Jane Embury looks at fire and shopping centres
Now that lockdown restrictions are being eased, retail therapy is back on the agenda.
We’ve all missed going to the shops, and shops have missed us. But for some, the easing of lockdown has come too late.
The Centre for Retail Research says that this year, to the end of April, over 1,500 shops have closed and over 25,000 employees affected.
In 2020, it was over 5,000 shops and well over 100,000 employees. It’s predicted that closures will continue as government support winds down. Also, well over 20% of all retail sales are now online.
It’s a sector that spans everything from the smallest of corner shops to the largest of shopping centres.
Of the latter, the biggest of them all is the Iran Mall in Tehran. It covers over 19 million square metres of leasable space. In the top five worldwide, three are in China.
The largest in the UK, the Westfield shopping centre in west London, can only manage a paltry 235,900 square metres. It took the biggest crown from Gateshead’s Metrocentre, this year celebrating its 50th birthday, at 192,900 square metres.
But large or small, fire safety remains the highest priority, an aspect of building design that, quite simply, is what we do.
We don’t often think about fire when we go to the shops, but they do happen.
In 2018, at least 64 people died in a shopping centre fire in the Siberian city of Kemerovo. Forty-one of them were children.
The fact is that retail fires account for about 10% of “large fire losses.” Of those, some 20% are in shopping centres. Many are started deliberately.
In a shopping centre, responsibility for fire safety can be complex. The shopping centre management team will have responsibility for communal areas.
But individual retailers have responsibility for their own premises, and they must legally carry out a Fire Risk Assessment (FRA).
The issue of fire safety in shopping centres is one that we have addressed with a recent, and ground-breaking, fire test.
Because most fire-safety glazing systems only provide protection from a high-risk to a low-risk area.
But fire, dangerous and unpredictable, can break out anywhere, including in low-risk areas.
The test, with the exterior surface facing into the furnace, delivered 148 minutes of integrity and insulation. Most importantly, that fire protection is dual directional.
As lockdown eases, the next normal for the retail sector will be to create space, or the illusion of space.
They’ll have to resort to clever interior design to maximise display areas. Interior design will also create subtle barriers to prevent crowding.
The new retail will make better use of light, including ambient light, to create a sense of space. It will also incorporate air purification and ventilation.
That means rethinking internal spaces, and building a new kind of retail environment in which shoppers will feel safe. A legacy of Covid-19 is that we will no longer feel comfortable in smaller enclosed spaces.
We’ll be part of that process of redesign because our glazing systems allow light to flood through internal spaces.
Our latest fire test is our guarantee that our systems, complete and tested, will only allow light to spread.
Photo: Ocean Terminal, Edinburgh, a retail development incorporating our large-span glazing systems.