architecture

Building Materials, Irish Pyrite & Chinese Plasterboard – FUBAR !

2014-07-08:  Why do individuals and institutions wake up to a problem only when extensive damage to property, or horrendous injury to people, has already occurred … and the shit hits the fan … big time ?!?   What way is that to organize a society … or protect its communities ???

The Answer is Simple:  Prevention !   Not Cure … when damage cannot be effectively repaired … some injuries can never be healed … and it becomes very costly to do anything !!

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In Ireland … Part D of the Second Schedule to the Building Regulations, as amended, states the following …

Materials & Workmanship

Legal Requirement D1:  All works to which these Regulations apply shall be carried out with proper materials and in a workmanlike (i.e. competent) manner.

Definition of ‘Proper Materials’

Proper Materials:  Building/construction materials (or products, systems, assemblies, etc.) which are fit for the use for which they are intended and for the conditions/location in which they are to be used.

Reference European Union (EU) Legislation

EU Regulation No.305/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council, of 9 March 2011, laying down harmonised conditions for the marketing of construction products and repealing Council Directive 89/106/EEC.

[ N.B. The 1989 European Directive on Construction Products (89/106/EEC) was repealed, in 2011, by Article 65 of EU Regulation No.305/2011. ]

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THEREFORE …

It is the duty of a Supplier … any Supplier, e.g. manufacturer, distributor, agent, wholesaler, whatever … of building/construction materials to clearly show that they are ‘proper materials’, i.e. they are fit for the use for which they are intended and for the conditions/location in which they are to be used.

Refer to SDI’s Technical Guidance Noteswww.sustainable-design.ie/arch/tgn.htm

AND …

It is the duty of the Design Professional in Responsible Charge of a construction project (whoever he/she may be – architect, engineer, etc., etc.) to demand of a Supplier … additionally and most particularly, where there are any doubts about any relevant aspect of that material’s performance … that he/she/they clearly show that the building/construction materials they are supplying are ‘proper materials’, i.e. they are fit for the use for which they are intended and for the conditions/location in which they are to be used.

SO …

When Pyrite, for example, shows up in the hardcore under a finished concrete floor, or in the blockwork of a completed wall, in an Irish building … we know who has ignored his or her legal/professional duty concerning proper and satisfactory compliance with Legal Requirement D1 … and who is liable.

For bureaucrats and the legal profession, this is the end of the story.

BUT …

At this stage – when building occupants are hurt and extremely annoyed following, perhaps years, of inconvenience and discomfort – it’s too late !   The damage cannot be effectively repaired … and such limited repairs which can, in practical terms, be carried out will be very expensive.

PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM …

In Ireland, have we properly learned any lessons from Priory Hall, Pyrite, or Chinese Plasterboard ?   No !

Could these or similar problems occur AGAIN on an Irish building site ?   Yes !

Because … aided and abetted by the professional institutes … a ‘blind eye’ is being turned to the greatest lesson of all … that self-regulation/self-certification does NOT work !!

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And Other E.U. Member States ???

The wording in national/local legislation may be slightly different … the language certainly will be different … but the legal intent is the same.

Legal/professional duties are similar.

Self-regulation/self-certification doesn’t work there either !

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Upcoming CIB/NIST Workshop on Structural Reliability in Fire ?!?

2014-05-16:  Anybody with even the slightest interest in the Future Development of Fire Engineering Design, and Structural Fire Engineering in particular, should pay attention to the proceedings of an upcoming CIB/NIST Workshop, which will be held on 21-22 May 2014, at the NIST Campus in Maryland, USA …

CIB/NIST Fire Resistance/Resistant/Resisting/Resistive Structures Workshop

It is essential to read 3 White Papersproduced by three separate teams of experts, contracted by NIST, in advance of the Workshop … to get a ‘real’ flavour of how discussions may, or may not, develop next week.  All three papers are available to download from the NIST WebSite (follow the link above).  And I suggest that you get your hands on them … ASAP !

1.   Fire Behaviour of Steel Structures (March 2014).  20 Pages, 786 Kb.
2.   State-of-the-Art on Fire Resistance of Concrete Structures: Structure-Fire Model Validation (March 2014).  32 Pages, 1.26 Mb.
3.   Fire Resistance of Timber Structures (March 2014).  20 Pages, 998 Kb.

After reading these 3 NIST White Papers … I was not surprised by the large number of ‘unknowns’, or the enormous gaps in our ‘knowns’ …

Taken in whole and all together, however, the three documents are a public confirmation that today’s general practice of Fire Engineering is more akin to that of mid-19th Century Alchemy.  Blinkered practitioners are isolated from the building design process … because they have no understanding of that process, and have no means of effective communication with the many other design disciplines involved.  And minimal, i.e. ‘cost-effective’(?), compliance with the limited and inadequate fire safety objectives in current building codes/regulations is widely regarded as the one and only target for their efforts … a minor one compared to the fundamental, long-term target of realizing a Safe, Resilient and Sustainable Built Environment for All.  At the same time, frontline fire service personnel are forced to operate on shoestring budgets … and, when a fire emergency inevitably occurs, they are regarded as nothing more than an expendable resource.

!!  Structure … Does Not A Building Make  !!

