What Is/Was that Dubai Hotel Made Of Anyway?

If you’ve seen the pics and footage of the fire racing up the side of the 63 story Address Hotel in Dubai, you can see that it progressed up floor to floor fairly quickly.

What would burn so quickly? The exterior of nearly all the hi rises I know seem to be made out of some sort of masonry, glass, or metal combination that would resist catching fire at least.

Is it possible they’d be using flammable materials on the exterior like plastic or plexy glass?

I’ve heard–and admittedly, I don’t have a cite for this–that lots of skyscrapers now use an aluminum/plastic sandwich material for the outer panels. It’s lightweight and cheap but has the downside of being flammable. The aluminum gives it some protection but it burns if you get it hot enough.

I wondered, right away, if they had put some pyrotechnics in place for the New Year celebrations. Maybe running up the side of the building.

Being in a very dry climate area. I wonder if they use materials that are cheap, lightweight and some sort of cellulose or plastic base, for cosmetic cladding?

Currently a very commonly used architectural cladding material here in Australia: http://alucobond.com.au

NB

Hmm this is one that actually falls under my area of expertise for once (I’m normally a pure knowledge leech on these boards)

its possible the building had a combustible external facade. these are normally referred to as EIFS - exterior insulation and finish system. as noted above, these are often a plastic - typically polystyrene (EPS) or polyurethane (PUF/PIF) sandwiched between aluminium or steel. All plastics are combustible and burn aggressively. Even the ‘fire safe’ plastics still burn, they are just less likely to propagate the fire in and of themselves.

We recently suffered a major fire in a melbourne building due to use of this type of EIFS (check it out http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/docklands-apartment-tower-fire-fuelled-by-material-in-buildings-walls-says-mfb-20150427-1mukhx.html ) As a result its use is being disallowed throughout all of Australia and many facilities are retrospectively removing it (and thats big $$$)

however even in a traditional glass and concrete structure, fire can easily propagate to the extent shown. the scenario is this - uncontrolled fire on one floor, involving standard office or hotel furnishings (carpet, chairs, desks, curtains, trims, wooden furniture). Without sprinkler control, the fire will get so hot the windows blow out. this means the fire will now lap up the outside of the buildings. it will damage next floor up windows, and blow them in. Then set all combustibles on floor n+1 on fire. now the flame front outside the building is being magnified by 2 floors spewing fire - the total flame height is now larger and stronger (imagine holding two lighter flames together - they greatly increase). It then sets n+2 on fire, and so on. At the level 20, the brigade cannot effectively control the fire from the ground so they must do it internally which is slow, dangerous, and ineffective.

sprinklers are the only real way to control this sort of fire starting like that unless you catch it so early an individual snuffs it out.

additionally having sufficient window spacing can limit or prevent external fire spread - you need ~50% window per the building facade. this isnt so attractive and nearly all buildings have 90-100% glass facade nowadays

Thanks, Richox, for a very informative and well written post.

Also relevant: Specifically because of the fire Richox mentioned, Australian legislation was recently amended to now require fire sprinkler protection of covered balconies for residential, hotel and aged care buildings. The current sprinkler standard allows omission of sprinklers to covered balconies that are under 6m2 or 2m deep, so the new legislation removes this exemption.

Even though it was found that the internal sprinkler system in the building mentioned performed better than the design minimums, modelling of fire propagation and fire suppression systems show that had sprinkler protection of balconies been present, it would have likely suppressed the fire to such an extent that the fire would not have spread past the balcony of the fire origin.

It was also discovered that the apartments were significantly over-occupied (8+ people in a 2 bed) and many of the balconies were used as storage (clothes, bedding, etc.) as there was no more space inside. Several code and design violations… This additional balcony fire load contributed to the initial spread of the fire, however the combustible cladding was the main path for the vertical spread of the fire (to the next balcony, in through windows, etc.)
NB

Missed edit window: despite what the builder stated in the article, it is unlikely that under the building codes at the time that sprinkler protection would have been required for the building.

In addition, I understand that there are EIFS panels that meet fire propagation limits in the current building code (that were also available at the time of the building design) but the product actually installed did not comply.

I am not aware of if:

a) a compliant product was specified by the architect, but a non-compliant alternative was actually installed by the builder and the building surveyor (local certifier) did not pick up the non-compliance, or

b) a non-compliant product was specified by the architect and installed and the building surveyor did not pick up the non-compliance, or

c) all was specified correctly and the supplier provided a non-compliant product and the builder did not pick up on the product substitution.

NB

Being in a construction related business when I foreign travel I always check out construction and safety issues in hotels and public buildings.

Not the standards we are used to in the US, and some are scary.

I too was astounded-I thought that modern skyscrapers were essentially fireproof. especially given the NYE fireworks display in Taipei, Taiwan (the fireworks were fired from the sides of the Taiwan Tower (the highest building in Taiwan).

Interesting. I thought the exterior cladding of hi rises would be extremely fire resistant, if not fire proof. When you think of what residents often do on their balconies…grill, candles, ect, it’s just amazing there would be flammable materials used on a vertical structure.

I’ll make a note of what the hotels I’m staying in are made of from now on.

Wanting to keep an eye on my motorcycle keeps me on an outside ground floor. So now I have two good reasons. :cool:

I suspect some Islamists who thought secular Dubai was decadent had some role here.

I can see that happening. I’m curious to hear if any group will claim responsibility for this. I’m fairly certain that some of the funding for radical fundamentalist Islamic groups passes through Dubai and in the West, at least, it’s considered bad form to “bite the hand that feeds you”. Is there a limit to how much “Inshallah” wealthy and ultra-wealthy Middle Easterners are willing to put up with?

Nothing is fire proof. In construction and fire code it’s about how long it will take something to burn through and ensuring everyone can get away safely in that time.

For external cladding they want materials that are cheap, insulating, weather proof and look nice. Fire resistance falls pretty low on the list.

Plenty of buildings in the US use similar siding. The internal supports of the building are what matters if a fire breaks out. In this case even with the outside of the building going up in flames they were able to safely evacuate.

This seems like a less likely explanation than an accidental ignition, possibly coupled with poor safety standards. Dubai has had more high-rise fires in the past few years than just this one:

Unfortunately authorities don’t like to blame or attack radical Islam. They’d rather we stand in useless cues around airports and office locations than fight them. Even our efforts to combat them have ridiculous rules of engagement.

And some people would prefer to make a thorough investigation before casting aspersions.

Moderator Note

This thread is about building construction, not politics. Let’s keep speculation on causes of the fire to other forums. No warnings issued, but don;t continue this hijack here.
Colibri
General Questions Moderator

Although there seem a lot of high-rise fires in the U.A.E. — which points to the inutility of this ugly construction rather than to their lax standards — the fire death rate seems very low, certainly compared to most shoddy standard countries such as Russia or America.

The only reference to such a rate is in this article from The Kharleej Times on fire incidents [ warning: Flat Style ], where it shows 347 incidents in 2014, but with 2 deaths. Since the population of the U.A.E is 9.3 million that is a fire death rate of 00.25 per million ( very roughly ).
America has improved it’s historically awful comparative fire death rate amazingly from the turn of the century; since 2004 the fire death rate has dropped from 13.6 per million to 11 per million in 2013 [ FEMA US Fire Administration ], but obviously it remains much more dangerous than many poorer, weaker countries.