As most people celebrated on New Year’s Eve on 31 December 2015 those around the luxury Dubai hotel The Address watched as a fire engulfed the façade of the 63 story hotel. The extent of the fire exceeded the capacity of regular sprinkler systems and the building’s sprinkler system was exhausted after 15 minutes.
Despite all this the internal fire-rated systems and the hard work of civil defence teams meant that there were no fire-related deaths and only 16 people were injured.
Beside the level of damage to the hotel, this event is notable because it is the latest in a number of façade fires around the Gulf, and highlights the inherent risks in buildings constructed in the UAE before 2013.
There has been a long-standing requirement for UAE building envelopes to be fire-rated (made of fire-resistant products) but until recently this requirement did not extend to cladding materials. This situation was rectified in 2012 (following a similar building fire in Sharjah) and the façade materials on all new buildings must be fire-rated (we note that the façade does not start the fire, the risk is that the façade facilitates it).
The recent law change does not apply retrospectively and this leaves the risk that a buildings constructed during Dubai’s boom period (2000 – 2010) may be fitted with at-risk façade panelling.
Parallels can be drawn with New Zealand’s leaky building syndrome. Now that the issue has been identified (and regulated against) it may take some time for building owners to remedy the situation.
There are a number of agents supplying fire-rated materials in the UAE and hopefully the building owners take this opportunity to review their façades and make amendments where necessary.