Some comments on the 3 NIST White Papers …

A.  The Papers contain a number of important technical errors:

  • A similar Introduction in two of the Papers refers only to the 2005 NIST Report (NCSTAR 1) on the 9-11 Collapse of WTC Buildings 1 & 2 in New York City, which contained 30 Recommendations.  However, NIST published a later Report in 2008 (NCSTAR 1A) on the Collapse of WTC Building 7, which contained a further 13 Recommendations … 1 new, and 12 revised/updated from the earlier 2005 Report.
  • There is a reference in one of the Papers to a 1989 European Directive on Construction Products (89/106/EEC), and as later amended.  This Directive was repealed, in 2011, by Article 65 of the new European Union (EU) Regulation No.305/2011 on Construction Products.  Unlike a Directive, a Regulation is addressed directly to the EU Member States, and does not permit any flexibility with regard to national implementation. Annex I of Regulation 305/2011 sets out 7 Basic Requirements for Construction Works:

-  Mechanical resistance and stability ;
-  Safety in case of fire ;
-  Hygiene, health and the environment ;
-  Safety and accessibility in use ;
-  Protection against noise ;
-  Energy economy and heat retention ;
-  Sustainable use of natural resources.

Concerning fire safety in buildings … it is incorrect to state, or even suggest, that only the second Basic Requirement is relevant … a building must satisfy all of the Basic Requirements taken together, i.e. the 7 Basic Requirements are inter-dependent.

B.  Having carefully read the Papers … none of the expert teams appear to have paid any attention to any of the NIST Recommendations, in either the 2005 or the 2008 Reports !   Note well that two separate series of posts on both sets of NIST Recommendations have been carried here on this Technical Blog.

C.  If we have learned anything from the WTC 9-11 Building Collapses, it is that the Fire Engineer must be able to communicate effectively with other mainstream building design disciplines … especially ‘ambient’ structural engineers who speak the language of Structural Reliability, Limit State Design and Serviceability Limit States.  The Fire Engineer must also become an active participant in the creative, trans-disciplinary process of design.  These issues have not been seriously considered in any of the Papers.

D.  All of the Papers lack a common and precise starting point … relevant structural fire engineering concepts are either not defined or badly defined … and the ‘dynamic, complex architectural interaction between a building’s structure and fabric under conditions of fire’ requires immediate and urgent investigation …

Structural Reliability

The ability of a structural system to fulfil its design purpose, for a specified time,
under the actual environmental conditions encountered in a building.

Structural Fire Engineering

Those aspects of fire engineering concerned with structural design for fire …
and the dynamic, complex architectural interaction between a building’s structure and
fabric, i.e. non-structure … under conditions of fire and its immediate aftermath,
including but not confined to the ‘cooling phase’.

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.

[ *fire serviceability limit states ]

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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 and Disproportionate Damage are fundamental concepts in the Fire Engineering Design of All Buildings ! ]

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E.  It is not acknowledged in any of the Papers that the Fire Safety Objectives in Current Building Codes/Regulations are, of necessity, limited in scope … and entirely inadequate in the context of Annex I in EU Regulation 305/2011, and the long-term goal of realizing a Safe, Resilient and Sustainable Built Environment for All.  Refer to the updated Scope, Aims & Objectives of CIB Working Commission 14: ‘Fire Safety’.

F.  Once and for all … use of the term Fire Resistance (and any number of variations thereof, e.g. resistant, resisting, resistive, etc.) in connection with any aspect of structural performance in fire … is ridiculous !   It is roughly comparable to use of the term Fire Proof during the first half of the 20th Century.

G.  Finally, for now … the current unwise focus on Crude Pass/Fail Results from the ‘standard fire’ testing of single loadbearing structural elements must evolve … must be transformed into the more detailed and precise measurement of all aspects of ‘real’ structural system performance over the full duration of a ‘design’ fire (including the cooling phase afterwards) … using a much wider range of performance monitoring equipment, e.g. short wave infra-red thermography.

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It is no longer acceptable for Fire Engineering to exist in an isolated Twilight Zone … completely removed from the everyday realities of Mainstream Building & Construction.

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Model Disability Policy Statement for Educational Establishments

2014-04-21:  Notwithstanding the, by now, well-established existence of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), International Standard ISO 21542: ‘Building Construction – Accessibility & Usability of the Built Environment’, a host of other national accessibility standards, and a plethora of accessibility design guidance materials … not every ‘real’ site, or building, or built environment, situation is covered.  It would be physically impossible.

Unless it is fixed in your mind … or, more importantly, in the ‘group-thinking’ of an organization … that Accessibility-for-All should be, for example, both independent (i.e. it is not necessary for a person to have an assistant) and inclusive (i.e. friends can do things together and no special deal is made about accessibility for one person) … it can be very difficult to emerge from beneath the weight of those documents referred to above … and to apply important disability-related principles flexibly and adaptively in the real world.

At a recent meeting with some teachers in an Irish school (which shall remain nameless) … I advised that a very good and positive start can be made by discussing together and agreeing on a Disability Policy Statement, which will help to guide future actions.  More steps are required, of course, but those will come later.

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Model Disability Policy Statement for Educational Establishments

Insofar as it relates to the educational activities of

Name of School/College/University/Institute

and its relationships in the wider local community …

We recognise and respect the rights of people with activity limitations:

  • to lead a fulfilling life – autonomously, independently, and with dignity ;
  • to integrate into the civil, political, economic, social, cultural and educational mainstream ;    and
  • to participate in the general life of the wider local community on a basis of equal opportunity with everyone else.

