Illustration of the requirements of architectural design (Ill. by Amani Habbal)
Illustration of the requirements of architectural design (Ill. by Amani Habbal)

Architects & Fire Safety Engineers; Common Grounds

DEBATT: A Holistic Approach to Integrate Fire Safety Requirements within Building Design.

Publisert Sist oppdatert

As the world is steadily moving into the age of sustainability and environmental protection, working “smarter” rather than “harder” is coming into play. There will be an increasing need for professionals with a broader vision and multidisciplinary knowledge. This will be consequently saving unnecessary time, money, and efforts- thus being more sustainable. This article sheds light at methods of bridging the gap between the disciplines of architecture and fire safety engineering in the workplace, eventually reaching common grounds. Architects and fire safety engineers almost always find themselves on opposing sides, affecting both of their works’ efficiency and resulting in redundant time spent on amending designs. In some cases, the relationship between the two professions is quite faulty, as each perceives the other as trying to sabotage their work.

This article is a summary of a thesis in partial fulfillment of an MSc degree in Fire Safety Engineering at Western Norway University of Applied Sciences in Haugesund, Norway. The study concludes with the necessity of a holistic approach to architectural design. That approach will allow architects to realize the importance of involving fire safety engineers in all design phases, especially in the early design stage. Both, architects and fire safety engineers, will benefit from increased dialogue between the two professions – ultimately affecting the building design itself. Learning about each other’s’ roles in design will lead to designing functional, aesthetically pleasing, cost-effective, and ultimately safer buildings.

As architects, we tend to think aesthetically, yet always having functionality and usability in mind. This usually leads to issues with “engineering” minded people, such as civil and mechanical engineers. Studying fire safety made me realize the criticality of architectural design to fire safety just as much as other engineering disciplines. That left me questioning the connection between building design and fire safety, and thus; the relationship between architects and fire safety engineers. Even though architects tend to review main fire codes and work with fire safety engineers, the collaboration between the two disciplines is so minimal that it leads to a mis-informed and unoptimized approach to fire safety. A system that could use up some improvement.

The BRE (Building Research Establishment) Centre for Fire Safety Engineering:

A research group at The Institute of Infrastructure and Environment, University of Edinburgh conducting research in fire, structures and environment.

In 2011, a collaboration initiative between the BRE Centre for Fire Safety Engineering and Foster + Partners (se faktaboks) resulted in a member of the former joining the team of Foster + Partners in Edinburgh, UK for 8 months. His role was to aid the designers in creating inherently safer buildings in terms of fire safety. The original thought was that the fire safety engineer would solve arising fire issues for the design team. “The ‘In-House Fire Safety Engineer’ would become known as the ‘Fire Safety Advisor’ or more simply, the ‘Fire Guy’.” The experience demonstrated the potential, and perhaps the need, for a new role in fire safety. A job which requires a comprehensive overall perspective and capability to relay specific technical information to design teams. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of individuals who have the necessary knowledge to fulfil a double role. Thus, the addition of a fire safety advisor to an existing design team would lay the bedrock for the consideration of various variables from the initiation of the design process, including fire safety. This, in turn, would allow designers to fundamentally, positively alter the design to produce better designs.

The intention is exposing architects to the concept of a holistic approach to safety requirements, including fire safety, thus allowing them to realize the importance of involving fire safety engineers in all design phases, especially in the early design stage. Both, architects and fire safety engineers, will benefit from increased dialogue between the two professions – ultimately affecting the building design itself. Learning about each other’s’ roles in design will lead to designing functional, aesthetically pleasing, cost-effective, and ultimately safer buildings.

Working together, architects and engineers can come up with design solutions that are better than their individual ones. Exchanging knowledge and information, especially at the early stages of a project, eventually leads to better buildings. The technical input that an engineer can provide is much more useful when improving building energy efficiency is considered. Architects might have a limited knowledge in the availability of options for fire safety design, be it prescriptive, performance based, or a mixture, besides continuous developments in fire science and simulation technologies. Furthermore, they might not be fully aware of how their different design features can affect the fire safety performance of a building.

Thus, Fire Protection Engineers should help architects understand their role in fire safety, while recognizing them as key players in that, as they could – relatively easily- embed fire safety design into their architectural approach. Architects could highly benefit from an integration of fire safety principles into their education and trainings. For instance, well distributed exits throughout a floor plan, according to location of occupancies, number of users, and occupant flow, can decrease the required egress times.

Fire safety design is of utmost important. Early fire and life safety input is key in building design; generally speaking, architectural compliance with the building codes should normally be achieved at the concept design stage of a project.

Both fire engineers and architects need to recognize each other as key players in the design process, thus making sure that they essential elements of a holistic building design are fulfilled. This results in improved overall efficiency and reduced unproductive work downstream for all other disciplines within the design team. One must invest in specialized expertise throughout all stages of a building’s life cycle. This ranges from early conceptual design to construction, to usage, to ongoing and regular assessment throughout the full building life cycle. This would ensure that the original fire safety strategy is being maintained and the integrity of the buildings performance in a fire is maintained.

Through education, both architects and fire engineers need to learn more about each other’s’ work, priorities, and requirements. Through practice, putting both professions together in the workplace and having them work closely on projects will eventually yield more educated professionals that understand each other’s requirements and can work effectively together.