Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat

CTBUH Fire Performance of Façades Workshop Generates Vigorous Discussion
Sunday, 29 October 2017

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See more workshops from the CTBUH 2017 Australia Conference
See more from the CTBUH Fire Performance of Façades Working Group

SYDNEY – One day before the CTBUH 2017 Australia Conference, delegates convened at the University of Sydney facilities in Darlington for the Fire Performance of Façades workshop. They were met with tea, coffee, and biscuits and welcomed by Priyan Mendis, Professor in the Department of Infrastructure Engineering, University of Melbourne, the event’s organizer.

The workshop was co-chaired by David Scott, Principal, Arup, and chairman of the CTBUH Working Group on Fire and Façades, and Simon Lay, Director, Olsson Fire & Risk, and co-founder of the Working Group.  

Scott set the scene for the discussions by outlining the importance of façades when it comes to fire safety in the tall building community. He stated that competency is a key challenge, and suggested the need for Registered Fire Engineers, just as Professional Engineers (PEs) are registered in the United States. The industry also needs clarity on the direction competency exercises should take, he added. “Once we have a clear way forward, we need to decide how and if we need to upgrade existing building stock, much in the same way that buildings are upgraded after earthquakes,” Scott said.
The workshop attendees gathering outside for a group photo.

Kate Nguyen, Professor in the Department of Infrastructure, University of Melbourne, then gave a compelling presentation in which she debated whether or not combustible materials in façades should be banned. Her ideas were very well received, and generated much discussion.

Just off a plane from London, Lay delivered a rousing presentation titled A Regulatory View of Façade Fires, in which he demonstrated how fire regulations had resulted in massive improvements in life safety over the last 30 years. He did, however, express concerns as to the competence within the industry from a design and construction perspective.

“The weakness of our regulatory frameworks calls into question our ability to deliver, in large volume, the complex modern buildings and refurbishments found in today’s cities,” Lay said.

Gary Strong, Director of Standards and Technical Guidance, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), then delivered an in-depth analysis of the systematic failure of regulations that had contributed to the Grenfell fire. He described the reviews and enquiries that have come from the fire, as well as the initial feedback and observations, and concluded that there has never been a greater need for international fire safety standards that apply equally around the globe.  

The final presentation of the morning came from Jeff Harper, Vice President of Business Development, Jensen Hughes, who outlined the United States’ perspective on the issue, and previewed the variety of initiatives already underway, such as the fire risk assessment that

Gary Strong, Director of Standards and Technical Guidance, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) presenting to the crowd.

Jensen Hughes and Arup are conducting for the National Fire Protection Association.

After four thought-provoking presentations, attendees broke for coffee and a group photograph. After the recess, a discussion ensued, focusing on a few key issues.

First, there was a vigorous debate as to whether combustible façade materials should be banned, with the majority of the group eventually deciding it was impractical. However, several attendees thought it appropriate to ban them until there was a clearer understanding of risk. The group agreed that the industry must continue thinking about non-combustible alternatives and tracking potential solutions.

The discussion then pivoted to CTBUH’s role in fire safety for tall buildings, concentrating on how CTBUH could help guide the industry forward and support the development of refurbishment and upgrading strategies.

Attendees engaging in debate.

Further issues discussed concerned the dispelling of myths, such as the slew of wild claims and accusations aired following the Grenfell fire, and the ways in which CTBUH could work to create a more rational and productive debate. The need for more testing was also touched upon, with several people noting that as soon as a new standard is set, some manufacturers will go to great lengths to circumvent it via a single, difficult-to-repeat test. The way to avoid this, the group posited, was through batch testing from projects.

The group concluded that while there was still a long way to go in developing a generic solution, the ideas discussed during the workshop were a strong start.

Guy Ori Almog Yam Suf Holdings
Meir Twik ANAK Group
Kerryn Coker Arup
Li Yang Aurecon
Sam Wong Carey Group Plc
Carmelo Casas Casas + Architects
Gwen Tan Dow Corning Corporation
David Shultis Elenberg Fraser
Jeff Harper Jensen Hughes
David Scott Laing O'Rourke
Francisco Garcia Marioff Corporation Oy
Simon Lay Olsson Fire & Risk
Marc Zobec Permasteelisa Group
Toby Miller Prism Facades
Heather Webster Prism Facades
Budi Sumaatmadja Prism Facades
Gary Strong Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
Damith Mohotti The University of Sydney
Priyan Mendis The University of Sydney
Kate Nguyen University of Melbourne
Terri Meyer Boake University of Waterloo
Masaki Lee YKK AP Façade Pte Ltd
Charles Fortin CM+A
Rick Chan Hilti (China) Distribution Ltd.