Good Education is an Important Key to Social Inclusion

In order to ensure your autonomy and independence, your civil, political, economic, social, cultural and educational integration, and your active participation in the general life of the wider local community – the principle of equal opportunity shall not prevent the adoption or maintenance of services, systems and policies providing for your support or assistance within this establishment.

[ Discussed and Agreed by the School/College/University/Institute Management Board on ...... ]

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Sustainable Fire Engineering Design – Targeting & MRV !

2014-04-20:  Traditional/Conventional Fire Engineering Practice is slowly, but inevitably, being transformed … in order to meet the regional and local challenges of rapid urbanization and climate change, the pressing need for a far more efficient and resilient building stock, and a growing social awareness that ‘sustainability’ demands much greater human creativity …

Design Target:  A Safe, Resilient and Sustainable Built Environment for All

Design Key Words:  Reality – Reliability – Redundancy

Essential Construction & Occupancy Start-Up Processes:  Careful Monitoring & Reporting – Independent Verification (MRV)

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Sustainable Fire Engineering Design Solutions:

Are Reliability-Based …
The design process is based on competence, practical experience, and an understanding of ‘real’ building performance and resilience during Extreme Man-Made Events, e.g. 2001 WTC 9-11 Attack & 2008 Mumbai Hive Attacks, and Hybrid Disasters, e.g. 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Incident … rather than theory alone.

Are Person-Centred …
‘Real’ people are placed at the centre of creative design endeavours and proper consideration is given to their responsible needs … their health, safety, welfare and security … in the Human Environment, which includes the social, built, economic and virtual environments.

Are Adapted to Local Context & Heritage *
Geography, orientation, climate (including change, variability and severity swings), social need, culture, traditions, economy, building crafts and materials, etc., etc.
[* refer to the 2013 UNESCO Hangzhou Declaration]

In Sustainable Design … there are NO Universal Solutions !

Design Objectives:

To protect society, the best interests of the client/client organization and building user health and safety, and to maintain functionality under the dynamic, complex conditions of fire … Project-Specific Fire Engineering Design Objectives shall cover the following spectrum of issues …

  • Protection of the Health and Safety of All Building Users … including people with activity limitations (2001 WHO ICF), visitors to the building who will be unfamiliar with its layout, and contractors or product/service suppliers temporarily engaged in work or business transactions on site ;
  • Protection of Property from Loss or Damage … including the building, its contents, and adjoining or adjacent properties ;
  • Safety of Firefighters, Rescue Teams and Other Emergency Response Personnel ;
  • Ease and Reasonable Cost of ‘Effective’ Reconstruction, Refurbishment or Repair Works after a Fire ;
  • Sustainability of the Human Environment – including the fitness for intended use and life cycle costing of fire engineering related products, systems, etc … fixed, installed or otherwise incorporated in the building ;
  • Protection of the Natural Environment from Harm, i.e. adverse impacts.

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More Specifically … with Regard to Resilient Building Performance during a Fire Incident and the ‘Cooling Phase’ after Fire Extinguishment:

1.   The Building shall be designed to comply with the Recommendations in the 2005 & 2008 NIST(USA) Final Reports on the World Trade Center(WTC) 1, 2 & 7 Building Collapses.

In one major respect, the 2005 NIST Report is flawed, i.e. its treatment of ‘disability and building users with activity limitations is entirely inadequate.  The Building shall, therefore, be designed to comply with International Standard ISO 21542: ‘Building Construction – Accessibility & Usability of the Built Environment’, which was published in December 2011.

2.   The Building shall remain Serviceable, not just Structurally Stable(!) … until all buildings users (including those users with activity limitations waiting in ‘areas of rescue assistance’) have been evacuated/rescued to an accessible ‘place of safety’ which is remote from the building, and have been identified … and all firefighters, rescue teams and other emergency response personnel have been removed/rescued from the building and its vicinity.

The Building shall be designed to resist Fire-Induced Progressive Damage and Disproportionate Damage.  These requirements shall apply to all building types, of any height.

Under no reasonably foreseeable circumstances shall the Building be permitted to collapse !

3.   The Building shall be designed to comfortably accommodate and resist a Maximum Credible Fire Scenario and a Maximum Credible User Scenario.

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Concerted International Research is Needed …

To creatively resolve the direct conflict which exists between Sustainable Building Design Strategies and Traditional/Conventional Fire Engineering.

An example … for cooling, heating and/or ventilation purposes in a sustainable building, it is necessary to take advantage of natural patterns of uninterrupted air movement in that building. On the other hand, fire consultants in private practice, and fire prevention officers in authorities having jurisdiction, will demand that building spaces be strictly compartmented in order to limit the spread of fire and smoke … thereby dramatically interfering with those natural patterns of air movement. The result is that the sustainability performance of the building is seriously compromised.

If, however, adequate independent technical control is absent on the site of a sustainable building … it is the fire safety and protection which will be seriously compromised !

To effectively deal with the fire safety problems (fatal, in the case of firefighters) which result from the installation of Innovative Building/Energy/EICT Systems and Products in Sustainable Buildings.

