resolving to urgently enhance implementation of the Convention in order to achieve its ultimate objective in full accordance with its principles and commitments ;

Reaffirming that economic and social development and poverty eradication are global priorities ;   …

Recognizing that deep cuts in global emissions will be required to achieve the ultimate objective of the Convention and emphasizing the urgency to address climate change as indicated in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ;

1.  Decides to launch a comprehensive process to enable the full, effective and sustained implementation of the Convention through long-term cooperative action, now, up to and beyond 2012, in order to reach an agreed outcome and adopt a decision at its fifteenth session, by addressing …

(a)   A shared vision for long-term co-operative action, including a long-term global goal for emission reductions … in accordance with the provisions and principles of the Convention, in particular the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities ;

(b)   Enhanced national/international action on mitigation of climate change

(c)   Enhanced action on adaptation

(d)   Enhanced action on technology development and transfer to support action on mitigation and adaptation …

(e)   Enhanced action on the provision of financial resources and investment to support action on mitigation and adaptation and technology co-operation … ‘


Just a few weeks later, on 12th February 2008, in New York … Ambassador John Ashe, Permanent Representative of Antigua & Barbuda to the United Nations, delivered an Important Statement on behalf of the Group of 77 & China (comprising 130 countries) … at the Thematic Debate of the U.N. General Assembly: ‘Addressing Climate Change – The United Nations and the World at Work’.  Fully reflecting and supporting the Bali Action Plan, this Statement clearly set out the Climate Change Priorities for the Developing and Least Developed Countries, including the Small Island Developing States (SIDS).  It included the following important extract …

Climate Change as a Sustainable Development Challenge

5.  Mr. President, the Group of 77 and China is of the view that discussions on climate change should be placed within the proper context of sustainable development.  It is imperative that our discussion reinforces the promotion of sustainable development

6.  We must not lose sight of the fact that climate change is a sustainable development challenge.  As such we should adhere steadfastly to the Rio principles, in particular the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.  We must take fully into account that poverty eradication, economic and social development are the paramount priorities of developing countries

7.  Mr. President, urgent action is needed now to fully implement the commitments under the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol, especially commitments on financing for adaptation, technology transfer and capacity building, if we are to make progress towards the achievement of the sustainable development goals of developing countries …

8.  Urgent action is particularly needed on commitments, as climate change threatens the livelihoods of the very poor and vulnerable developing countries, in particular Africa, the Least Developed Countries, the Land-Locked Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States, and disaster prone developing countries.  The G77 and China is of the view that while addressing the challenge of climate, the most affected countries and most vulnerable countries should be given adequate attention and support.

9.  Developed countries Parties must take the lead in addressing the implementation gap, since the extent to which developing countries Parties can effectively respond to the challenge depends on the effective implementation by developed country Parties of their commitments relating to financing and technology transfer.’


The Developed Countries, i.e. those listed in Annex I of the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, did not listen to the words of John Ashe.  This helps to explain the Fracture of the 2007 Bali Consensus at Copenhagen, in December 2009 … the sharp division between the ‘have’s’ and the ‘have-not’s’ of our small planet.

Within Developed Countries … there may be a certain comfort, at an intellectual level, in linking Sustainable Development and Climate Change.  However, in vulnerable Developing Countries this link is critical … where poverty eradication, and economic and social development are paramount priorities.  All are ‘responsible needs’ which are clearly specified and supported by International Law.  Yet, the Developed Countries persist in disregarding their legal obligations under Articles 2.3 and 3.14 of the 1997 UNFCCC Kyoto Protocol … and, more importantly, evading their historical responsibility for causing the problem of Anthropogenic Climate Change in the first place.

Closer to home, in the European Union Member States, far too much emphasis is being placed on fully exploiting the various ‘flexibility mechanisms’ within the UNFCCC Process … rather than on direct and proper compliance with their individual Kyoto Mitigation Commitments.  There is little or no interest in Adaptation.  Meanwhile, the reality shown by the latest analysis of observations from the World Meteorological Organization’s Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) Programme is that the globally averaged mixing ratios of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) reached new highs in 2008 with CO2 at 385.2 parts per million, CH4 at 1797 parts per billion (ppb) and N2O at 321.8 ppb … higher than those in pre-industrial times (before 1750) by 38%, 157% and 19%, respectively !




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Sustainable Development – International Law & Personal Ethics

At the level of the Individual … ‘sustainability’ urgently requires a revolution in professional and personal ethics.

