06 - Fire Safety: Transforming Building Design
Submitting InstitutionsHeriot-Watt University,
University of Edinburgh
Unit of AssessmentGeneral Engineering
Summary Impact TypePolitical
Research Subject Area(s)
Information and Computing Sciences: Artificial Intelligence and Image Processing
Engineering: Civil Engineering
Built Environment and Design: Engineering Design
Summary of the impact
Enhanced public safety and transformation of structural design for fire
has resulted from improved building design through ERPE researchers'
development of new and unique design methodologies, frameworks and tools
for analysing fire spread. Fire safety engineering research within ERPE
has created an improved scientific understanding of the effect of fire on
structures and materials. Structural and fire safety engineers across UK,
EU, USA, Canada as well as those who are members of international fire
safety bodies have subsequently implemented significant advances for the
design of safer, more economical, sustainable, and architecturally
ERPE research has thus assisted the design and construction of
increasingly optimised, sustainable, and economical buildings globally
with significant changes in building design and regulation, particularly
This research team comprises Professors: Bisby, Torero; and Usmani,
Senior Lecturers: Gillie; Pankaj; Stratford; and Welch, and Lecturer
Carvel (all in post throughout) with, from 2013, Professor Simeoni and
Lecturer Hadden. Professor Drysdale retired in 2006 and Lecturer Rein left
Fire safety engineering research has been a globally unique strength in
ERPE for more than three decades. Beginning with the seminal work on Fire
Dynamics, which remains the most important research output and compilation
in this field (3rd edition , 2011), this topic has remained
a major research thrust within ERPE over the last decade and the most
important science-based fire safety solutions in the period for REF
underlying research include:
Detection, Containment and Suppression of Fires.
The interdisciplinary underpinning research has involved theoretical,
experimental, and computational investigations of compartment fire
ignition, spread and eventual development to flashover and post-flashover
phases, including structural response to fire. A wide range of associated
issues have been addressed by the ERPE team, such as detection and
suppression at incipient and early development phases and organising fire
service intervention for containment, evacuation, fire-fighting,
structural response to fire, and forensic assessment of damage including
structural integrity after the fire. A key focus during the REF period has
been to create an integrated approach to addressing fire safety problems
in modern buildings. An exemplar is the `FireGrid — Integrated Emergency
Response System' project (UK DTI/BIS and the Building Research
Establishment (BRE), 2005-2009, £2.3M). This included fundamental and
applied research on combustion, flammability, fire dynamics, computational
fluid dynamics, sensor-steered computational fire simulation, coupled
thermal-structural finite element modelling, wireless sensing and
communication, and grid computing. The coupled understanding of fire
dynamics and structural response developed within ERPE has been applied by
leading consultancies such as Arup (Fire Engineering Practice), Section 4.
Performance-based Building Design.
Fire safety researchers in ERPE lead the global community in research
promoting holistic, performance-based design of buildings for fire,
considering full-structural response and treating fire as a design load.
This work commenced with validated, quantifiable modelling of the
structural response of the Cardington Fire tests in the mid 1990s  and
has subsequently transformed industry thinking, practice and regulation
around structural design for fire globally. For instance, ongoing
Arup-funded research in this area performed within ERPE [3 - 6] has led to
the development and implementation of validated computational techniques
to describe both fire dynamics and structural response modelling leading
to new methodologies and regulatory frameworks to engineer buildings for
fire which continue to revolutionise the fire safety industry. Lane (PhD
1997), Director of Technology Practices (incl. Fire Engineering) at Arup
and ERPE visiting professor, was awarded the Royal Academy of Engineering
(RAEng) Silver Medal in 2008 for her pioneering work in this area, which
was and continues to be underpinned by Arup's ongoing fruitful
collaboration with Edinburgh [2, 3]. Approvals by building control and
fire services of the first major multi-storey steel-framed office building
design by Arup (Lane, Lamont (PhD 2001) in partnership with ERPE
researchers [2, 3]), in which fire protection to the structure was based
on direct estimation of performance, led to a quantifiably safe building
and a significant saving in the cost of fire protection (Plantation Place,
London, 2004). Further, ERPE staff were invited by US National Institutes
for Standardisation and Technology (NIST) to present their findings
(2002-2004); included in the NIST final report on the 9/11 attacks (http://www.nist.gov/customcf/get_pdf.cfm?pub_id=101279
). Usmani and Torero also provided analysis to support the (multiple
£billions) litigations on the 9/11 collapses requiring the development of
validated computational models  for the spread of fires in Building 7
of the World Trade Center (WTC) site.
