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John Lewis Building

Clipping and Musings – June 2017 – Helen Duval

Without doubt, these have to be some of the toughest times and challenges we have faced recently across the UK.

With high rise living now clustering the skyline today, not just in London but across the UK, it is deeply distressing to see the horrors brought about by the tower block fire in Kensington this month. In today’s world of stringent health and safety standards, surely we have the ability to prevent this?

Passive safety clearly failed but just how could the fire spread so quickly through Grenfell Tower? There is speculation that the cladding on the outside of the building was the major contributing factor and no doubt this will be clarified over the coming weeks.

Undoubtedly there will be unique issues regarding the complexity of the problems, but surely good design and careful maintenance go hand in hand?

Meticulous checks will of course, take place, but questions must now be asked about fire loads on high rise blocks. The fire quickly overcame whatever fire safety precautions were in place, and whilst that may be a combination of factors, that type of cladding is common on high rise buildings around the world.

Emotions naturally would have been running high with residents and many others, who like all of us, feel angry that failure to listen to pleas regarding health and safety has left so many utterly devastated. In a country with some of the most stringent fire regulations in the world, this type of fire just should not occur. Whilst some have lost their home others have lost so very much more.

In this sector maintaining the highest standards, particularly in relation to fire safety, is considered a priority with great pride expressed by companies across the board, regarding the extra measures taken to provide lasting guarantees.

It does beg a question however, about what exactly went wrong and whether all building regulations were followed? The onus being on the owner of the building to ensure that all fire, health and safety aspects conform, it could well demonstrate massive weaknesses or loopholes in the legislative system. Although at the time of writing no-one yet understands the cause and how it initially spread, one thing seems certain, – the building did not perform the way it should if regulations had been followed. Furthermore, it is chilling to consider the possible negligence and worse, that may have been caused by a few, unscrupulous people who put profit above people.

Aiming To Keep Things Cleaner

With an eye on building performance, the Government has stated that it will review policies regarding building safety and energy efficiency. Likewise, in terms of carbon emissions, the UK must reduce carbon emissions by 80% with one third of those emissions currently relating to heating draughty buildings. This translates to 25 million homes needing refurbishment to the highest standards by 2050.

Ministers have been criticised for not initiating a better national home renovation programme quickly enough, which would enable thousands of people to benefit from cheaper bills and improved living standards.

With some of the worst housing stock in Europe, repeatedly governments have been condemned for failing to tackle the issues properly.

Local authorities have limited funds for insulating council homes, while landlords and owner-occupiers seem to have been resistant regarding investments in improvements that will save on bills for occupiers, but which will take many years to pay off.

According to UK Green Building Council (UK-GBC) however, they have great ambitions with a 10 year plan that demonstrates their commitment to put pressure on governments and assist the building sector, bringing some much needed changes into effect.

With an intention of deepening technical understanding across the board through courses, seminars and online teaching, the UK-GBC will attempt to tackle skill shortage issues and continue to offer customised solutions that will upskill staff.

The group intends to maintain its policy of informing and influencing government policy on a national level, by encouraging collaboration between the policy-makers and private corporations.

Julie Hirigoyen, recently commented: “People will have warmer homes and lower bills; they will live longer, happier lives; we will be able to address climate change and carbon emissions. We will also be creating many thousands of jobs and exporting our best skills in innovation.”

For the glazing sector, the issue has long been a focus with businesses and innovators recognising its potential.

A Pat On The Back

Finally, to close on a positive note, in one of the most stunning examples of modern design, where glass and concrete have been brought together to great effect, we say a big congratulations to ACME. The company won Best Building of the Year in the RIBA Yorkshire Regional Finals for the Victoria Gate in Leeds.

The grid pattern, which is bold in its design, was born from the city’s traditional roots in textile manufacturing. The new John Lewis dominates the mall and has re-energised the whole city. Described as a new era arcade, glass and acid-etched stone combine to make a truly stunning architectural masterpiece.

Helen Duval 2017.

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