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These are appropriate tasks for a new CIB W14 Research Working Group VI: ‘Sustainable Fire Engineering Design & Construction’ !

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9-11 WTC Attacks in New York – ‘Reflections in a Cold Eye’ !

2013-09-13 …

Two days ago, on the 12th Anniversary of the 9-11 World Trade Center Attacks in New York City … I couldn’t help recalling a period of time 20 years earlier, and the still vivid memories of institutional ‘after-shocks’ following the 1981 Dublin Stardust Discotheque Fire in February of that year.  For a very long time afterwards, the Irish Fire Establishment disappeared from public view and hearing … without any trace !   As a young architect, at the time, just starting out in private practice … it was a critical lesson on the importance of ‘reality’ … and the malignancy of ‘realpolitik’.

As the years rolled by, and more and more information was revealed by troubled ‘insiders’ and uncovered by brave journalists … it was clear to me that the Dublin Fire had spawned two entirely separate and unconnected realities:

  1. The Frontline Tragedy … of the fire victims (those who were killed or injured on the night, and those who survived), their families and (to this day) their mournful pleas for justice and truthful answers, the local communities, the first responders, e.g. firefighters, ambulance personnel, and Garda/police and (to this day) their continuing struggle for adequate resources, the staff of the Dublin hospitals … and a shocked public.
  2. Defensive Institutions … senior policy and decision makers in national and local authorities, or agencies, having jurisdiction and/or responsibility for blatantly inadequate building codes and standards, poorly resourced technical control systems over building design and construction, and a dysfunctional emergency response infrastructure … senior politicians, on both sides of the political spectrum, who ‘fixed’ the format and major outcomes from the post-incident investigation (they ensured that minor outcomes were either implemented in a ham-fisted bureaucratic manner, or were ignored) … the various building design disciplines directly involved and their respective professional organizations … etc., etc.

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These Same Realities have been re-born … and have evolved in scale … out of the savage destruction on that Tuesday, 11 September 2001.

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‘Passivhaus’ Standard is Not Enough in New Building Projects !

2013-09-10:  Recently, much ado has been made in the technical press about a New Multi-Storey Office Block in Vienna which has achieved the German ‘Passivhaus’ (Passive House) Standard

Multi-Storey 'RHW.2' Office Block in Vienna, Austria

Is There A Problem ??   Yes !!

1.   It takes approximately 3 Years of Building Occupation, by ‘real’ people, before the actual performance of a building can be properly monitored and reliably shown.  The building is still ‘drying out’ for the first year.  It takes at least one to two years of running the complex technologies and systems in today’s buildings … training people how to operate them efficiently and effectively … and fine-tuning and de-bugging as you go along … before everything begins to work together, as originally intended during the building design stage.  Then, if all goes well … in the third year of occupation, the careful (i.e. accurate and reliable) monitoring of ‘real’ building performance, by means of portable measuring devices and devices installed within the construction, can commence.

So … what exactly has achieved the German ‘Passivhaus’ (Passive House) Standard … the design intent for the building, or the building’s ‘real’ performance ???

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2.   Much more fundamentally … achieving this Standard is a good starting point … but in a new building project … It Is Not Enough !

A.  Energy Conservation and Efficiency Burden Sharing by Different Building Types

Separate strategies are required to greatly improve the energy performance of:

  • existing buildings … onto which many energy efficiency measures can be successfully grafted, but it will be difficult work and will certainly not be cheap ;
  • buildings of historical, architectural or cultural importance … the integrity of which must be protected ;   and
  • new buildings and facilities … which must therefore carry the major burden.

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B.  Paradigm for New Buildings – A ‘Positive Energy’ Return + Assured Building User Comfort

Primary Energy Consumption should be less than or equal to 15 kWh/m2/yr.

And …

Renewable Energy and Heating Systems should contribute a reliable quantity of energy, per year, which covers the following:

i)   the Building’s/Facility’s Primary Energy Consumption ;

ii)  an Energy Efficiency Degradation Factor which takes account of the degradation in energy efficiency …

(a)  normally expected during the life cycle of renewable energy and heating systems installed in the building.  The rate of degradation will depend on the quality of maintenance and servicing ;   and

(b)  caused by wasteful patterns of building management and/or use ;

iii) the energy consumed by Private Transport associated with the building or facility ;

iv) an Energy Return to an Intelligent District, Local or Regional Grid exceeding, by a multiple of 3 (three), the total energy consumed by the Building/Facility (including its Energy Efficiency Degradation Factor) and any associated Private Transport.

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Notes:

Primary Energy includes the energy required to generate, transmit and distribute electricity, as well as energy directly consumed on site.

User Thermal Comfort = Air Temperature + Mean Radiant Temperature + Air Humidity + Air Velocity, i.e. draughts (ISO 7730).

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And interestingly enough … on the Passivhaus WebSite (German language version)www.passivhaus.de/passivhaus-informationen/vom-passivhaus-zum-plusenergiegebaeude.html … this is now the thinking there also !!

Should have been happening 10 years ago !

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2012 Doha Shopping Mall Fire – 5 Jail Sentences for Negligence !

2013-07-19:  Once upon a time, back in 1979, when I was flying to Sydney, Australia … one of the scheduled stops on the route was Bahrain and the New International Airport Terminal there.  In spite of the flashy and expensive building, I noticed how obsolete looking (and functioning) were the fittings in the toilet area.  Could it possibly be, I wondered, that the Arab Gulf Region was being supplied with shoddy, second rate construction products from you-know-where ??