Numerous subsequent successes in this area and ongoing collaboration with
industry led to the formation of Edinburgh's BRE Research Centre for Fire
Safety Engineering in 2004 with an externally-funded BRE/RAEng Research
Chair, £1.3M, and the further hiring of 5 academics (3 of whom are
externally funded by industry).
References to the research
References identified with * are those which best indicate the quality of
the underpinning research.
 Drysdale, D.D., "An Introduction to Fire Dynamics", 3rd
ed., John Wiley & Sons, 576pp, 2011, ISBN 978-0-470-31903-1. Available
This handbook provides a reference to all significant fire research, from
ERPE as well as many other worldwide researchers and practitioners. All
chapters are authored by ERPE staff and they summarise and cite many ERPE
advances. More than 3500 copies have been sold since 2008, including 2500
sales since the 2011 launch of the 3rd edition.
* Usmani, A.S., Rotter, J.M., Lamont, S., Sanad, A.M. and Gillie, M.,
"Fundamental principles of structural behaviour under thermal effects",
Fire Safety Journal, 36(8): 721-744, 2001. DOI:10.1016/S0379-7112(01)00037-6.
102 Google Scholar (GS) citations.
Validated novel approaches to computational modelling of the reaction of
structures to fire, and paved the way for validated modelling of the
assessment of full-structure response to fire. A seminal work in the field
of performance-based structural fire design, recognized in the NIST
reports on the 9/11 collapses of the World Trade Centre (WTC) towers.
 Lamont, S., Lane, B., Jowsey, A., Torero, J.L., Usmani, A.S. and
Flint, G., "Innovative Structural Engineering for Tall Buildings in
Fire", Structural Engineering International, 16(2): 142-147, 2007.
Novel, performance-based approaches to engineering structures for fire
which have subsequently revolutionised structural fire engineering
globally, have created an entirely new class of engineering consultancy,
and have allowed the development and implementation of architectural and
engineering designs which would not be permitted under existing
prescriptive rules (buildings listed in Section 4).
* Usmani, A.S., Chung, Y.C. and Torero, J.L., "How Did the WTC
Collapse: A New Theory", Fire Safety Journal, 38(6): 501-591, 2003.
74 GS citations.
The most downloaded paper in the history of the University of Edinburgh's
online research archive (ERA), with more than 3900 downloads. Cemented
ERPE as leaders in the area of performance-based structural fire
engineering and forensics, particularly for coupled thermal- mechanical
full-structure finite-element modelling to support failure analysis.
* Rein, G., Torero, J.L., et. al., "Round-robin study of a priori
modelling predictions of the Dalmarnock Fire Test One", Fire Safety
Journal, 44(4): 590-602, 2009. DOI:10.1016/j.firesaf.2008.12.008.
27 GS citations.
Instrumental in the organisation of two large studies by the Fire Service
in France, and is currently under discussion in the European Committee on
Standardisation (CEN) TC127 and International Standards Organisation (ISO)
TC92. This is noted in the official documentation of the industry standard
Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS), 7/e (2012). Demonstrated that available
fire modelling tools are unfit for purpose leading to investigation on
safe design of tall buildings (EP/J001937/1).
 Law, A., Stern-Gottfried, J., Gillie, M. and Rein, G., "Influence
of travelling fires on a concrete frame", Engineering Structures,
33: 1635-1642, 2011. DOI:10.1016/j.engstruct.2011.01.034.
Demonstrated a novel methodology to consider the structural impacts of
travelling fires in buildings. The resulting methodology has been applied
on at least 6 Arup projects 2011-2013, and won a best-paper prize and the
Lloyd's "Science of Risk" prize for Law's 2012 PhD thesis. A further
consequence is that fire regulators in London now require consideration of
travelling fires in performance-based fire design for high rise buildings.
Details of the impact
ERPE research during the 1990s, validating large scale computational
modelling of structures in realistic credible fires, has profoundly
influenced the use of performance-based design procedures to engineer
modern buildings for fire, both from life safety and property protection
perspectives. Coupled with research to understand the causes and
mechanisms of the fire-induced collapses of the WTC towers in 2001 
(and other subsequent collapses), has catalyzed changes in tall building
design practice globally. Whereas traditionally buildings have been
designed for fire safety based on outdated — and in many cases irrational
— prescriptive requirements, ERPE research during the past two decades [1
- 6] has provided the foundational scientific understanding needed to
perform a quantified assessment of the fire safety of building designs.
Torero was selected to chair the fire safety committee of the Council on
Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) (2009-present) leading also to
the project "Real Fires for the Safe Design of Tall Buildings"
(EP/J001937/1, £819k) with BRE, Corus, Buro Happold, Arup etc. ERPE
research has thus assisted the design and construction of increasingly
optimised, sustainable, and economical buildings globally with significant
changes in building design and regulation.