However, at levels above or beyond the Individual … reference must be made to a common understanding of Sustainable Human & Social Development which has a foundation in a robust Framework of International Law.  It is this approach which continues to facilitate, at Sustainable Design International, our development of the theory of ‘sustainability’ … and its more effective application to frontline design practice.

Sustainable Human and Social Development:  Development which meets the responsible needs, i.e. the Human and Social Rights1, of this generation – without stealing the life and living resources from future generations, especially our children … their children … and the next five generations of children.

[1]  As defined, in International Law, by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN OHCHR).

Inspired by the Culture of the North American Indigenous Peoples … this definition also incorporates the concept of ‘7 Generation Thinking’.


Sustainable Design2:  The ethical design response, in built or wrought form, to the concept of Sustainable Human and Social Development.

[2]  Includes Spatial Planning, Architectural/Engineering/Interior/Industrial Design and e-Design, etc.


Sustainable Design Solutions must be appropriate to local geography, climate and future climate change, economy, culture, social need and language(s)/dialect(s), etc.

Our Ultimate Goal, however, must be to achieve a dynamic and harmonious balance between a Sustainable Human Environment (including the social, built, virtual and economic environments …) and a flourishing, not just a surviving, Natural Environment … with the Overall Aim of achieving Social Wellbeing for All.

Please see previous Posts on this Technical Blog … … for supporting definitions to the above text.




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Towards a More Balanced View of the World ?

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Summit, which was held in Denmark from 7th-19th December 2009 … should be a very loud wake-up call for Europeans.  When the ‘real’ political action was taking place towards the end of the Summit … the European Union was out to lunch … nowhere to be seen … irrelevant to global events !!

The Fracture of the 2007 UNFCCC Bali Consensus at the 2009 Copenhagen Summit … the sharp division between the ‘have’s’ and the ‘have-not’s’ of our small planet … signals one more stage in the development of a process which, I believe, began back in September 2003 … when the World Trade Talks collapsed in Cancun, Mexico.  At least, that’s when I noticed that the world’s political map was beginning to change dramatically.  Geo-political adaptation ?

Anyway … I certainly was not happy with the Balance of the media reporting from Copenhagen.  So, I have added Links which will bring news and views directly from other locations …

–   Brazil, China, India, Russia, Venezuela, Turkey & Cuba ;

–   The Arab World ;

–   The ALBA Group of Countries in South America.




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2009 Camberwell Fire – Today’s Fire Engineering Challenges

In Ireland, it is rarely the case that there is an opportunity to practice Rational, Evidence-Based Fire Engineering … and to apply its Principles in a manner which is both professional and project-specific.  The grim reality of everyday fire consultancy revolves around playing ‘cat and mouse’ with current national building and fire regulations/codes … with ‘cost effectiveness’, i.e. to achieve a defined objective at the lowest cost, or to achieve the greatest benefit at a given cost … being the real, hidden driver behind such dangerous games !   Who wants to hear that the Irish Fire Safety Certification System is little more than a charade … an elaborate, resource consuming paper exercise … made all the more meaningless because Part B: ‘Fire Safety’ (of the Second Schedule to the 1997 Building Regulations, as amended) is isolated from a necessary and vital consideration of the other Parts, particularly Parts A: ‘Structure’; D: ‘Materials & Workmanship’; K: ‘Stairways, Ladders, Ramps & Guards’; and M: ‘Access for People with Disabilities’ ?


Colour photograph showing an external view of Lakanal House, Sceaux Estate, Camberwell, London (GB) ... after the Fatal Fire which occurred at 16.19 hrs, on 3rd July 2009. The fire was caused by a faulty television set, and resulted in the loss of 6 lives, with 15 residents and 1 firefighter left injured. London Fire Brigade was required to assist the evacuation of a further 40 building occupants to safety. Along with the serious loss of life, and the large number of injured people ... over 90 families had to vacate their flats.

Colour photograph showing an external view of Lakanal House, Sceaux Estate, Camberwell, London (GB) ... after the Fatal Fire which occurred at 16.19 hrs, on 3rd July 2009. The fire was caused by a faulty television set, and resulted in the loss of 6 lives, with 15 residents and 1 firefighter left injured. London Fire Brigade was required to assist the evacuation of a further 40 building occupants to safety. Along with the serious loss of life, and the large number of injured people ... over 90 families had to vacate their flats.