Fast forward to a few years ago … in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia … and I encountered one building – the same building – where one half had a 110 Volt electrical supply, and the other half had a 220 Volt supply.  Amazing !?!   Two different consultants, or contractors, or whatever … one from North America, and the other from Europe … with the Saudis in the middle, having to tolerate this nonsense !!

'Villaggio' Shopping Mall Fire (Doha City in Qatar) - 28 May 2012

Photograph taken by Brian Candy. 2012-05-28. Click to enlarge.

DOHA City Fire - Monday, 28 May 2012 …

I distinctly remember that some Irish people who had actually witnessed the Fatal Fire Incident at the ‘Villaggio’ Shopping Mall (www.villaggioqatar.com), in Doha (capital city of Qatar) … were afterwards talking to Mr. Joe Duffy, on the lunchtime ‘Liveline’ Programme (Ireland’s RTE Radio 1 Station).

19 People were killed on that Monday morning in Doha … 13 Children, 4 Teachers, and 2 Firefighters.  Many more were injured from inhaling toxic smoke.

According to various news reports … an electrical fire, caused by a light fitting (which was not ‘fit for its intended use’) in a Nike Shop, engulfed a section of the shopping centre … spreading to the Gympanzee Drop-and-Shop Childcare Centre on the first floor.

The staircase leading to the Childcare Centre collapsed … trapping victims inside.  One of their fire exits led directly to the seat of the fire, while the other fire exit was locked from the outside.

In addition, the ‘Villaggio’ – a luxury mock-Italian shopping centre (one of the most popular in the country !) where customers could ride around Venetian-style Canals, in Venetian-style Gondolas – was later found to be in breach of legislation because Essential Fire Safety Measures were either inadequate or missing, at the time of the fire: the fire sprinkler system was not working properly; inflammable paint and decorative mouldings were used in the construction; the building did not have effective fire evacuation procedures in place; the building was not equipped with proper fire-fighting equipment; and the fire alarm wasn’t loud enough.

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A Qatari Court – Thursday, 20 June 2013 …

The recent outcome from this Qatari Court Case has been nagging at me ever since I saw the news on Al Jazeera (English) … www.aljazeera.com

Only Some of the People having Control / Responsibility were convicted for the Negligence which resulted in the 19 Deaths, and many injuries, at the 2012 ‘Villaggio’ Fatal Fire Incident.

Four people received six-year jail terms, while the fifth received a five-year term.  All five are currently out on appeal, and will remain out of custody until the appeals process is completed.

Those convicted include Two Co-Owners of the Childcare Centre, and Members of the Mall’s Management Team.  Sheikh Ali Bin Jassim Al Thani, one of the co-owners, is also currently Qatar’s Ambassador to Belgium … while Iman Al-Kuwari, the other co-owner, is the daughter of Qatar’s Culture Minister.

Two other defendants, including the Mall’s Assistant Manager and Head of Security, were cleared of all charges.

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Other People having Control / Responsibility were also Careless, Incompetent, and Negligent …

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Belmayne Timber Frame Construction – Cometh An Inferno ?

2013-07-11:  Further to the Posts about the ongoing Fire Safety Fiasco at Priory Hall in Dublin, beginning on 2011-10-18 … and my recent reply to Ms. Saffron Willetts, dated 2013-06-09, which can be found at the top right-hand corner of this Page …

A house with a timber-framed party wall, whether the wall projects above the roof covering or not … in a terrace, or semi-detached … and constructed in 2004 (approaching the height of the Celtic Tiger frenzy in Ireland) ??   Not even torture in Guantánamo Bay (Cuba) would persuade me to buy … or rent !

One last word of caution … carefully examine any ‘Opinion on Compliance’ covering this property.

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On Sunday evening last, 7 July 2013, I received an e-mail notification from Mr. Del Tillyer about a Belmayne ‘Fire Safety’ Press Conference to be held in his home … 19 Churchwell Place, Belmayne, Dublin 13 … on Tuesday, 9 July 2013, at 11.00 hrs.  I was pleased to attend.

Belmayne, Dublin 13 - Fire Hazard (1)

Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2013-07-09. Click to enlarge.

Back in ye good olde days of the Celtic Tiger … the price paid for this 2 Storey Timber-Framed Dwelling Unit was a staggering € 530,000 !   However, following occupation of their new home, it was noticed by the family that there were BIG problems concerning nuisance sound transmission from neighbouring units.  And that’s when their long shabby saga of ‘Fire Safety at Belmayne’ began … or, more correctly, it should be called the tortuous saga of a ‘Serious Lack of Fire Safety at Belmayne’ !!

Belmayne, Dublin 13 - Fire Hazard (2)

Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2013-07-09. Click to enlarge.

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In order to satisfy the Legal Requirements of Part D: ‘Materials and Workmanship’, Second Schedule to the Irish Building Regulations … this form of construction was covered by an Irish Agrément Board Certificate …

Front Page of IAB Certificate No.04/0198 (rev.2007) - Kingspan Century Medium Rise Timber Frame Construction SystemKingspan Century Medium Rise Timber Frame Construction System – IAB Certificate No.04/0198 (rev.2007)

Click the Link Above to read and/or download PDF File (1.43 MB)

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Unfortunately … any connection between IAB Certificate 04/0198 and the bitter, cold reality of how 19 Churchwell Place was actually constructed … is, at best, extremely tenuous … as the following photographs clearly show …

Belmayne, Dublin 13 - Fire Hazard (3)

Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2013-07-09. Click to enlarge.

