Archive for May, 2012

Sick Building Syndrome, ISO 21542 & Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

2012-05-31:  The International Standard, ISO 21542: ‘Building Construction – Accessibility & Usability of the Built Environment’, was published back in December 2011.  A few years before that, however, a decision was taken to link this Standard directly to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) … specifically referencing Preamble Paragraph (g) and Articles 9, 10 and 11 in its Introduction.  Reading the document now, this linkage looks and feels very naturally like an umbilical cord !

ISO 21542 has significantly widened the meaning of the concept ‘Accessibility-for-All’ … a normal evolutionary process.  I wonder, though, how many people would ever have considered Good Indoor Air Quality to be on the ‘Accessibility’ Menu ??


Much lower rates of direct fresh air ventilation … and a dramatic reduction in accidental or unintended air seepage from, or into, buildings (depending on local climate conditions) … all driven by a pressing need to conserve energy and to impose greater energy efficiencies on the energy which is actually consumed … are, once again, one of the main causes of serious problems for ALL building users …

Building Related Ill-Health:  Any adverse impact on the health of building users – while living, working, generally occupying or visiting a specific building – caused by the planning, design, construction, management, operation or maintenance of that building.

I say “once again”, because we have been here before in Europe … after the oil crises of the 1970’s.


Anyway … I thought that it would be useful to present a relevant extract from ISO 21542


Poor indoor air quality, an important factor in relation to Building Related Ill-Health (also known as ‘sick building syndrome’), can cause serious health impairments and severely restrict a person’s participation in everyday activities, e.g. work.

Symptoms and signs may include:

  • irritation of eyes, nose and throat ;
  • respiratory infections and cough ;
  • voice hoarseness and wheezing ;
  • asthma ;
  • dry mucous membrane and skin ;
  • erythema (reddening or inflammation of the skin) ;
  • lethargy ;
  • mental fatigue and poor concentration ;
  • headache ;
  • stress ;
  • hypersensitivity reactions, i.e. allergies ;
  • nausea and dizziness ;
  • cancers.

These symptoms and signs are present in the population at large, but are distinguished by being more prevalent in some building users, as a group, when compared with others.  The symptoms and signs may disappear, or may be reduced in intensity, when an affected person leaves the building.  It is not necessary that everyone in a building should be affected before building related ill-health is suspected.

ISO 16814: ‘Building Environment Design – Indoor Air Quality – Methods of Expressing the Quality of Indoor Air for Human Occupancy’ covers methods of expressing indoor air quality (IAQ) and incorporating the goal of achieving good IAQ into the building design process.  It also covers ventilation effectiveness, harmful emissions from building materials, air cleaning devices, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment.

The indoor pollutants considered in ISO 16814 include human bio-effluents, which have often been the principal consideration in air quality and ventilation design, but also the groups and sources of pollutants which can reasonably be anticipated to occur in the building during its long life cycle.

These pollutants, depending on the sources present, may include:

  • volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) and other organics, such as formaldehyde ;
  • environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) ;
  • natural radon, consisting of a number of different isotopes, is an invisible radioactive gas, and is found in the soils under buildings, water supplies to buildings and in the air ;
  • other inorganic gases, such as carbon monoxide (CO), the oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and low-level ozone (smog) which is formed when NOx and VOC’s react in the presence of sunlight ;
  • viable particles, including viruses, bacteria and fungal spores ;
  • non-viable biological pollutants, such as particles of mites or fungi and their metabolic products ;
  • non-viable particles, such as dusts and fibres.

The following Two Performance Indicators of Good Indoor Air Quality, developed with the aim of protecting human health, are recommended:

  1. Radon Activity (incl. Rn-222, Rn-220, RnD)  in a building should, on average, fall within the range of 10-40 Bq/m3, but should at no time exceed 60 Bq/m3
  2. Carbon Dioxide (CO2)  concentrations in a building should not significantly exceed average external levels – typically within the range of 300-500 parts per million (ppm) – and should at no time exceed 800 ppm.




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Conventional Structural Fire Engineering Design – How Flawed ?

2012-05-18:  Déjà-vu …

” In the early hours of the morning of Saturday, 14th February 1981, a disastrous fire swept through a building called the Stardust in the North Dublin suburb of Artane during the course of a St. Valentine’s Night ‘disco’ dance.  Forty eight people were killed and one hundred and twenty eight seriously injured.  The overwhelming majority of the victims were young people. “

‘Introduction’, Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry on the Fire at the Stardust, Artane, Dublin, on the 14th February 1981.  Report dated 30 June 1982.

