High Rise, High Fires

by on 06/01/16 at 2:13 am

The_Address_during_fire_31dec2015 - 270◄ Last year ended with The Address Hotel in Dubai if not exactly going up in flames certainly having a rather interesting fire. On my last visit to Dubai I nearly stayed in The Address, but instead ended up in the Dubai Creek Hilton.

The interesting thing about this fire is that it’s only the latest of a number of high rise fires in Dubai, all most probably caused by external cladding that simply isn’t as flame proof as it should be. These fire-prone buildings are ‘killers in waiting’ according to an article in the Daily Telegraph in London.

As many as 70% of Dubai’s high rises could be waiting to go up in flames, but the danger isn’t restricted to the Middle East’s capital of bling. In 2014 the Lacrosse apartment complex next to the Etihad Stadium in Melbourne’s Docklands suffered a remarkably similar external fire also blamed on dangerous external cladding.



As in Dubai there were no fatalities, but the arguments over who will have to pay to bring the building up to spec continues over a year later. The owners? The developer? The builder? Well the lawyers will clearly do OK. The fire revealed that many of the apartments in the building were seriously overcrowded, often by overseas students crammed into what had become an instant vertical slum.

Etihad Stadium & Lacrosse Building▲ Etihad Stadium & the Lacrosse Building, Melbourne, Australia

1989 - city skyline - 270Flammable cladding is a remarkably similar story to the ‘falling tiles’ and ‘concrete cancer’ problems which afflicted buildings in the last century. Warwick University, where I studied engineering, has just had its ‘50th birthday, but the white-tiled buildings the university started with in the mid to-late ‘60s were soon shedding their tiles.

Nauru House (now 80 Collins St), the highest buildings in Melbourne when it was completed in 1977, was also soon shedding its cladding. In this case the whole pebble-concrete façade was covered with a new matte-gray aluminium covering, slid down over the 52-storey building like a $30 million condom between 1994 and 1996. I took this photo in 1988 so presumably the original façade was still there. ►

In the mid-90s I lived in the Marais in Paris and the Bastille Opera House was suffering a similar problem with tiles coming unstuck and showering the sidewalks below.

Place de la Bastille, the July Column (commemorating the 1830 Revolution) and the Opéra Bastille. ▼Place de la Bastille, July Column, Opera Bastille - 540