One of the most critical issues for architects is to ensure that the building designs address the fire safety norms. Unfortunately, there have been several devastating fire occurrences in important locations around the world. A recent prominent fire tragedy took place at the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in London on June 14, 2017, shattered the world. Many people lost their lives and several others were injured. Grenfell Tower footage showed the fire spreading up one side of the building externally, before engulfing the entire block. It was touted to be Britain’s deadliest fire in decades.
Similar fire disaster happened at the Address Hotel, Dubai on Jan 1, 2016 where fortunately, no causality was reported. In both the investigations, it was revealed that the external facade was made up of a cheaper aluminium type (ACP) of cladding acting as a fire resistant. Additionally, cladding can create cavities in some cases and can cause a chimney effect, drawing flames up the cavity if there are no firewalls.
What is ACP?
Aluminium Composite Panel is any structure made of three layers: a low-density core and a thin skin-layer bonded to each side. The materials used in the core and skin may vary. The core may be a honeycomb or a solid filling of plastic building materials. ACPs are extensively used on the outer facade of buildings because of two reasons –
- The outer facade can be furbished in less time.
- They are low on maintenance as compared to other alternatives.
Initially, ACPs manufactured were non-combustible in nature. With the growing popularity and global demand, mass production kicked off in different parts of the world, consequently compromising on the quality of the product. Building material manufacturers started adding combustible ingredients like plastic in the production of ACP, thus making it available cheap in the market.
Poor Status of Cladding Systems Across the World:
A majority of the external cladding systems currently in use all over the world pose a serious threat to life or property in the event of a fire mishap. At any point in time, there will be combustible insulation present, open voids behind cladding and absence of fire stopping at floor levels, compounding the risk. Hence, it is peak time we got rid of the use of ACPs during the construction process.
Conscious Efforts Towards Fire Safety:
Although, it is hard to predict owners voluntarily getting rid of the entire existing aluminium composite panel facades and replacing them with fire resistant panels, as the costs will escalate. Adoption of partial replacement with adequate barrier bands of fire resistant board could prevent the fire from spreading. Moreover, there are some conscious builders who have already started removal of all ACPs used in old buildings in the interest of the safety of the occupants, employees and visitors.
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