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Fire protection demands threaten to stifle design innovation


ENGINEERS FEAR their efforts to produce innovative tall building designs will be stifled following publication of NIST's comprehensive report into the World Trade Center tower collapses in 2001.

The US National Institute of Standards & Technology report on the 9/11 attacks makes 30 recommendations, many relating to fire protection improvements.

One of the recommendations calls for US-wide adoption of the 'structural frame' approach to fire resistance ratings, whereby all structural members must carry the same fire rating.This is expected to make American designs more conservative.

Designers in the UK and the US have warned that this could halt efforts to push the boundaries of tall building design.

'America lags behind the UK in terms of what we are doing to reduce fire protection and any attempt to push that boundary will be met with some resistance, ' said Yolles director of structures Richard Thiemann.

Yolles works on both sides of the Atlantic.

'It does mean you're going to get some very over-engineered buildings which is a price people are willing to pay for perceived improvements in safety.' In Europe, engineers believe the effect of the recommendations will be less severe but will still put pressure on engineers to raise standards. Already, UK engineers are facing greater pressure to justify cutting edge 'fire engineered' tall building designs.

'We are good at designing down fire protection. You can be taking out 50% of fire protection but still maintain building integrity. The savings can be quite signifi cant, ' said Thiemann.

'But you can't be seen to be doing anything less than the top level of care. Clients and tenants will be scrutinising decisions more carefully. So the standard of fire engineering will have to improve. It will simply have to become a more technical, skilled art, ' he said.

Buro Happold partner Mick Green agreed. 'With he right applications and research, we can design buildings that can withstand fire, ' he said.

Jacobs Babtie director Gordon Masterton agreed that the report will increase the importance of fire safety engineering.

'Getting architects and engineers to understand fire safety engineering is the most important thing, ' he said.

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