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What every architect should know about providing fire safety information
Every architect should be aware that preparing a fire safety strategy for a building is a requirement of Building Regulations. However, reports suggest there is little consistency over what information is being handed over in practice.
Crucially for architects, one of the requirements for the classes of building is that any design assumptions that have an impact on fire safety, and all fire safety measures incorporated into the building (passive and active), should be clearly documented.
All of this raises another important issue for architects and designers: whether their specifications are compromised during construction by contractors or cost-consultants – especially on Design & Build projects. Design quality being compromised at the construction phase is a common complaint, but when it comes to fire safety, changes can have life-threatening consequences.
Clear warnings would be made that any changes to specifically marked items would require revised Building Regulations and CDM approval for the project, in the expectation that contractors would want to avoid the inevitable delays this would entail.
Northampton-based practice Morton Wykes Kramer has started taking an approach by highlighting ‘must have’ elements of design specification, both for fire safety and for elements of thermal performance.
‘We’ve addressed this by listing all of the “must-haves” at the front of the specification document. We can put it on the table at a pre-contract meeting and make it clear these things are really important and should not be changed,’ says director Dominic Kramer.
The practice adopted this approach after some of its Passivhaus projects were compromised by a quantity surveyor making product substitutions that meant thermal performance calculations went out of the window. But the strategy lends itself equally well to fire safety measures that must be included if the wider fire strategy is not to be undermined.
While Kramer recognises that while a contractor will probably always look for cheaper components, the aim is to establish some no-go areas. ‘A specification document might run to 300 pages, so we highlighted which bits are crucial,’ he explains. ‘The contractor cannot then turn around later when there is a problem and ask “Where did you say that?”.’
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