As a young architect in private practice … I witnessed, at first hand, the Dublin Fire ‘Establishment’ disappear from public view, without trace, after the Stardust Fire Tragedy.  It was almost impossible, for at least a year afterwards, to have a meeting with any Fire Prevention Officer in the Dublin Fire Authority.  This was a very valuable lesson.

Later, following the publication of the Stardust Tribunal Report … were its Recommendations implemented … with urgency … and conscientiously ?   No way.  For example, it was more than ten years after the Stardust Fire before an inadequate system of legal National Building Regulations was introduced in Ireland.  And to this day, the system of AHJ monitoring of construction quality, throughout the country, is weak and ineffective … lacking both competent personnel and resources !

The proof of the pudding is in the eating … and one of the results, also in Dublin, has been last year’s debacle at the Priory Hall Apartment Complex … where all of the residents had to leave their expensive apartments for fire safety (and many other) reasons.  The tip of a very large iceberg.  See my post, dated 18 October 2011 .

And this is where the problems usually begin …

” There has been a tendency among students of architecture and engineering to regard fire safety as simply a question of knowing what is required in terms of compliance with the regulations.  The recommendation of the Tribunal of Enquiry into the Summerland Disaster that those responsible for the design of buildings should treat fire safety as an integral part of the design concept itself, has not yet been reflected in the approach to the subject at university level.  There is still clearly a need for a new approach to the structuring of such courses which will in time bring to an end the attitude of mind, too prevalent at the moment, that compliance with fire safety requirements is something that can be dealt with outside the context of the overall design of the building. “

‘Chapter 9 – Conclusions & Recommendations’, Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry on the Fire at the Stardust, Artane, Dublin, on the 14th February 1981.  Report dated 30 June 1982.

This Recommendation has still not been implemented … and note the reference to the earlier fire at the Summerland Leisure Centre in 1973, on the Isle of Man, when 50 people were killed and 80 seriously injured.

Today … the same attitude of mind, described so well above, stubbornly persists in all sectors, and in all disciplines, of the International Construction Industry … even within ISO Technical Committee 92: ‘Fire Safety’ !


Which brings me, neatly, to the recent question posed by Mr. Glenn Horton on the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE-USA) Page of LinkedIn ( ).   As usual, the shortest questions can prove to be the most difficult to answer …

” Can you expand on, or point to where anyone has discussed, the ‘very flawed design approach’ please ? “



     1.  Foundation Documents

I am assuming that ‘people-who-need-to know’, at international level, are familiar with the Recommendations contained in these 2 Reports …

  • NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology).  September 2005.  Federal Building and Fire Safety Investigation of the World Trade Center Disaster: Final Report on the Collapse of the World Trade Center Towers.  NIST NCSTAR 1   Gaithersburg, MD, USA ;


  • NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology).  August 2008.  Federal Building and Fire Safety Investigation of the World Trade Center Disaster: Final Report on the Collapse of World Trade Center Building 7.  NIST NCSTAR 1A   Gaithersburg, MD, USA ;

… and the contents of the CIB W14 Research WG IV Reflection Document … which, together with its 2 Appendices, can be downloaded from this webpage … … under the section headed: ‘April 2012’.

However … I am utterly dismayed by the number of ‘people-who-need-to know’ … who do not know … and have never even bothered to dip into the 2 NIST Reports … or the many long-term Post 9-11 Health Studies on Survivors which have already revealed much priceless ‘real’ information about the short and medium term adverse impacts on human health caused by fire !

CIB W14 Research Working Group IV would again strongly caution that Fire-Induced Progressive Damage and Disproportionate Damage are fundamental concepts to be applied in the structural design of all building types.


     2.  Technical Terminology

While attending the ISO TC92 Meetings in Thessaloniki, during the last week of April 2012, I noticed not just one reference to ‘fire doors’ in a Draft ISO Fire Standard … but many.  It surprised me, since I thought this issue had been successfully resolved, at ISO level, many years ago.  There is no such thing as a ‘fire door’ … and the careless referencing of such an object, which has no meaning, in building codes and standards has caused countless problems on real construction sites during the last 20-30 years.

Please follow this line of thought …

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.