Belmayne, Dublin 13 - Fire Hazard (4)

Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2013-07-09. Click to enlarge.

[ It was difficult ... but I resisted the temptation to add an elaborate caption to each image which would describe the original Shoddy, Careless, Incompetent Site Workmanship !   And please bear in mind that the opening-up shown was limited ... more problems cannot be seen, or will only become apparent in the future, e.g. the inevitable settlement of low-density thermal insulation !! ]

Belmayne, Dublin 13 - Fire Hazard (5)

Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2013-07-09. Click to enlarge.

Belmayne, Dublin 13 - Fire Hazard (6)

Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2013-07-09. Click to enlarge.

[ This is the other unreported and completely hidden Irish National Debt ... over 20 years of 'Lite' National Regulation of the Construction Sector and an Entirely Inadequate and Ineffective National System of Local Authority Building Control / Independent Site Technical Control have resulted in a New National Building Stock which will require an enormous amount of difficult and costly repairs during the next decades ... which will have to be paid for by the citizen !   Those responsible ... National Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ's), Professional Institutes and Societies, Property Developers, Construction Product Manufacturers, and Politicians ... have all quietly slipped away from the crime scene !! ]

Belmayne, Dublin 13 - Fire Hazard (7)

Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2013-07-09. Click to enlarge.

Belmayne, Dublin 13 - Fire Hazard (8)

Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2013-07-09. Click to enlarge.

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The Fire Consultant on this Project is Mr. Noel C. Manning.

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Explanatory Note:

In the event of a fire incident at this dwelling unit … why are the construction failures shown in the photographs above so risky, so hazardous, so dangerous for its occupants (more precisely – their health, safety and welfare) ??

Even within the Construction Sector, it is not well understood that the Fire Safety Objectives of Building Regulations, generally and not just in Ireland, are limited in scope to the protection of people who use and/or occupy buildings from fire (i.e. heat, smoke and flame).  These Fire Safety Objectives only ‘extend’ to the protection of property (i.e. the building fabric) … insofar as the protection of that property is relevant to the protection, including the safe evacuation, of people in the building.

The biggest original construction failure shown above is that there is an extensive warren of continuous, hidden cavities within the walls, floors, service duct and ceilings of the house … which facilitates the unseen spread of fire, including toxic smoke, very rapidly throughout the building and to adjoining dwelling units.  This type of insidious fire spread cannot be detected by smoke alarms located in the area of a staircase.

The serious ‘cavity’ failure is compounded by another serious construction failure … the weak and inadequate protection from fire (i.e. heat, smoke and flame) to the staircase itself … which is the only means of evacuation from the house for the occupants.

The limited Fire Safety Objectives of Building Regulations must be clearly distinguished from Project-Specific Fire Engineering Design Objectives which have a much wider scope.  For an elaboration of this issue … go to:  http://www.cjwalsh.ie/2012/12/sustainable-fire-engineering-for-all-sdis-professional-service/ 

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‘Person-Centred’ Design & Climate Change Policy Development

2013-07-01:   Sustainable Design Solutions are …

  • Person-Centred ;
  • Reliability-Based ;    and most importantly
  • Adapted to Local Context and Heritage (fr: le Patrimoine – see ICOMOS 2011) … geography, climate (incl. change, variability and severity swings), social need, culture, and economy, etc., etc.

‘Person-Centredness’ is a core value of Sustainable Human & Social Development … an essential principle in Sustainable Design … an indispensable support framework for Sustainability-related Policy and Decision-making … and an invaluable indicator when monitoring Sustainability Implementation.

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Why so because ?

It is the mid-1990′s … in the centre of Dublin City.

Imagine, if you will, a very large historical building having a civic, justice-related function … and also an enormous Energy Bill.  As described in a much earlier post, dated 2009-02-20, and the series of posts which followed on the subject of Building Energy Rating (BER) … we found that the most effective and practical remedy for this gaping and continuously haemorrhaging ‘energy’ wound was to approach the problem though the building’s users, their perception of thermal comfort, and International Standard ISO 7730.

The ‘real’ reduction in energy consumption, the ‘real’ increase in the building’s energy efficiency, and the ‘real’ improvements in building user / employee comfort and morale … were astounding !

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'Person-Centredness' (Concept 1)At a 1999 Strasbourg Conference in France … I delivered the following Paper …

Person-Centredness’ of the Built Environment – A Core Value of Sustainable Design

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INTRODUCTION from that Paper …

These are interesting times;  the benefits of modern technology have bypassed and long overtaken the stirring thoughts, visions and catch cries of Architects at the beginning of the 20th Century.  However, at this time in Europe, we must now ask ourselves some difficult questions …

“What should be the Design Agenda for the ‘Built Environment’ in the new millennium ?”

“Do we actually understand the ‘real’ needs and desires of ‘real’ people in an inclusive society ?”

It is Sustainable Design – the art and science of the design, supervision of related construction/de-construction, and maintenance of sustainability in the Built Environment – which is currently generating a quantum leap in the forward evolution of a more coherent design philosophy.

