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Most Dubai towers built before 2012 ‘have non fire-rated exterior panels’


The companies that made and installed the exterior panels on The Address Downtown Dubai hotel say that most of the towers built in the city prior to 2012 used non-fire-rated exterior cladding.

The disclosure comes as investigators probe the causes of the spectacular blaze which was beamed across millions of TV screens worldwide on New Year’s Eve.

An investigation by The National into the origins and specification of the exterior panels used on the building raises serious questions over the fire safety of hundreds of buildings.

The fire has again shone the spotlight on aluminium composite panels which have been used to cover high rise buildings countrywide and have been linked to several high-rise fires in the UAE and overseas.

Fire consultants interviewed by The National this week have also raised questions over the quality of some fire testing undertaken on buildings in the emirate prior to the introduction of new building codes in 2012.

Officials at the company that made the composite panels used on the tower as well as the company that installed them say that most of the buildings constructed during the city’s property boom years did not use fire-rated panels.

It has huge implications for insurers underwriting such buildings as well as owners associations, property developers and the people living in them.

It also poses a challenge for building owners seeking to mitigate fire risk while avoiding the massive costs associated with replacing often highly flammable exterior cladding.

The National has learned that the composite sheets which formed the core of the panels that covered The Address building were made by Sharjah-based Eurocon Building Industries, a unit of Mulk Holdings International and supplied to Dubai-based Alumco.

A Eurocon executive confirmed that a panel system of the same specification as the one used on the tower underwent a fire test known as ASTME 119 - a test method set by the American Society for Testing and Materials. He said the test was conducted on January 10, 2007.

The test exposes a sample "to a standard fire controlled to achieve specified temperatures throughout a specified time period".

Neither Eurocon or Alumco were immediately able to provide the results of the test.

Alumco won the contract to supply 35,000 square metres of composite panels to cover The Address Downtown Dubai Hotel building in 2006 in a deal worth more than $20 million. At the time, the building was known as the Burj Lake Tower. The main contractor was Besix-Arabtec while the designer of the hotel was WS Atkins.

On New Year’s Eve, millions of viewers worldwide watched a massive blaze sweep up the building within minutes.

What sparked the fire which is thought to have started on the 20th floor is not yet known.

"Two thirds of the buildings in Dubai are covered with aluminium composite panels (ACP) that is not fire rated," said Samer Barakat, the chief executive of Alumco in an interview. "From our side we complied. We gave all our submissions, there was approval on every submission according to specification. We cannot create a code for ourselves. We cannot create a product that is above what is required. According to the regulations of that time, this is the best we had."

He emphasised that all building materials supplied by the company were fire rated, tested and approved by the consultant.

He also said that while much attention has been paid to the combustibility of ACP panels, there has been little focus on the silicone and rubber gaskets on a building facade that may not be fire rated - but which are also combustible.




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