Doorset:  A building component consisting of a fixed part (the door frame), one or more movable parts (the door leaves), and their hardware, the function of which is to allow, or to prevent, access and egress.

[Commentary: A doorset may also include a door saddle / sill / threshold.]

Fire Resisting Doorset / Shutter Assembly:  A doorset / shutter assembly, properly installed or mounted on site, the function of which is to resist the passage of heat, smoke and flame for a specified time during a fire.

… and so we arrive at the correct term … Fire Resisting Doorset … which, as an added bonus, also alerts building designers, construction organizations, and even AHJ inspectors, to the fact that there is more involved here than merely a door leaf.

Now then, I wonder … how, in any sane and rational world, can the term Fire Resistance be used in relation to structural performance during a fire, and the cooling-phase afterwards ?   Yet, this is exactly what I read in the building codes of many different jurisdictions.  Do people understand what is actually going on ?   Or, is the language of Conventional Fire Engineering so illogical and opaque that it is nearly impossible to understand ?

And … if this problem exists within the International Fire Science & Engineering Community … how is it possible to communicate effectively with other design disciplines at any stage during real construction projects.  The artificial environments found in academia are not my immediate concern.


     3.  Fire Research & Development outside CIB W14 & ISO TC92

In 2012 … there is something very wrong when you have to struggle to persuade a group of people who are developing an ISO Standard on Design Fire Scenarios … that they must consider Environmental Impact as one of the major consequences of a fire to be minimized … along with ‘property losses’ and ‘occupant impact’.  This is no longer an option.

Environmental Impact:  Any effect caused by a given activity on the environment, including human health, safety and welfare, flora, fauna, soil, air, water, and especially representative samples of natural ecosystems, climate, landscape and historical monuments or other physical structures, or the interactions among these factors; it also includes effects on accessibility, cultural heritage or socio-economic conditions resulting from alterations to those factors.

So … how timely, and relevant to practitioners, are ISO Fire Standards ?   Perhaps … obsolete at publication … and not very ??

And … there is lot more to the Built Environment than buildings …

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


We should be very conscious that valuable fire-related research takes place outside, and unrelated to, the established fire engineering groupings of CIB W14 & ISO TC92.  But I am curious as to why this research is not properly acknowledged by, or encouraged and fostered within, the ‘system’ ?

Example A:  Responding to Recommendation 18 in the 2005 NIST WTC Report … a Multi-Disciplinary Design Team published an article in the magazine Bâtiment et Sécurité (October 2005) on The PolyCentric Tower.  I very much enjoy giving practitioners a small flavour of this work, whenever I make presentations at conferences and workshops …

Colour image, from one of my Overhead Presentations ... showing The PolyCentric Tower (2005), developed by a French Multi-Disciplinary Design Team in response to Recommendation 18 in the 2005 NIST WTC Report. Click to enlarge.

Colour image, from one of my Overhead Presentations ... showing The PolyCentric Tower (2005), developed by a French Multi-Disciplinary Design Team in response to Recommendation 18 in the 2005 NIST WTC Report. Click to enlarge.


Example B:  In spite of a less than helpful submission (to put it mildly) from ISO TC92 Sub-Committee 4 … ISO 21542: ‘Building Construction – Accessibility & Usability of the Built Environment’ was finally published in December 2011 … but it was developed by a Sub-Committee of ISO TC59: ‘Buildings & Civil Engineering Works’

Colour image, from one of my Overhead Presentations ... showing the design of a notional Fire Evacuation Staircase, with an adjoining Area of Rescue Assistance, which responds directly to the 2005 NIST WTC Recommendations. See Figure 62 in ISO 21542:2011. Click to enlarge.

Colour image, from one of my Overhead Presentations ... showing the design of a notional Fire Evacuation Staircase, with an adjoining Area of Rescue Assistance, which responds directly to the 2005 NIST WTC Recommendations. See Figure 62 in ISO 21542:2011. Click to enlarge.


With the involvement and support of ISO Technical Committee 178: ‘Lifts, Elevators & Moving Walks’ during its long gestation … ISO 21542 is now able to indicate that all lifts/elevators in a building should be capable of being used for evacuation in the event of a fire.  This is already a design feature in a small number of completed Tall Building Projects.  Once more, this is no longer an option.

