Chris Peters, our Chief Design Manager, looks at how far advanced glazing systems have come.
We think of fires as uncommon events, but they’re not as uncommon as you might guess.
Because fire and rescue services attended 573,221 incidents in the year to June 2019. This was a 2% increase compared with the previous year.
Of course, not all those incidents were fires and many were false or malicious alarms.
But, tragically, there were 268 fire-related fatalities in the year ending June 2019 compared with 253 in the previous year. That’s an an increase of 6%.
However, over a longer period, the general trend is that loss of life is decreasing.
Partly that’s because of more and better passive fire systems to detect the presence of fire. It’s also down to active systems, such as sprinklers, to deal with it.
But detection and dousing aren’t the only weapons in the fight against fire. Another important element is containment. In other words, preventing the fire from spreading too far from its point of origin.
Designing in containment can be challenging because a building can only function properly if people are able to move around it freely. That, of course, means doors and windows – the so-called weak points through which fire and toxic gas can flow.
Well, weak points they might once have been. Now, specialist fire-resistant glazing systems allow for virtually any architectural concept to become a reality.
The advances made in glass and framing technology have also been fuelled by increasingly stringent building regulations. Post-Grenfell, there will no doubt be further regulation.
The requirements of building regulations are that buildings should be subdivided into what are called ‘fire compartments.’ The objective is to limit the size of the fire that can develop by imposing horizontal and vertical boundaries.
The other aspect of modern building regulation is that there must be adequate means of escape in the event of fire. To ensure this, escape corridors and stairways need to be properly protected.
All the systems we manufacture have been tested to European, US and Asian standards because we are an international business.
The way they’re tested and, if successful, certified is to expose the element to a simulated fire by means of special furnaces.
The furnace temperature is raised to over 500 degrees Centigrade within five minutes. Then, onwards and upwards, to 1000 degrees Centigrade at 120 minutes. The two performance requirements are ‘integrity’ or ‘integrity and insulation.’
Integrity is the ability of a separating element to remain solid, thereby preventing the passage of flame or hot gases. Integrity also relates to the ability of a load-bearing element to remain stable – in other words, to resist collapse.
Insulation is the ability of the separating element to resist heat conduction from the fire-side to the non-fire side. This ensures that intense heat cannot pass though the element and set fire to material on the safe side.
What’s important is that the glass and its framing system must be tested as one integrated unit. Put the right glass into the wrong frame, and you could be turning sixty minutes of fire-resistance into five minutes. In an evacuation situation, getting the design wrong at the outset could be a costly – and deadly – mistake.
We’ve come a long way in meeting the evolving design requirements of architects and the increasing stringency of building regulations. Simply, the new glass and framing technologies mean that the impossible is now possible.
At Wrightstyle, we have also designed and tested advanced glazing systems to withstand blast forces hitherto undreamed of. That means, for most buildings, even the most sensitive, glass remains not only the most aesthetically-pleasing option – but can also be the safest.
The eloquence of a modern building lies in the subtle balance between form and function and how the imagination of the design team can be translated from computer screen to bricks and mortar.
My message to architects and designers is to think of glass not only as an aesthetic medium but as a means of taking imagination off the drawing board.
That includes even the most sensitive or difficult of applications where fire or blast safety is paramount. Then challenge our design team at Wrightstyle to make it happen.
As far as our advanced systems are concerned, almost nothing is impossible.