Grenfell Tower Fire – ACA Response to CIC

Firstly ACA and its members wish to express our heartfelt sorrow at the dreadful loss of lives resulting from the horrific fire on 14 June 2017 and pay our respects to the residents of Grenfell Tower and their families. As architects we were deeply moved by the events as they unfolded through the night and in the aftermath and were appalled at the fact that a system of controls, that we had thought to be industry standard, seem to have failed so disastrously.
Secondly, we should say that Architects are not experts in fire prevention, but work with diligence and concern to apply with integrity all aspects of legislation with regard to the performance of buildings and fire precautions in particular. Whatever emerges from the pending enquiry, it appears that there is a systemic problem in our industry that needs to be addressed, taking into account the design, regulation, procurement, construction, maintenance and management of high rise buildings, also highlighted less tragically by the Edinburgh schools. We pledge our commitment to participate with our particular expertise as architects, in the necessary analysis of the causes of this failure and in correcting and implementing a significantly safer future for all building occupants.
ACA is an Association that represents Architects Private Practices in the UK. We have a perspective on the overall coordination in the design, procurement and construction of buildings for our Clients. Our expertise lies in overall design co-ordination broadly with a focus on the “Why” rather than the “How”.
While not being a specialist in any aspect of the construction of buildings, the architect is trained to understand the essentials of the functioning of buildings and take a holistic view of both the building and the process of construction. We believe that this role is being undervalued and disrupted by a fragmentation of responsibility through changes to the process of procurement with the multiplicity of decision makers involved in this process. The independent role, standing sufficiently outside of the commercial pressures on a project, which was traditionally vested in the profession of architecture has all but been dismembered in many instances. It is not certain that such a continuity and breadth of involvement would ensure that a disaster would never happen again, but we believe that it most certainly would substantially reduce the risk.
As publishers of Forms of Appointments and Building Contracts the ACA has a long and special interest in successful design, procurement and construction.
As Registered Architects we undertake to adhere to our Professional Code of Conduct.
The ACA putting forward Richard Harrison who is immediate past President of the ACA and who remains a Council member, to participate in and observe the CIC event on 6 July on behalf of the ACA. Richard does not attest to specific expertise on particular disciplines, but has worked in the private sector architectural profession since 1978, for both private and public sector clients.
We have ‘brainstormed’ some suggested areas for investigation in the wake of the fire, and in the context of the current status of our industry, as an attachment. We hope this is as helpful as intended.
Is the Design and Procurement of buildings in England and Wales currently working as it should? If not, how can it be improved to prevent future catastrophic failures?
The following issues are relevant questions in our minds following the disaster. These exclude any speculation on what the causes of this particular event may be. The Public Inquiry will be tasked with determining the cause. It will also need to make recommendations as to future Regulations and procedures in our industry.
In the light of what happened at Grenfell tower which to the only partially ‘informed’ observer, appeared to be subject to a very rapid spread of fire on the outside of the building and presumably within the construction of the outside wall itself, appears to have entered apartments at all levels from the outside, do the rules of containment, compartmentation, protected shafts, single staircases and the regime of firefighting from inside the building require full review as well as consideration of more stringent controls on the constructional details of the external wall?

In the particular case of Grenfell Tower:-
1 Was the building after regeneration compliant with the regulatory frameworks? If so are the current regulatory frameworks fit for purpose?
2 If it was, how did the failure occur?
3 If it was not compliant, how did the non-compliance happen?
1. The history, ownership by RBKC Council and social housing use of the building.
2. The building underwent a major Regeneration Project. Identify reasons for the project, social, economic and political context.
3. RBK&C Council does not have a Chief Architect, or an Architects Department. Was this a factor?
4. Who was the ‘Client’ on the project and were they competent to assume that role?
5. Planning Consent applied for in late 2012 and granted in January 2014.
6. Relationship between Planning and Building Acts, their separate and overlapping natures.
7. Appointment of professional teams and their roles and what forms of appointment were used? Do they encourage teamwork or protectionism?
8. Was there a team leader and were they competent to fulfil that role?
9. Who was responsible for the overall design and specifications?
10. In selecting materials for inclusion in the building and with the increasing manufacture and use of new composite and combinations of materials are we satisfied as to their performance ‘promise’? Are they fit for the purpose to which they are applied? Is the testing of materials as good as it needs to be?
11. If the cladding solution selected was used countrywide how did this get passed on? Through suppliers, trade contractors or commissioning clients?
12. Who was responsible for the overall design and construction programme. Was sufficient time allowed?
13. Were all aspects of the project that needed to be, addressed by an individual team member?
14. Continuity in team contributions. Were there critical gaps in expertise?
15. Was there any Cost-Benefit analysis during the design process?
16. When and by whom was the construction procurement decided? How was the decision made and was that the most appropriate process? What form of contract was used and was this most appropriate form of contract?
17. How was the contractor selected? What elements of the design (if any) were the responsibility the main or specialist contractors?
18. How were specialist designer/subcontractors selected?
19. Was anyone responsible for ensuring that the design intent was satisfied by specialist designers/contractors?
20. Was the project programme reasonable? Was sufficient time allowed for full design to progress in time for the construction programme?
21. Regulatory frameworks. Are they clear or are they overly complex?
22. Planning Acts.
23. Building Acts.
24. Fire Precautions Acts.
25. CDM and Health and Safety Law.
26. Environmental Health Acts.
27. Housing Acts.
28. Whilst innovation is essential for society to progress, are the Regulations sufficiently clear to permit innovation, without allowing innovation to go unchecked?
29. How are decisions on innovation made and authorised?
30. Should Full Plans Approval be secured before construction is commenced on site? (Used to be relevant in Scotland through the issue of a Warrant).
31. What role does the Fire Brigade play is design of tall buildings?
32. What is the current position on the issue of Fire Certificates?
33. Tenants were consulted in the design process. Were their comments fully addressed?
34. Who was responsible for representing the interests of the tenants throughout the project?
35. What is the role of insurance on building projects and do insurance companies influence positively of negatively?
36. Post project completion, were tenants informed of safety requirements in their daily use of the building both common parts and their own occupancies.
37. Was the fire precautions regime in place and understood by the landlords and all tenants?
38. Was there regular testing of building services and installations?
39. Post completion, were there regular inspections by Landlords representatives?
40. Was there a regime in place for post completion defects, complaints and concerns?
41. Were there regular tests of fire detection and warning systems and evacuation tests?