In addition … if a Fire Evacuation Staircase has a minimum unobstructed width of 1.5 m (from edge of handrail on one side of the staircase to edge of handrail on the opposite side) … this will be sufficient to facilitate the following tasks …

  • Assisted Evacuation by others, or Rescue by Firefighters, for those building users who cannot independently evacuate the building, e.g. people with activity limitations … shown above, on the right, is assistance being given by three people (one at each side, with one behind) to a person occupying a manual wheelchair ;
  • Contraflow Circulation … emergency access by firefighters entering a building and moving towards a fire, while people are still evacuating from the building to a ‘place of safety’ remote from the building … shown above, bottom left, is how not to design an evacuation staircase (!) ;
  • Stretcher Lifting … lifting a mobility-impaired person, who may be conscious or unconscious, on a stretcher ;
  • Firefighter Removal & Contraflow … shown above, top left, is removal of a firefighter from a building by colleagues in the event of injury, impairment, or a fire event induced health condition … while other firefighters may still be moving towards the fire.

Note that in a Fire Evacuation Staircase … all Handrails are continuous … each Stair Riser is a consistent 150 mm high … each Stair Tread/Going is a consistent 300 mm deep … and there are No Projecting Stair Nosings.

Most importantly … in order to assign sufficient building user space in the design of an Area of Rescue Assistance … ISO 21542 also provides the following Key Performance Indicator … just one aspect of a ‘maximum credible user scenario’ …

10% of people using a building (including visitors) have an impairment, which may be visual or hearing, mental, cognitive or psychological, or may be related to physical function, with some impairments not being identifiable.

Is There Any Connection Between Examples A & B ?   There is, and it is a connection which is critical for public safety.  The following Performance Indicator illustrates the point …

Innovative Structural Design – Perimeter Core Location – Design for Fire Evacuation – Evacuation for All

” A Building must not only remain Structurally Stable during a fire event, it must remain Serviceable for a period of time which facilitates:

  • Rescue by Firefighters of people with activity limitations waiting in areas of rescue assistance ;
  • Movement of the firefighters and those people with activity limitations, via safe and accessible routes, to Places of Safety remote from the building ;
  • With an assurance of Health, Safety & Welfare during the course of this process of Assisted Evacuation. “

[Refer also to the Basic Requirements for Construction Works in Annex I of the European Union’s Construction Product Regulation 305/2011 – included as Appendix II of the CIB W14 WG IV Reflection Document.  Are the Basic Requirements being interpreted properly … or even adequately ??]



The Greek Paper is included as Appendix I of CIB W14 WG IV Reflection Document … in order to show that Fire-Induced Progressive Damage is also an issue in buildings with a reinforced concrete frame structure.  It is more straightforward, here, to concentrate on buildings with a steel frame structure.

a)  Use of ‘Fire Resistance'(?) Tables for Structural Elements

We should all be familiar with these sorts of Tables.  The information they contain is generated from this type of standard test configuration in a fire test laboratory …

… and this sort of criterion for ‘loadbearing horizontal elements’ in a fire test standard …

A single isolated loaded steel beam, simply supported, is being tested.  As deflection is the only type of deformation being observed and measured … the critical temperature of the steel, i.e. the point when material strength begins to fail rapidly and the rate of beam deflection increases dramatically … is the sole focus for all stakeholders.

Using these Tables, it is very difficult to escape the conclusion that we are merely interior decorators … applying flimsy thermal insulation products to some steel structural elements (not all !) … according to an old, too narrowly focused, almost static (‘cold form’) recipe, which has little to do with how today’s real buildings react to real fires !

This ‘non-design’ approach is entirely inadequate.


With regard to the use of these Tables in Ireland’s Building Regulations (Technical Guidance Document B), I recently submitted the comments below to the relevant Irish AHJ.  These same comments could just as easily apply to the use of similar Tables in the Building Regulations for England & Wales (Approved Document B) …

” You should be aware that Table A1 and Table A2 are only appropriate for use by designers in the case of single, isolated steel structural elements.

In steel structural frame systems, no consideration is given in the Tables to adequate fire protection of connections … or limiting the thermal expansion (and other types of deformation) in fire of steel structural elements … in order to reduce the adverse effects of one element’s behaviour on the rest of the frame and/or adjoining non-loadbearing fire resisting elements of construction.