Discussing the Principles of Fire Engineering … and elaborating on the significant differences between the limited Fire Safety Objectives of legal regulations/codes … and the much broader range of Fire Engineering Design Objectives intended to fully protect social wellbeing and the interests of clients/client organizations, i.e. to properly protect their asses and their assets, in the event of a fire … is a constant, tortuous, but rewarding, struggle.  Masochism does help !

However, the 2009 Fire in a High-Rise Flat Complex at Camberwell, London (GB) … from just looking at the photograph above and reading available information about the spread of fire internally … raises some challenging fire engineering issues for building designers, property managers and construction organizations.

1.  Reliability of People Strategies in a Fire Emergency ?

In spite of the People Strategies elaborated in current Fire Codes/Regulations/Standards … it is totally and utterly irresponsible to advise people to wait in their own flats/apartments during a fire incident, or to develop fire safety strategies based on this approach … unless the confidence level (of ‘Competent Persons’ in Control … managers, designers and builders … of the flat/apartment complex) with regard to the following aspects of construction is very high

  • reliability of both passive and active fire protection measures ;
  • reliability of fire compartmentation (see below) ;
  • reliability of not just the building’s structural stability, but also its serviceability, during the fire and for a minimum period of time afterwards, i.e. the ‘cooling’ phase.

Competent Person:  A person capable of making sound value judgements in the area of professional  endeavour in which he/she possesses profound knowledge, understanding and practical experience.

Fire Codes/Regulations/Standards, wherever or whatever their origin, are NOT Infallible … and it is unbelievably mind-boggling, and sad, to witness a blind and unquestioning faith in such documents !

Looking beyond the headline figure of 6 Fatalities in the 2009 Camberwell Fire … adequate attention should also be focused on the 16 Injured … comprising building occupants and firefighters … the lengthy disruption of community wellbeing resulting from the fire … 90 Families had to be re-located … and, of course, the tremendous amount of direct and indirect damage to property and the environment.  And, I wonder … how did the more vulnerable occupants … and there may also have been visitors present in the complex at the time … cope in this emergency situation ?

This is why Fire Safety, Protection and Evacuation for All must be a Priority on any ‘Sustainability’ Agenda


2.  Independent Technical Control of AHJ Construction ?

I have said this before, but it is worth repeating here again … Self-Regulation Is No Regulation !   Surely this lesson has been burnt into our souls, following the recent scandals, financial and otherwise, in Ireland ?   National and Local Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s) … Government Departments & Agencies, Semi-State Organizations, a myriad of Qwangos, the Office of Public Works and Local Authorities are complacent, careless and stubborn concerning proper compliance with even the minimal performance requirements specified in fire regulations, codes and standards.

The 2005 & 2008 National Institute of Standards & Technology (USA) Reports on the 9-11 WTC Incident in New York presented us with some stark language … and a set of important Recommendations which must be heeded …

‘ NIST recommends that such entities be encouraged to provide a level of safety that equals or exceeds the level of safety that would be provided by strict compliance with the code requirements of an appropriate governmental jurisdiction.

To gain broad public confidence … NIST further recommends that as-designed and as-built safety be certified by a qualified third party, independent of the building owner(s).  The process should not use self-approval for code enforcement in areas including interpretation of code provisions, design approval, product acceptance, certification of the final construction, and post-occupancy inspections over the life of the buildings.’

[2005 NIST Final Report on WTC 1 & 2 Collapses – Recommendation No. 25]

Later posts, here, will examine the individual NIST Recommendations in more detail.

However … many individuals and organizations, with vested interests, are still trying to discredit and/or ignore the Recommendations contained in the 2005 & 2008 NIST Reports on the WTC 9-11 Incident.   British Standard BS 9999:2008 is a typical case in point … a document which is slowly seeping into the marrow of the Irish Fire Establishment.  The complete and abject failure to consider any of the NIST Recommendations during the long development of this British Standard, or even to reference the Reports in the Standard’s Bibliography … was an inexcusable and unforgivable technical oversight.  The result was … and remains … a sloppy, crassly inadequate, deeply flawed and discriminatory national fire safety standard.  The British Public deserves far better !

At this stage … reluctantly … I must invite the Chair of British Standards Institution Committee FSH/14, Mr. David B. Smith, to seriously re-consider his position. 

