Cost implications of upgrading buildings should not deter authorities from making decisions
The New Years Eve fire at The Address Downtown Dubai hotel opposite the Burj Khalifa could have been a lot worse.
The dramatic blaze engulfed the tower and dominated the international TV news coverage over New Years Eve, but in the end did not result in any fatalities, with just 14 injuries and one reported heart attack.
The fire was brought under control promptly, so much so that the emirates authorities felt confident enough to still proceed with the traditional New Year fireworks display.
As 2016 began Dubai moved quickly to clear up the damage. The fire was finally put out on 1 January and plaudits were given to the civil defence forces that dealt with the blaze.
The chairman of Emaar Properties, which owns the hotel then said in a TV interview that The Address would be fully restored, and on 3 January it was confirmed that the local Dutco Group and its companies Dutco Balfour Beatty and BK Gulf have been selected to complete the repair to the 63-storey tower.
While Dubais swift action has largely drawn a line under the incident questions still remain over the safety of the emirates towers, and in particular, their cladding.
Before 2013 when building codes tightened, the de facto cladding solution for clients building towers were aluminium panels that used bonding that in certain conditions can be flammable. While it not been concluded whether cladding was a factor during The Address blaze, it has been to blame for the rapid spread of early fires at the Torch Tower in Dubai Marina in 2015 and Tamweel Tower at Jumeirah Lake Towers in 2012.
With new legislation in place since 2013, the authorities will now have to look at how the codes are applied. They already apply to new buildings and a decision now needs to be taken on applying these codes to existing buildings also.
Dubai completed hundreds of towers in the decade leading up to 2013 and many of those towers will have been built using cladding that does not comply with the new building codes.
Will millions of dollars required to upgrade these buildings the cost implications for building owners will be significant, but they should not deter the authorities from making decisions to prevent fires in the future, because the next time the consequences could be a lot worse.
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