In the case of steel structural frame systems, therefore, the minimum fire protection to be afforded to ALL steel structural elements, including connections, should be 2 Hours.  Connections should also be designed and constructed to be sufficiently robust during the course of a fire incident.  This one small revision will contribute greatly towards preventing Fire-Induced Progressive Damage in buildings … a related, but different, structural concept to Disproportionate Damage

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.

Fire-Induced Progressive Damage

The sequential growth and intensification of structural deformation and displacement, beyond fire engineering design parameters, and the eventual 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.

Coming from this background and heritage … it is very difficult to communicate with mainstream, ambient structural engineers who are speaking the language of structural reliability, limit state design and serviceability limit states.


b)  NIST Report: ‘Best Practice Guidelines for Structural Fire Resistance Design of Concrete and Steel Buildings’ (NISTIR 7563 – February 2009)

At the end of Page 18 in NISTIR 7563 …

2.7.2 Multi-Storey Frame Buildings

In recent years, the fire performance of large-frame structures has been shown in some instances to be better than the fire resistance of the individual structural elements (Moore and Lennon 1997).  These observations have been supported by extensive computer analyses, including Franssen, Schleich, and Cajot (1995) who showed that, when axial restraint from thermal expansion of the members is included in the analysis of a frame building, the behaviour is different from that of the column and beam analyzed separately.

A large series of full-scale fire tests was carried out between 1994 and 1996 in the Cardington Laboratory of the Building Research Establishment in England.  A full-size eight-storey steel building was constructed with composite reinforced concrete slabs on exposed metal decking, supported on steel beams with no applied fire protection other than a suspended ceiling in some tests.  The steel columns were fire-protected.  A number of fire tests were carried out on parts of one floor of the building, resulting in steel beam temperatures up to 1000 °C, leading to deflections up to 600 mm but no collapse and generally no integrity failures (Martin and Moore 1997). “

Those were Experimental Fire Tests at Cardington, not Real Fires … on ‘Engineered’ Test Constructions, not Real Buildings !!   And … incredibly, for a 2009 document … there is no mention at all of World Trade Center Buildings 1, 2 or 7 !?!   Where did they disappear to, I wonder ?   Too hot to handle ???

Computer Model Verification and Validation (V&V) are very problematic issues within the International Fire Science and Engineering Community.  The expected outcome of a Model V&V Process, however, is a quantified level of agreement between experimental data (and, if available, real data) and model prediction … as well as the predictive accuracy of the model.

Now … please meditate carefully on the following …

” NCSTAR 1A (2008)  Recommendation D   [See also NCSTAR 1 (2005)  Recommendation 5)

NIST recommends that the technical basis for the century-old standard for fire resistance testing of components, assemblies and systems be improved through a national effort.  Necessary guidance also should be developed for extrapolating the results of tested assemblies to prototypical building systems.  A key step in fulfilling this Recommendation is to establish a capability for studying and testing components, assemblies, and systems under realistic fire and load conditions.

Of particular concern is that the Standard Fire Resistance Test does not adequately capture important thermally-induced interactions between structural sub-systems, elements, and connections that are critical to structural integrity.  System-level interactions, especially due to thermal expansion, are not considered in the standard test method since columns, girders, and floor sub-assemblies are tested separately.  Also, the performance of connections under both gravity and thermal effects is not considered.  The United States currently does not have the capability for studying and testing these important fire-induced phenomena critical to structural safety.

Relevance to WTC 7:  The floor systems failed in WTC 7 at shorter fire exposure times than the specified fire rating (two hours) and at lower temperatures because thermal effects within the structural system, especially thermal expansion, were not considered in setting the endpoint criteria when using the ASTM E 110 or equivalent testing standard.  The structural breakdowns that led to the initiating event, and the eventual collapse of WTC 7, occurred at temperatures that were hundreds of degrees below the criteria that determine structural fire resistance ratings. “

The design approach outlined in NISTIR 7563 is not only very flawed … it lacks any validity … because very relevant and important real fire data has been totally ignored.  The Cardington Experimental Fires were not all that they seemed.


c)  Current ISO TC92 International Case Study Comparison

Structural Fire Engineering Design of an Airport Terminal Building serving the Capital City of a large country (which shall remain nameless) … constructed using Portal Steel Frames …

My first concern is that the Structural Fire Engineering Design has been undertaken in isolation from other aspects of the Building’s Fire Engineering Design.

