Highly Commended

Verifying the Positioning of Fire Protection in Ventilated Rainscreen Building Wall Envelopes
Michael Daly,
Ulster University

Addressing the well-publicised build quality issues within the built environment sector is arguably the greatest challenge facing the sector at present. Issues can arise from a lack of on-site inspection leading to inadequate workmanship detailing along with substitution of materials from those originally specified at the technical design stage. Whilst such deviances from original technical design intent can have negative consequences, in relation to building performance, such as a reduction in thermal and acoustic properties, this pails into insignificance compared to potential life safety issues.

One of the most obvious threats to life safety within a building is fire, and the identified areas of workmanship, detailing and inspection are critically important in ensuring sound details are constructed, none more so than in ventilated facades. Ventilated facade systems have become popular over recent years due to the range of colours, styles and profiles which allow most aesthetical intentions to be realised. This, coupled with the general robust performance and ease of construction, means they are a popular choice for contemporary buildings and in retrofitting projects. However, with ventilated facades, like with any envelope, there is the potential for passive fire protection issues, with the performance in a fire dependent on the workmanship detailing, especially with regards to cavity barriers, and the materials used during the construction.

The Report focused on verifying the positioning of cavity barriers in ventilated facades. The research triangulates the stated issues relating to quality via a focus group discussion with industry professionals, with a focus on fire safety, before the potential for a technological solution presented in the form of a clash detection analysis using captured point cloud data of in-progress construction work linked to a project building information model. This study suggests that the current means of visual inspection, whether it be from a regulatory body or third-party accreditor, is not adequate for ensuring the in-built performance of fire safety measures. Therefore, there is a need for increased supervision on construction sites or other means which can verify the veracity on constructed details.

Littlewood et al. (2017) called for non-intrusive and non-destructive test methods for assessing passive fire protection. A testing method as identified in this study could seamlessly align with and contribute to the BIM process for the purposes of validating and verifying Asset Information Models for facilities management purposes. Whilst inspection to verify correct placement of cavity barriers alone will not act as a panacea, it is a key component in the overall strategy. The ‘threat’ alone of using such technological processes may also be sufficient to discourage the practice of altering or changing details on site as reported in O’Kane et al. (2018). With the fast-paced technological advancements evident in the construction sector it could be an ideal time to promote and utilise digital technologies and processes to help improve construction quality.


Judges' comments

This study referenced many of the issues within the industry and inparticular the quality and standard of construction installations. It also recognised the difficulties of compliance and the resources required to physically check each component and element but proposed the potential for technological solutions in the form of clash detection analyses.

The conclusions suggested that technological interventions may assist inspection and provide more robust verification for fire safety but acknowledged there is not a silver bullet that can be used for all tests that would be able to provide better quality assurance for improving life safety. This is a useful study that further exposes the problems faced within Architectural Technology practice post Grenfell and the Edinburgh Schools enquiry to achieve total building enclosure performance to improve life safety.