Protecting our heritage

In developing an appropriate fire safety solution for a public amenity, the use to which the building is put is typically much more important than the age of the building.
As a result, if a primary concern is to protect the fabric of the building or its contents, the proposed solution is likely to be broadly similar, irrespective of whether it is a new build or an historic architectural jewel. Similarly, if a leisure facility typically attracts especially large numbers of visitors within a restricted, enclosed space, the type of life safety solution and stringent evacuation procedures adopted are more likely to vary dependent on the layout of the building rather than its age.

A question of age

Things start to change significantly, however, when it comes to detailed specification and installation.

In most cases, installing a fire safety solution in a new build is much simpler and more straightforward. Historically, fire safety was often regarded as an after-thought or a ‘bolt on’: today, by contrast, architects and consultants increasingly recognise the inherent importance of life safety provision within building design and so involve third party fire systems specialists early on in the development process.

In doing so it ensures the best possible solution, with wiring discreetly installed in the ceiling void or floor space as part of the initial design, rather than having to compromise or adapt the architect’s original intentions by accommodating fire safety requirements too late in the process.

In the case of an existing building, by contrast, the infrastructure is already in place, making the replacement of, or addition to, an established fire safety solution more complex. And, if the building has listed status as a result of its architectural importance, any redevelopment can be especially problematic.

Three recent examples involving Notifier and Morley-IAS solutions illustrate the importance of marrying state-of-the-art fire protection within buildings having protected status.

University College London

University College London’s (UCL’s) Grade 1 Listed Wilkins Building has included full fire protection as part of a major phased refurbishment programme, currently underway.

The installation in the Wilkins Building – one of London’s architectural jewels designed by William Wilkins, who was also responsible for the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square – includes four five-loop Morley-IAS networked fire alarm control panels, seamlessly integrated with Apollo detection devices.

This addressable solution replaces a previous radio-based system and, says Senior Estimator, Tel Fisk, of Fire Systems Distributor, Fisk Fire Group: “Provides the level of flexibility, robustness and security essential in a major Listed building which includes a large refectory, UCL’s administrative centre and main Library.”

Until the late 1990s, UCL – also known as London’s Global University – worked with a number of different fire systems, protocols and service providers across its broad 180-strong estate in Central London and the Home Counties, ranging from halls of residence to museums housing priceless historical artefacts.

UCL then took the decision to rationalise its fire protection system, recognising the benefits of standardising safety provision with a single specialist provider, both in terms of operational efficiencies and to ensure a consistently high level of protection. Under the agreement, a long-term programme is underway to replace all existing fire safety equipment with a similar state-of-the-art solution.

Implementation of the new fire safety system in the Wilkins Building started in spring 2006 and was completed in March 2007. Listed status has placed considerable constraints on implementation work, all of which has had to be undertaken overnight: further, the nature of the building’s use as a centre for major University functions – often at short notice – has also required the timetable to be revised.

Fulham Football Club

The oldest of London’s first class football clubs, Fulham first saw the light of day as long ago as 1879. However, in recent years following the Taylor Report into ground safety it had become clear that the Club’s Craven Cottage ground could no longer continue in its existing guise and Fulham would either have to move or extensively develop the current site.

Several sets of proposals were rejected by the Local Authority before the Club finally achieved planning approval in November 2003. After two years ‘in the wilderness’, sharing Queens Park Rangers’ Loftus Road ground in North London, Fulham returned home to play Premiership football again at the start of the 2004-5 season.

“A key aspect of bringing our ground up to current FA standards was the need to provide adequate fire safety protection,” recalls Stadium Manager, Dave Piggott. At the same time, the new fire system had to accommodate a number of major changes as part of the £8 million development. These included building two all-seater stands and the addition of extensive catering and hospitality facilities.

At the same time however, it also had to maintain full protection for Fulham’s unique wooden Stevenage Road stand, which was subject to a Heritage Order and so could not be replaced.

In response, a bespoke system was required offering sufficient capacity to protect the new larger stadium and capable of meeting the Club’s unique safety requirements. The answer was a fully addressable solution and, as the existing system was running on an Apollo protocol, it was also seen as essential that the replacement was open-protocol.

The result was a Morley control panel plus repeater, with four loops – one per stand – to provide the increased number of zones required. At the same time, the four stands were completely rewired, using Apollo fire detectors. In addition, the environmental restrictions placed on the Stevenage Road stand required detectors to be placed under the seating and linked to a separate sprinkler system.

In matching the diverse requirements of a protected building alongside a brand new build, the ideal solution was an intelligent, open protocol fire alarm control panel, designed around proven and reliable microprocessor technology. This simple approach offers a modular, scalable platform ideal for protecting leisure facilities such as football stadia and other sporting arenas.

De La Warr Pavilion

Commissioned by the 9th Earl De La Warr in 1935, the famous De La Warr Pavilion was the UK’s first building designed in the Modernist style. The steel and concrete structure was originally designed to provide accessible culture and leisure for the people of Bexhill-on-Sea in Sussex and the surrounding area.

Seventy years later and with Grade One listed status; it has recently been the subject of a major £8 million restoration and redevelopment programme. The Pavilion re-opened in October 2005 with the support of Arts Council and Heritage Lottery funding and today incorporates a 1,000 seat theatre, restaurant and bar and one of the largest contemporary art galleries in the South East.

To meet this broader usage, a Notifier-based solution was selected to provide an addressable, L2-graded fire protection system that met all the current building requirements, including BS5839 certification.

In common with other leisure facilities and public arenas, it provides De La Warr with a highly cost-effective, fully addressable, intelligent fire protection system, which is easy to install, programme and operate.

De La Warr’s Sally Ann Lycett said: “This has provided a high level of protection for visitors, our staff and the magnificent building itself. It combines robustness and reliability with the flexibility required to meet our wide ranging needs.”

A commercial response

Strong functionality, cost-effectiveness and market-leading reliability are key to meeting today’s toughest commercial and safety demands, whether protecting a modern office block or historic theatre.

There is no doubt that developing life safety systems for historic buildings presents special challenges. Yet as such widely diverse buildings as De La Warr and Southover Grange, and UCL and Fulham Football Club ably demonstrate, the latest technologies sympathetically installed can provide the highest levels of protection for both people and property – without detracting from the inherent visual impact of the landmark building itself.

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