On Page 3 of the Case Study Report …

4.2 Objectives & Functional Requirements for Fire Safety of Structures

The fire safety objectives of the airport terminal emphasize the safety of life, conservation of property, continuity of operations and protection of the environment. “

Should these not be the Project-Specific Fire Engineering Design Objectives ?   Since when, for example, is ‘continuity of operations’ a concern in building codes ??

On Page 7 of the Case Study Report …

5.3  Identify Objectives, Functional Requirements & Performance Criteria for Fire Safety of Structure

The Fire Safety Objective of the Steel Structure:  There should be no serious damage to the structure or successive collapse in case of fire.

The Functional Requirements are defined as the followings:

(1)  Prevent or limit the structural failure in case of fire so as to prevent the fire from spreading within the compartment or to the adjacent fire compartment or the adjacent buildings (to prevent fire spread) ;

(2)  Prevent or limit the partial structural failure in case of fire so as to protect the life safety of the occupants and firefighters (to protect life safety) ;

(3)  Prevent or limit the structural deformation or collapse so as not to increase the cost or difficulties of the after-fire restoration (to reduce reconstruction cost).

One of the following Performance Requirements shall be met:

(1)  The load-bearing capacity of the structure (Rd) shall not be less than the combined effect (Sm) within the required time, that is Rd ≥ Sm.  (The maximum permitted deflection for the steel beam shall not be larger than L/400, and the maximum stress of the structure under fire conditions shall not be larger than fyT) ;   or

(2)  The fire resistance rating of the steel structure (td) shall not be less than the required fire resistance rating (tm), that is, td ≥ tm ;   or

(3)  Td – the critical internal temperature of the steel structure at its ultimate state shall not be less than Tm (the maximum temperature of the structure within required fire resistance time duration), that is Td ≥ Tm.  (300 ℃) “

Once again … we see an emphasis on critical temperature, beam deflection (only), and material strength.  L/400 is an impressive Fire Serviceability Limit State … a different world from L/20 or L/30 … but what about other important types of steel structural member deformation, e.g. thermal expansion and distortion ??

Furthermore … if there is a major fire in the area under the lower roof (see Section above) … because of structural continuity, any serious impact on the small frame will also have an impact on the large frame.  For Structural Fire Engineering reasons … would it not be wiser to break the structural continuity … and have the small and large portal frames act independently ?

It is proposed that the Portal Frames will NOT be fully fire protected … just the columns, up to a height of 8 metres only.  If ‘conservation of property’ and ‘continuity of operations’ are important fire engineering design objectives in this project … why isn’t all of the steel being fully protected ???   What would be the additional cost, as a percentage of the total project cost ?

What exactly is infallible about current Design Fires and Design Fire Scenarios ???   Not much.  And in the case of this particular building, should a ‘maximum credible fire scenario’ be at least considered ?

And … what is the fire protection material, product or system being used to protect the Portal Frames ?   Will it be applied, fixed or installed correctly ?   What is its durability ?   Will it be able to resist mechanical damage during the construction process … and afterwards, during the fire event ?   What is the reliability of this form of fire protection measure ??

So many questions …




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Celebrating the Restoration of Mies’ Villa Tugendhat, in Brno

2012-05-12:  It has been tough week, finishing off on a very enjoyable social note …

Acting as a technical expert witness in a difficult legal case, over three days, can be draining … but yesterday evening, a Friday, experiencing the hectic nightlife in Dublin and sharing an excellent meal in an Italian Restaurant (Nico’s on Dame Street) with some visiting friends from the Fire & Security Association of India (FSAI) was an occasion not to be missed.

At times of calm, as now, I search back to rediscover the fascination, the excitement and the beauty that is Architecture.  Many times, I have referred to Buildings of Architectural and Cultural Importance … and this is certainly a building to celebrate …

The Villa Tugendhat (1928-30) in Brno, Czech Republic … designed by the German Master Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) … had to be abandoned by the Tugendhat Family in 1938, shortly before the German occupation of Czechoslovakia (as the country was then known).  Check out the Villa’s website at …

The Villa has been carefully restored by Vladimir Ambroz, architect, and his brother Miroslav, an art historian … and it opened to the public for viewing last March, 2012.

Take pleasure in this photograph, taken by Dr. Miroslav Ambroz … “God is in the details” … “less is more” … click to enlarge …





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CIB W14’s Newly Updated Aims & Objectives – A Dynamic Text

2012-05-03:  Yesterday, I mentioned that the Aims & Objectives of CIB Working Commission 14: ‘Fire Safety’ had been substantially updated.  More than that … this text is to be regarded as being dynamic … kept under continual review … in order that it will remain fresh, vibrant, and relevant to the needs of the time.

