Jane Embury, director, looks at a recent fire test and dual-directional fire safety in atria.
It was the Romans who first made atria fashionable, and gave it the name by which we still know them. Their domestic version was an open central courtyard, often with a sunken pool to catch rainwater.
Today, atria remain a popular design feature in large office or hotel spaces. They allow light to flood in and lend a building with a sense of space.
However, atria bring a special set of protective challenges. They can act as a chimney providing an easy route for heat, fire and gases to spread from the seat of a fire.
Today, it is internal curtain walling that provides the design solution, allowing for compartmentation between floors.
Wrightstyle is an acknowledged specialist in the design and fabrication of steel and glass systems for both internal and external applications.
Now, we have conducted a ground-breaking fire test to deliver dual-directional fire safety.
Until now, advanced glazing systems have traditionally been specified for fire resistance in one direction only.
But fires can to start on either side of a glazed assembly. Therefore, dual-directional safety can be an important safety factor, particularly in atria.
Underlining the successful test, target performance was to achieve EI120 (120 minutes integrity and insulation).
The test ran for 148 minutes, exceeding the target performance of 120 minutes of integrity and insulation (EI120).
Such a comfortable overrun (23%) is rare in high-performance tests, and underlines the safety characteristics of the Wrightstyle system.
The test was carried out with the exterior building surface facing into the furnace. This made it significantly more demanding on the system components.
Wrightstyle has supplied to atria projects both in the UK and internationally, including Bridgewater House in Bristol, a large office building. It is set around a 5-storey, 3-sided glass atrium.
Another is Here East, a major London project. It transformed the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics media centre into a hub for the creative and digital industries.
Also in the public sector, Wrightstyle supplied systems for the London Borough of Brent’s new Civic Centre. It was the UK’s first “outstanding” BREEAM rated public building,
Wrightstyle’s latest fire test underlines the company’s curtain walling system as an ideal solution in places where a high level of integrity and insulation is required.
It also represents a significant advance in providing fire protection between high risk areas such as car parks and lower risk areas such as offices.
The safety of atria in building design was first highlighted in 1942 when fire broke out at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Boston.
In all, 492 people died, as fire and toxic fumes spread unchecked to upper levels of the club. It remains America’s worst nightclub fire.
However, the lessons learned didn’t stop there. In 1980, fire broke out at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas.
Some 84 people died, many from smoke inhalation. While the fire primarily only damaged the second floor, most of the deaths occurred on the upper floors. Toxic smoke was allowed to spread upwards.
Our systems are designed to contain smoke, fire and gases at source. They minimise damage and maintain a means of escape for that building’s occupants.
Today, it is internal curtain walling that provides the design solution, allowing for large expanses of glazing to be safely and cost-effectively achieved.
Building and fire regulations have come a long way since then to mitigate against the fire threat posed by atria. However, it’s taken an enormous loss of human lives to achieve them.
Wrightstyle’s latest fire test now takes fire safety to another level.
Photo: Here East