Principle 1 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development states …

‘Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development.  They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.’

Deeply embedded, therefore, within this philosophy is the concept of ‘person-centredness’, i.e. that core design value which places real people at the centre of creative concerns, and gives due consideration to their health, safety, and welfare in the Built Environment – it includes such specific performance criteria as:  a sensory rich and accessible (mobility, usability, communications and information) environment;  fire safety;  thermal comfort;  air, light and visual quality;  protection from ionizing / electromagnetic radiation;  nuisance noise abatement;  etc.  An important ‘person-centred’ design aid is the questionnaire survey, which is not only a very valuable source of information, but formalizes meaningful consultation between practitioners and end users.

SDI’s Guideline Framework on achieving equality of opportunity and social inclusion, which is based on a strategy produced by Directorate-General V of the European Commission, shows how further essential elements of ‘social wellbeing’ also relate to person-centredness;  these include partnership between all sectors of society, consensus, transparency and openness.

This paper explores the rational and legal basis for person-centredness of the Built Environment in Europe.  Fieldwork incorporating this innovative approach is also examined.  Finally, a body of principles – a European Charter – is outlined which aims to ensure that new construction works, and renovated existing buildings, perform reliably, are adaptable, accessible and responsive, ‘intelligently green’ (French: intelli-verdure), cost-effective and inherently sustainable.

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'Person-Centredness' (Concept 2).

CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION & MITIGATION POLICIES

AND BEFORE developing Climate Change Policies which will have such dramatic impacts on human populations, and their lifestyles, around the globe … perhaps those policies would be more effective, in the ‘real’ world and in the long-term … if we looked at the problem through the ‘eyes’ of people !

It will be worth taking a look at an interesting background paper produced by the World Bank in 2009 … whether you agree or disagree with the following statements …

“A lack of citizen understanding regarding the basics of climate science is an almost universal finding worldwide even though knowledge has increased over time.  Especially notable is confusion between the causes of climate change and ozone depletion, and confusion between weather and climate.”

“North Americans know far less about climate change than their counterparts in the developed world.”

“Accurate and complete understanding of information is not a prerequisite for concern.”

“Concern is widespread around the world, but it may also be inversely correlated with the wealth and carbon footprint of a nation, or the socio-economic ‘class’ within a nation.”

“In some studies, more informed respondents reported less concern or sense of responsibility towards climate change.”

“People stop paying attention to global climate change when they realize that there is no easy solution for it.  Many people judge as serious only those problems for which they think action can be taken.”

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World Bank Paper 4940: 'Cognitive & Behavioural Challenges in Responding to Climate Change' (2009) - Title PagePolicy Research Working Paper No.4940 (May 2009) – Kari Marie Norgaard

Cognitive & Behavioural Challenges in Responding to Climate Change (World Bank, 2009)

Click the Link Above to read and/or download PDF File (290 Kb)

This World Bank Working Paper – prepared as a background paper to the World Bank’s World Development Report 2010: Development in a Changing Climate.  Policy Research Working Papers are posted on the Web at http://econ.worldbank.org

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World Bank Working Paper 4940 (2009) – ABSTRACT …

Climate scientists have identified global warming as the most important environmental issue of our time, but it has taken over 20 years for the problem to penetrate the public discourse in even the most superficial manner.  While some nations have done better than others, no nation has adequately reduced emissions and no nation has a base of public citizens that are sufficiently socially and politically engaged in response to climate change.  This paper summarizes international and national differences in levels of knowledge and concern regarding climate change, and the existing explanations for the worldwide failure of public response to climate change, drawing from psychology, social psychology and sociology.  On the whole, the widely presumed links between public access to information on climate change and levels of concern and action are not supported.  The paper’s key findings emphasize the presence of negative emotions in conjunction with global warming (fear, guilt, and helplessness), and the process of emotion management and cultural norms in the construction of a social reality in which climate change is held at arms length.  Barriers in responding to climate change are placed into three broad categories:  1) psychological and conceptual;  2) social and cultural;  and 3) structural (political economy).  The author provides policy considerations and summarizes the policy implications of both psychological and conceptual barriers, and social and cultural barriers. An annotated bibliography is included.

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Is anybody learning yet ?

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Important New Publication: ‘Heritage – Driver of Development’

2013-06-09:  Further to yesterday’s post … and my use of the phrase ‘Adapted to Local Context and Heritage (fr: le Patrimoine)’ … in relation to Sustainable Fire Engineering Design Solutions … or, indeed, Sustainable Design Solutions generally …

The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) … has just published the hard-copy version of … ‘Le Patrimoine, Moteur de Développement : Enjeux et Projets … the proceedings from the 2011 ICOMOS International Scientific Symposium, which was held in conjunction with the 17th ICOMOS General Assembly in early December 2011 … and organized by ICOMOS-France (www.icomosfrance.fr).

This bilingual (French and English) document provides a summary of the 4 Main Issues discussed during the Paris Symposium.

Manifested here … is a profound re-imagining of the concept of ‘heritage’, and its symbiotic relationship with ‘local context’ … which also now facilitates a synergetic fusion of ‘heritage’ with mainstream sustainable development theory and implementation.  I have highlighted key passages …

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HERITAGE - DRIVER OF DEVELOPMENT

The Theme of the International Scientific Symposium, which forms part of the ICOMOS General Assembly, is the role of heritage in the creation of tomorrow’s society.