Changes to Building Design and Regulation.
Research outputs [1 - 6], in conjunction with the design work of ERPE's
industry partners have led to profound changes in regulatory approaches
for fire safety globally. The research has catalyzed the development of
the fire sections of the Structural Eurocodes (BS EN 1991-1-2, 1992-1-2,
1993-1-2, 1994-1-2) during the period 1995-2002. Further the ideas behind
these new regulatory approaches are now being adopted elsewhere, including
in the USA by the American Institute for Steel Construction.
Collaborations with industry have been fostered from the early development
of this research area within ERPE. Direct involvement of industry leaders
in key projects (particularly with Lane, Law and Lamont) [S1, S2] has
regularly led to adoption of methodologies and tools developed in research
within practical design situations. Members of the ERPE fire research
group have been involved in translating research into practice through
direct participation in building and fire code committees globally,
including those of: The American Concrete Institute (ACI, 216); British
Standards Institute (BSI, B/525) and European Committee on Standardization
(CEN, TC 250); the International Council on Tall Buildings and Urban
Habitat (CTBUH, Fire & Safety Working Group); Canadian Standards
Association (CSA, S806, S807); National Fire Protection Association
(NFPA); and Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE).
A New Class of Design Consultancy.
Since 2008 ERPE's research in this area has created an entirely new class
of design consultancy which continues to be applied to great advantage
(e.g. Arup, Buro Happold, etc) in UK buildings and elsewhere. Numerous UK
buildings have been engineered using performance-based structural fire
engineering techniques developed within ERPE [1, 2, 3]. Heron Tower,
London (2012) is a particularly good example of the profound impact of
ERPE research in real building design. ERPE worked through collaborative
research funded by Arup to develop new knowledge and modelling approaches
for predicting fire dynamics in large multi-storey open plan compartments
with central atria, as well as advanced computational approaches and
procedures for coupled thermal-structural finite element modelling of
steel-framed buildings in realistic, multi-floor fire scenarios. The
resulting research outcomes led to the first regulatory approval of a tall
building fire strategy based on a multiple floor design fire (globally),
in addition to enhanced robustness, significantly reduced material and
construction costs, and increased safety. Without this research Heron
Tower could never have been approved or built.
"Research within ERPE has turned on its head the conventional wisdom
on how to protect buildings during fires, and the resulting design tools
and methodologies are now being used in some of the world's most iconic
new structures including Heron Tower, The Shard, and others. The work
allows fire protection measures to be targeted at the total response of
a structure, taking account of all of the necessary factors; this has
helped to establish structural fire engineering as a mainstream skill
and has also created an entirely new class of engineering consultancy
and exciting business opportunities for Arup and others." Director
of Technology Practices, Arup [S1]
From 2010, BRE Trust [S3] supported the development of novel design
methodologies for alleviating travelling fires in modern open-plan
buildings . These offer a paradigm shift in the structural engineering
of modern buildings, and have led to revolutionary changes in the assumed
design fires. These have been implemented by Arup  in at least 6
current design projects (e.g. see: Arup, "Structural Fire Analysis: Design
Fire Scenarios", 60 Ludgate Hill, May 2012. This report details use of
travelling fire analysis developed at Edinburgh in performance-based
design of a multi-storey building). ERPE research has thus profoundly
altered the way in which iconic buildings are structurally engineered [S4]
and will continue to influence optimization and enhanced safety and
sustainability of urban environments worldwide.
Industrial R&D and Research Consultancy.
ERPE researchers' innovation in the area of fire safety engineering has
led to our involvement in numerous research consultancy projects between
2008 and 2013, including industrial R&D (with Arup, Rockwool, Ruredil,
International Paint, Corus), academic research consultancy to support the
design consultants of the world's most sought after architects (Arup,
Pelli Clark Pelli (USA), and Foster + Partners (UK) [S5]) and
litigation/expert witness involvement (e.g. WTC, IFIC Forensics).
Sources to corroborate the impact
[S1] Director Technology Practices, Arup (including Fire Engineering),
see comments included in Section 4.
[S2] Arup Fire Engineering can verify that" through collaboration with
ERPE Arup have developed new knowledge and modelling approaches for fire
prediction in large multi-storey buildings...."
[S3] Director Fire Sciences and Building Products, BRE Global Ltd.,
states that "BRE have collaborated with ERPE to understand better the
evolution of travelling fires in buildings...."
[S4] Sustainability Manager, The British Constructional Steelwork
Association Ltd., indicates that "ERPE research has profoundly altered the
way iconic buildings are structurally engineered...."
[S5] Partner, Foster + Partners, have "used ERPE staff as consultants in
fire safety engineering..."