Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat

YPC Presentation and Panel Discussion: Decoding NYC High Rise Building Codes
December 15, 2015
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NEW YORK CITY – On December 15th, CTBUH NYC Young Professionals Committee (YPC) organized a panel discussion called “Decoding NYC High Rise Building Codes.” The event started with a half an hour of networking, followed by an introduction by the co-chairs of the New York CTBUH YPC: Architectural Designer at KPF Ilkay Can-Standard, and Structural Design Engineer at Salvia/McNamara Hardik Doshi. The chairs discussed CTBUH and the committees and working groups under the organization, as well as upcoming events.
The panel discussion took place at Thornton Tomasetti's office in Midtown Manhattan and was comprised of three experts on high rise building codes: Technical Advisor to the First Deputy Commissioner at NYC’s Department of Buildings Keith L. Wen, RA; Counsel Member at Bryan Cave and Former Assistant Commissioner for Technical Affairs and Code Development at the NYC Department of Buildings James Colgate, AIA, Esq.; and Director of the Fire and Life Safety and Code Consulting Team for Buro Happold in New York City, Carl Keogh. Carl was also part of the NYC Department of Buildings Committee involved in the production of the 2014 NYC Building Code as well as sitting on both the CTBUH Fire Working Group and the Society of Fire Protection Engineers ‘High Rise Task Force.’ Architect with Adamson Associates, and member of the International Code Council, Keith C. Barnes, AIA, moderated the panel discussion. More than 75 persons, including architects, engineers, developers, and consultants attended the event and participated in the lively panel discussion with questions and commentary.
As buildings become more vertical, developing and integrating new and improved life safety systems for the protection of tall building inhabitants is becoming increasingly relevant.  The 2014 NYC Building Code includes a number of provisions that enhance the life safety systems for high-rise buildings built in New York City.  One of the goals of the CTBUH panel discussion was to highlight some of these major enhancements.

The event opened with a presentation and slideshow from Wen. The presentation and panel-discussion focused on three major provisions in the high-rise building codes: fire service access elevators (FSAE), additional (redundant) stairways, and occupant evacuation elevators (OEE).

Following the World Trade Center Disaster in 2001, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) – a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Government – conducted a number of investigations to determine the cause and contributors to the collapse and substantial loss of life that occurred. The report also included about thirty recommendations for improved building and occupant safety, which have resulted in many of the new life-safety provisions included in the high-rise sections of the International Building Code (IBC) and the NYC Building Code – the focuses of this panel discussion.
From Left: Panelists Carl Keogh, Director of Fire and Life Safety and Code Consulting Team, Buro Happold, James Colgate, Counsel Member, Bryan Cave, Keith L. Wen, Technical Adviser, NYC Department of Buildings and Keith C. Barnes, Architect, Adamson Associates

The amount of time firefighters spend traversing the stairs to the scene of an emergency could waste the precious time needed to extinguish a fire or perform rescue operations. FSAEs intended for use by fire department personnel to travel up a building faster than they could by climbing the stairs.  FSAEs, adopted from the IBC, are now a requirement in buildings with an occupied floor level higher than 120' above the lowest level of fire department access.

For buildings that are taller than 420' that are not multi-family residential, the NYC Building Code requires an additional (redundant) stairway beyond the number required in the standard means of egress system.  There are exceptions to this requirement for buildings that provide a prescribed number of OEEs – elevators that can be used by building occupants to evacuate themselves in the event of an emergency.  When working on a building taller than 420,’ designers have the choice to provide the additional stairway or the code-prescribed number of OEEs – a new standard to both the 2014 NYC Building Code and the 2015 IBC. 

The panelists were asked a number of questions regarding the elevator lobby requirements, (including sizing, fire/smoke protection, and hoistway water protection) for FSAEs and OEEs.  There was also a lively discussion focused on the need to train and educate building occupants on how to properly use OEEs in the event of an emergency, since common knowledge is to evacuate through stairwells.  There was also discussion regarding the number of OEEs required to replace the additional (redundant) stairway and its application in a mixed-use building with an un-proportionally high number of occupants on an upper floor. A couple of questions were asked regarding where the NYC Building Code diverges from the IBC, such as the IBC requirement that the Fire Command Center be in a contained room. 

The one-and-a-half hours that were allocated for the panel discussion were quickly used up and all of the attendees were extremely grateful to the panelists for volunteering their time and sharing their expertise with the community.

CTBUH would like to thank the New York City office of Thornton Tomasetti for hosting the event and for YPC member Keith C. Barnes, Architect, Adamson Associates for his inspiration in organizing and moderating the event. CTBUH would also like to thank YPC Steering Committee Members Larry Giannechini, Senior Engineer, Thornton Tomasetti and Elizabeth Geldres, Architect, Rafael Viñoly Architects for helping organize all logistics for the event.