3.  Fire Resistance, Compartmentation & Fire-Induced Progressive Collapse ?

Every person participating in the design, construction, management or operation of a building, no matter how simple or complex, must have a working knowledge and proper understanding of the Fire Engineering Principle of Fire Compartmentation:

The division of a building into fire-tight compartments, by fire and smoke resisting elements of construction, in order …

–   to contain an outbreak of fire ;

–   to prevent damage, within the building, to other adjoining compartments and/or spaces ;

–   to protect a compartment interior from external fire attack, e.g. fire spread across the building’s facade or from an adjacent building ;

–   to minimize adverse, or harmful, environmental impacts outside the building.


BUTButbut … buildings are no longer designed and constructed, today, as they were in the 18th or 19th Centuries …

In a fire situation, Fire-Induced Progressive Collapse may commence before any breach of ‘integrity’ occurs in the boundary of such a Fire Compartment, i.e. the building compartment of fire origin.

Fire-Induced Progressive Collapse:  The sequential growth and intensification of distortion, displacement and failure of elements of construction in a building – during a fire and the ‘cooling phase’ afterwards – which, if unchecked, will result in disproportionate damage, and may lead to total building collapse.

… which is related to, but distinguishable from …

Disproportionate Damage:  The failure of a building’s structural system … (i)  remote from the scene of an isolated overloading action ;   and (ii) to an extent which is not in reasonable proportion to that action.

Structural Fire Engineering:  Those aspects of fire engineering concerned with structural design for fire, and the complex architectural interaction between a building’s structure and fabric, i.e. non-structure, under conditions of fire and its aftermath.


ANDAndand … a designer of a Sustainable Building will want to utilize … in order to conserve energy … natural patterns of air movement for heating or cooling.  This means that it will be necessary to have gaps between elements of construction which are continuously open … in direct conflict with the Principle of Fire Engineering just quoted above !

What happens when this sort of conflict … or lack of resolution (!) … occurs in modern, highly energy-efficient construction projects ?   At the final stages of approval/certification … the Fire Prevention Officer will insist on following the outdated prescriptive approach in his/her rulebook.  In other words, he/she will illegally apply the guidance text of Technical Guidance Document B as if it were prescriptive regulation.  Fire Compartmentation will be uncompromisingly slapped onto ‘unresolved’ areas of a completed building design … to achieve the limited Fire Safety Objectives of Building Regulations … and the fire safety related construction will probably be badly executed, anyway, because the un-supervised sub-contractors of sub-contractors of sub-contractors couldn’t care less if it goes one way or the other !   The outcome is … nobody wins !!!

In Sustainable Building Design, therefore, Fire Resistance (a ‘passive’ protection concept) must not only be extended to consider a complementary relationship with ‘active’ fire protection concepts, but be stretched … ‘intelligently’ … to embrace the concept of ‘non-construction’ …

Building Sterile Space (Fire):  An open space of sufficient and appropriate extent which is designed to retain an exceptionally low level of fire hazard and risk, and is ‘intelligently’ fitted with a suitable fire suppression system – in order to resist and control, for a specified time during a fire, the advance of heat, smoke and flame.

Fire Resistance:  The inherent capability of a building assembly, or an element of construction, to resist the passage of heat, smoke and flame for a specified time during a fire. 



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European Parliament’s URBAN InterGroup – Inaugural Meeting

2010-03-03:  On Wednesday afternoon, 24th February 2010, the URBAN InterGroup of the European Parliament met for the first time in the new Parliamentary Term … at 16.30 hrs … in Meeting Room 6Q2 of the Parliamentary Complex in Brussels, Belgium.  Dr. Jan Olbrycht, Member of the European Parliament (MEP), chaired the proceedings.  The attendance was large, and included a large proportion of the 50, or so, MEP’s who are directly involved with the InterGroup.  Please forgive the jargon, but … many other URBAN InterGroup Partners, Sectoral Stakeholders and Interested Practitioners also attended.  However … not one Irish MEP appears to show any interest in this important InterGroup.  Why is that ?

Colour photograph showing the Inaugural Meeting of the European Parliament's URBAN InterGroup, in Brussels, on 24th February 2010. The Meeting, chaired by Mr. Jan Olbrycht MEP, had a large attendance. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2010-02-24.

Colour photograph showing the Inaugural Meeting of the European Parliament's URBAN InterGroup, in Brussels, on 24th February 2010. The Meeting, chaired by Mr. Jan Olbrycht MEP, had a large attendance. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2010-02-24.