Our discussions in Thessaloniki (Salonika), last week, were a continuation of a process which began in Zurich, during 2010.

Just to remind everyone … this is CIB W14: ‘Fire Safety’

Working Commission 14 is an international, multi-stakeholder, trans-disciplinary, pre-normalization forum for discussion and action, on research and innovation in Fire Science and Engineering for the design, construction and operation of a Safe and Sustainable Built Environment.


CIB W14: These are its newly updated Aims & Objectives (2012)

  1. To create an ongoing research and innovation focus for the development of a comprehensive, coherent, rational and empirical basis for a Safe and Sustainable Built Environment, which includes fire science and engineering practices, procedures and design methodologies.
  2. To promote the acceptance of Fire Science and Engineering Practices, Procedures and Design Methodologies worldwide, and to encourage their use in international/regional/national/local building and fire safety legislation, codes, regulations and standards.
  3. To provide Technical Input, from a fire science and engineering perspective, to other relevant CIB Working Commissions and Task Groups.
  4. To facilitate the Transfer of State-of-the-Art Fire Science and Engineering Technology at international level.
  5. To encourage Capacity Building for fire science and engineering worldwide.
  6. To liaise and co-operate/collaborate with Other Organizations having similar or related aims and objectives.


To Meet CIB W14’s Aims & Objectives …

a)     Research and innovation projects with a specific task, well-defined scope and a limited timeframe may be initiated and directly/indirectly undertaken by the Membership of CIB W14 ;

b)     Output from these projects and the other work of W14 may be placed in the public domain, in hardcopy and/or electronic formats, as CIB publications, as papers/articles in international journals, conference/seminar/workshop proceedings, and discussion/reflection documents ;

c)     Conferences/seminars/workshops and other events which further W14′s Aims & Objectives may be organized by the Membership of W14 ;

d)     CIB may endorse conferences/seminars/workshops and other events planned by organizations having similar or related aims and objectives to W14 ;   and

e)     W14 may circulate its publications, and information on its research and innovation projects, to the membership of other CIB working commissions and task groups.


Interested in Joining CIB W14: ‘Fire Safety’ ?

The CIB WebSite is located at …

The CIB General Secretariat is located in The Netherlands.  Go to the ‘Contact Us’ WebPage for information …

Then …

  • Send an e-mail to Dr. Wim Bakens, Secretary General of CIB – a man who likes good Irish whiskey (!) – and him ask for a Membership Application Form.  His e-mail address:   Tell him that I sent you, and that you want to join CIB Working Commission 14 ;

or …


The More Diverse Our Membership … The More Creative Our Output !




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Fire-Induced Progressive ‘Damage’ or ‘Collapse’ ? More …

2012-05-02:  Last week, I attended joint meetings of CIB W14: ‘Fire Safety’ … and ISO Technical Committee 92: ‘Fire Safety’, Sub-Committee 3: ‘Fire Threat to People and the Environment’ & Sub-Committee 4: ‘Fire Safety Engineering’ … in Thessaloniki (Salonika), Greece.

The relationship between these two independent groups is symbiotic … ISO TC 92 develops International Fire Standards, while CIB W14 is the pre-normalization forum for discussion and action on a comprehensive approach to Fire Research and Innovation.

I should add, here, that CIB W14’s Aims & Objectives were substantially updated at our meeting in Thessaloniki … and I presented the CIB Research WG IV Reflection Document: ‘Structural Reliability & Fire-Induced Progressive Damage’ for discussion … which was lively, but far too short !


While I was away, however, the following question was posed by Mr. Panagiotis Kotsovinos, on the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE-USA) Page of LinkedIn (

” I would like to please explain a bit more why the term ‘Fire-Induced Progressive Damage’ is preferred over ‘Fire-Induced Progressive Collapse’, and what is the confusion that exists widely as you say with the later definition ? “

Firstly, apologies for the late reply.  This was due to my absence from base … I am not continuously ‘plugged-in’ to the virtual environment while travelling.  But, I also wished to respond to this and other queries after some thought.  The issues raised are important.