The effects of globalization, which are manifested in growing trends towards standardization and westernization, bring various forms of instability to human societies.  Until now, heritage has been confined to the role of passive conservation of the past, and so has often been seen as a burden hindering development.  In the future, it should be called upon instead to play a major role, re-establishing cultural identity and diversity as key reference points for development; these factors are currently endangered, yet vital.  There is therefore a need to reassess the role of heritage in a constructive way.

The concept of heritage, which ranges from designated historic monuments to a jumble of memories, first needs a clear definition which identifies its inherent nature and sets out its boundaries and limits, now and in the future.

As it would be impossible to cover all these issues at the Symposium, it is proposed to focus on the following four issues, chosen for their fundamental importance or contemporary relevance …

Arles, France - Photograph 1

Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2009-08-14. Click to enlarge.

1.   Regional Development

As more and more people abandon small towns and the countryside, migrating to large conurbations, urban development has become anarchic, ad-hoc and difficult to control.  This has already had serious, even catastrophic, results … in particular:

-   The disruption of spatial scale and the loss of landmarks ;

-   The breakdown of social relationships, loss of communal solidarity, concerns over security, extremist and violent demonstrations ;

-   An imbalance between the city – where most concerns now focus and where most development projects take place – and the countryside, where the issue is no longer merely rural decline, but rather the complete socio-economic and cultural collapse of forgotten populations ;

-   The squandering and trivialization of space, which is a non-renewable resource, and in particular the loss of landscapes and farmland, resulting from both extensive urban encroachment and land being left to lie fallow.

It is vital to return to a more balanced form of development.  This will be achieved by replacing the principle of urban expansion with that of regional development, which takes into account both the countryside and secondary urban centres (small and medium-sized towns), as part of a balanced network.  In this context, lessons from our heritage will again be valued as an inspiration for new developments: time-honoured frameworks, traditional plot sizes, methods of organization (urban historic core zones), communication (by land - rail - water), and energy generation (small-scale solar and hydroelectric power stations), etc.

Arles, France - Photograph 2

Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2009-08-14. Click to enlarge.

2.   Sustainable (Human & Social) Development – Return to the Art of Building !

The second half of the 20th Century was marked by the frantic exploitation of fossil fuels and is credited with the international spread of Western lifestyles and buildings, said to represent ‘progress’ but nevertheless creating a decisive break with traditional models.  The goals we have today for energy saving and recycling require a fundamental change in the character of both new and old buildings, in line with the following three points:

-   Expertise in Re-Use.  Until the 1950′s, heritage buildings – especially vernacular ones – provided countless examples of successful adaptation to the physical environment (location, orientation, protection from sun, wind, and climate); use of local materials (earth - wood - stone, etc.); traditional techniques providing / guaranteeing the greatest opportunities to acquire and perfect artisanal skills; and an optimum capacity for recycling.  The resulting buildings address today’s requirements for sustainable development particularly well.  Where historic buildings are capable of residential re-use according to modern sustainability criteria, we must be able to measure and maximise their current performance before adapting them according to new artificial design standards.

-   Expertise in Building.  In terms of new construction, recent examples have shown the ability of traditional practices to create architecture that is indisputably creative and modern/contemporary, and offer an alternative to artificial solutions proposed in response to new standards.

-   Adapting to Sustainable Living.  Rather than putting the entire onus on the built heritage, we must question our expectations about comfort and utilization.  We need to abandon attempts to use sites for activities for which they are fundamentally not suited; modify usage according to the seasons (closing down places that are difficult to heat in winter); and, finally, reconsider our demands in terms of comfort, which have grown excessively and unreasonably over the last decades.  The progress that would be made in the fields of environmental and public health is well known.

Arles, France - Photograph 3

Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2009-08-14. Click to enlarge.

3.   Development and Tourism

Heritage is a major part of the tourist industry, but at the same time, because of the mass consumption to which it is increasingly subject, it runs the risk of becoming meaningless, by fluctuating between preservation of museum pieces and theme-park caricatures.  Cut off from its context, the real significance of heritage is drowned out by a feeble reflection, and its very nature is altered by excessive numbers of visitors and the facilities installed for them.

Several courses of action are available, among others:

-   Rendering identification with cultural heritage tangible … by revealing and interpreting heritage in all the richness of its context and distinctiveness, and by encouraging public awareness of history through education and the wider media.

-   Controlling public access … so as both to limit physical erosion and to ensure the comfort of visitors and provide the best conditions for them to understand and appreciate the value of heritage.  Some preliminary reports on trials successfully undertaken at a number of buildings and Grands Sites [designated French cultural landscapes] may help in developing guidelines.

Arles, France - Photograph 4

Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2009-08-14. Click to enlarge.

4.   Economics of Development

“The Amphitheatre at Nîmes and the Pont du Gard have brought more to France than they ever cost the Romans.”  This quotation from Abbé Grégoire in the second year of the French Republic remains valid today.  Investment in our heritage produces particularly attractive returns.  The cultural sector fully understands this, but adopts methods that tend to be rather commercial.

This investment must be better directed, by identifying targets and striving more for qualitative results rather than short-term profits.

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