I was very pleased to attend this Meeting, representing Sustainable Design International Ltd. (a Multi-Disciplinary Design & Research Practice in Europe, and a Micro-SME).  Further to a series of interventions on my part, the following are some Comments on last Wednesday’s Meeting … and a few Suggestions

1.  Accountable & Representative Governance is an important component in the implementation of Sustainable Human and Social Development.  It is not being too ambitious, therefore, to say that the URBAN InterGroup has an important task to fulfil within the ‘system’ of the European Parliament.

2.  Within such a ‘system’ … it is a big advantage that the InterGroup’s Structure is informal and fluid.  This allows the InterGroup to be cross-party and cross-committee at the Parliament … and to adopt a ‘flexible’ horizontal approach to Urban-Related Issues.

3.  This same Horizontal Approach must, however, be applied to a proper consideration of the Urban Environment (City) itself … which is far more than the sum of its buildings, public spaces, transport systems, engineering infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.), and service utilities, etc., etc.

4.  In order to deal effectively with Urban-Related Issues and the many different Sectoral Stakeholders … it is essential that the Intergroup discusses and develops a comprehensive and coherent vision of what exactly is a Sustainable Urban Environment (City).  Please see the previous post on this Blog, dated 2010-03-02.

And … even though the regular InterGroup Meetings will be of short duration … it will be of great benefit to link small, individual issues to that larger, coherent vision.  Then, and only then, will the InterGroup always know where it is … and, more importantly, in which direction it is travelling … in order to monitor progress.

5.  It was not clear to me, at the Meeting, that the significant differences between the words ‘Sustainable’ and ‘Green’ are fully understood.  This will cause problems for the InterGroup in the future, and should be examined in more detail.

The European Union (E.U.) Treaties refer to ‘Sustainable Development’ … not to ‘Greenness’ !! 

6.  It was also evident, at the Meeting, that there is a Lack of Communication between the European Parliament and the European Commission on Urban-Related Issues.  Let me immediately say, however, that there is a worrying lack of communication (on any issue !) between the different Directorates-General within the Commission.

It must be a Priority for the InterGroup … a difficult one, I know … to have direct access to available Urban-Related Information … across all of the European Union’s Institutions.  It is too wasteful of the InterGroup’s limited resources to be required to ‘re-invent wheels’ !

7.  With regard to the URBAN InterGroup’s Work Programme … it is necessary to add a specific mention of the following Two Subjects:

(i)  Proactive Climate Change Adaptation

Climate Change Adaptation, generally, encompasses actions to reduce the vulnerability and strengthen the resilience of the Human Environment, including ecological and social systems, institutions and economic sectors … to present and future adverse effects of climate change and the impacts of response measure implementation … in order to minimize the threats to life, human health, livelihoods, food security, assets, amenities, ecosystems and sustainable development.

Urban Environment Climate Change Adaptation, more precisely, means … reliably implementing policies, practices, projects and institutional reforms in the Urban Environment (City) … with the aim of reducing the adverse impacts and/or realizing the benefits directly/indirectly associated with climate change, including variability and extremes … in a manner which is compatible with Sustainable Human and Social Development.

Following detailed briefing meetings, in Dublin, from high-level participants in Copenhagen … the suggestion of this subject arises from what happened … or, more correctly, did not happen … to the European Union and its inadequate Climate Change Policies at the 2009 Climate Summit in December.

(ii)  Accessibility for People with Activity Limitations (Personnes à Performances Réduites)

The 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities entered into force on 3rd May 2008, i.e. it became an International Legal Instrument.  European Union (E.U.) Member States are currently undertaking the process of ratifying this Convention at national level.  At a certain stage in the near future, the Union (as a polity, post Lisbon Treaty) will certainly also ratify the Convention.

People with Activity Limitations now have a clearly defined right, under International Law, to be able to access and use the Urban Environment (City).  They also have the right to receive an equal and meaningful consideration in situations of risk, e.g. when there is a fire in a building.

The InterGroup must fully take account of these rights !   This is no longer an option.  In this regard and until now, the attitudes and performance of the E.U. Institutions has been nothing less than a complete and utter disgrace.