Very briefly … it was NIST, in its 2005 Report, which introduced the term ‘Fire-Induced Progressive Collapse’ to a wide audience.  No definition, or elaboration, of this structural concept was provided in either the 2005 or 2008 Recommendations.  There is no confusion caused by ‘Fire-Induced’.

The reason I have been so quick to focus in on the distinction between ‘Damage’ and ‘Collapse’ is because we went through this whole debate, in Ireland … starting at the end of the 1980’s and continuing on through to the middle of 1990’s.  Because … in January 1987 … a Multi-Storey Apartment Block, called Raglan House, collapsed as a result of a gas explosion.  Two people were killed.  An examination of records at the time will reveal the same general confusion about technical terminology.  And … following the collapse, the Structural Engineering Profession was in disarray.

After a considerable amount of time witnessing, at close hand, these events … I formed the strong opinion that the proper connection of vertical and horizontal structural elements in a building was, and continues to be, a fundamental principle of all good structural engineering design … no matter what the height of the building.


Colour photograph showing World Trade Center Building No. 7 in ruins, after 9-11 in New York City ... when Fire-Induced Progressive Damage led to Disproportionate Damage, and finally to total building failure ... a Collapse Level Event (CLE). Click to enlarge.

Colour photograph showing World Trade Center Building No. 7 in ruins, after 9-11 in New York City ... when Fire-Induced Progressive Damage led to Disproportionate Damage, and finally to total building failure ... a Collapse Level Event (CLE). Click to enlarge.


Tackling the current confusion over technical terminology …

In 1987, Raglan House collapsed in Dublin.  In 2001, World Trade Center Building 7 collapsed in New York City.

In English … the word Collapse can have the following meanings, which are very broadly similar …

  • To fall down or cave in suddenly: the whole building collapsed ;
  • To fail completely ;
  • To break down or fall down from lack of strength ;
  • To fold (furniture, etc.) compactly or (of furniture, etc.) to be designed to fold compactly ;
  • The act or instance of suddenly falling down, caving in, or crumbling ;
  • A sudden failure or breakdown.

[from Latin, from collabi to fall in ruins, from labi to fall]


Black and white image reproducing Figure 1-1 in NIST Report: 'Best Practices for Reducing the Potential for Progressive Collapse in Buildings' (NISTIR 7396, February 2007) ... showing a bird's eye view of the Disproportionate Damage at Ronan Point, in England, which was caused by a gas explosion in 1968. Click to enlarge.

Black and white image reproducing Figure 1-1 in NIST Report: 'Best Practices for Reducing the Potential for Progressive Collapse in Buildings' (NISTIR 7396, February 2007) ... showing a bird's eye view of the Disproportionate Damage at Ronan Point, in England, which was caused by a gas explosion in 1968. Click to enlarge.


Please examine the photograph above.  Ronan Point (later demolished) was a 22 Storey Residential Tower Block in London, England.  In May 1968, this building suffered Disproportionate Damage as a result of a gas explosion.  As is clear from the photograph … it did not Collapse.

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.


Let me now return to the CIB Research WG IV Reflection Document: ‘Structural Reliability & Fire-Induced Progressive Damage’ … where I began by stating …

Fire-Induced Progressive Damage in Buildings is distinguished from Disproportionate Damage – a related but different structural concept – by the mode of damage initiation, not the final condition of building failure.  Until this phenomenon is properly understood, and 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.

… and, later in the document, provided this definition …

Fire-Induced Progressive Damage

The sequential growth and intensification of structural deformation and displacement, beyond fire engineering design parameters, and the eventual 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.


Quickly Concluding …

‘Progressive Collapse’ is not the same as ‘Disproportionate Collapse’ … and while total building collapse may be the condition of final building failure, this will certainly not always be the case.  Therefore … ‘Damage’ is the more correct word to use than ‘Collapse’.

To go even further … it should not be necessary to have to use the word ‘total’ in the first sentence above.


Reminder … Please Read the Reflection Document …

The purpose of the Reflection Document issued by CIB W14 Research Working Group IV is to examine the ‘hot form’ structural concept of Fire-Induced Progressive Damage, and to propose a critical update to fire engineering design practice.  It is also intended to encourage a wider discussion about some of fire engineering’s fundamental tenets, and the future direction of our profession in a rapidly evolving trans-disciplinary approach to the design, construction and operation of a Safe and Sustainable Built Environment.

Let me repeat again … and as I emphasized in Greece … ALL comments on the Reflection Document are most welcome !




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