8.  With regard to the Main Objectives of the URBAN InterGroup … it is necessary to add the following Preamble to those Objectives …

Adopting a long-term perspective, i.e. beyond the lifetime of any single parliamentary term … the Main Objectives of the InterGroup are to:

–   monitor the legislative and non-legislative work of the European Parliament’s Committees on Urban-Related Issues ;

–   work on common European Union Strategies – to put Urban Needs on the agenda of E.U. Policies ;

–   be actively involved in the preparation of E.U. legislation ;

–   constantly stay in contact with partners and practitioners ;

–   be informed about the realization of E.U. Policies on the ground.

Please note well … that the short-term perspective of elected politicians, whether at European, National or Local Levels, is a Serious Impediment to the proper implementation of a Sustainable Urban Environment (City) !




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Sustainable Cities – The Driver to Forge a ‘Creative’ Society ?

Dr. Craig Barrett, Chair (2005-2009) of Intel Corporation’s Board, recently dropped some sharp home truths onto our frail and sensitive Irish laps … concerning national competitiveness in the Global Economic Environment.  It was like a breath of fresh air !   And … how right he was !!

Today, however, I want to focus on just one of his themes …

Quality Education + Quality Research & Development + Facilitating and Fostering Creativity & Innovation in Society

Since the 1990’s … we have had to listen to endless amounts of bullshit and hot air … until we are blue in the face … about the Information Society, the Knowledge Society, the Smart Society, the Green Society [what is ‘Green’ anyway ?], etc., etc., etc … and the biggest anti-climax of them all … the European Union’s Lisbon Strategy … boring, boring, boring !!!!


When you hit the bottom of the barrel, there is only one place to look … and that’s up … with an engaged mind feverishly picturing what’s around outside !   So … for one wild moment, let’s join together some nice ideas …

Could Sustainable Cities be that essential driving force which forges a ‘Creative’ Society ???

What is the Sustainable Urban Environment (City) ?   A geographical region, with open and flexible boundaries, consisting of:

  • An interwoven, densely constructed core (built environment) ;
  • A large resident population of more than 500,000 people (social environment) ;
  • A supporting hinterland of lands, waters and other natural resources (cultivated or ‘wrought’ landscape) ;

And together functioning as …

  1. A complex living system (analogous to, yet different from, other living systems such as ecosystems and organisms) ;    and
  2. A synergetic community capable of providing a high level of individual welfare and social wellbeing for all of its inhabitants.

Our Ultimate Goal must be to achieve a dynamic and harmonious balance between a sustainable ‘human’ environment and a flourishing, not just a surviving, ‘natural’ environment … with the Overall Aim of achieving social wellbeing for all.

Sustainable Design Solutions must be appropriate to local geography, climate and future climate changes, economy, culture, social need and language(s)/dialect(s).


Supporting Definitions

Human Environment:  Anywhere there is, or has been, an intrusion by a human being in the ‘natural’ environment.

Built Environment:  Anywhere there is, or has been, a man-made or wrought (worked) intervention by humans in the ‘natural’ environment, e.g. cities, towns, villages, rural settlements, services, transport systems, roads, bridges, tunnels, and cultivated lands, lakes, rivers, coasts, and seas, etc … including the ‘virtual’ environment.

Social Environment:  The complex network of real and virtual human interaction – at a communal or larger group level – which operates for reasons of tradition, culture, business, pleasure, information exchange, institutional organization, legal procedure, governance, human betterment, social progress and spiritual enlightenment, etc.

The ‘social’ environment shapes, binds together, and directs the future development of, the ‘built’ (including ‘virtual’) environment.

Economic Environment:  The intricate web of real and virtual human commercial activity – operating at micro and macro-economic levels – which facilitates, supports, but sometimes hampers or disrupts, human interaction in the ‘social’ environment.

Virtual Environment:  A designed environment, electronically-generated from within the ‘built’ environment, which may have the appearance, form, functionality and impact – to the person perceiving and actually experiencing it – of a real, imagined and/or utopian world.

Human Health:  A state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.  (World Health Organization)

Individual Welfare:  A person’s general feeling of health, happiness and fulfilment.

Social Wellbeing:  A general condition – in a community, society or culture – of health, happiness, creativity, responsible fulfilment, and sustainable development.

Sustainable Human & Social Development:  Development which meets the responsible needs, i.e. the Human & Social Rights*, of this generation – without stealing the life and living resources from future generations, especially our children … and their children.

*As defined, in International Law, by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN OHCHR).

Sustainable Design*:  The ethical design response, in built or wrought form, to the concept of Sustainable Human and Social Development.

*Includes Spatial Planning, Architectural / Engineering / Interior / Industrial Design and e-Design, etc.



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