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Tamweel Tower burns: still not a ticking time bomb?


Why is the UAE using flammable cladding materials on buildings that have been banned in other countries for 30 years?


November 18, 2012 6:01 by

When Kipp rolled in our offices this morning there were two unusual ‘trending topics’ on Twitter; JLT and Tamweel Tower.

On any given day, a residential tower would hardly ever make the list of trending conversations between Twitter users in the UAE – as it is almost usually dominated by the likes of #Dubai, #JustinBieber, #ThingsIHateAbout you and so on. On this day, it did make the list because between the hours of 2 to 6 am this morning, the 34-storey building was engulfed in flames.

A resident tells Kipp that firefighters arrived at the scene quite swiftly but even by then, the damage was done. Large pieces of fiery debris were falling from the charred building, damaging several cars as well as the surrounding landscape. The Civil Defense Authority announced – to the relief of sympathetic residents- that there were no casualties and that all residents will be taken care of.

Throughout the day there was a strong sense of empathy, support and camaraderie among UAE residents who posted their thoughts, concerns and prayers on twitter.

“After the fire in Tamweel Tower, I feel like JLT is one big family. Awesome efforts and great communication. Proud to live here,” tweeted Dubai resident Saad Rabia.

From ‘Pets in the City’ offering to help all affected residents by temporarily sheltering their pets to various restaurants and outlets offering work spaces with WiFi for those that needed it, it was truly heartwarming to witness. And it was a moment to love social media.

Still, as inspiring as it was, there is a more pressing matter to address. After getting past the initial shock that swept the emirate this morning, more and more residents began voicing their concerns and raising questions over building maintenance and fire safety.

“Apparently flammable aluminium composite panels were used on Tamweel tower. Wonder how many other towers in JLT are like this…” tweeted Taimoor Hafeez, a concerned resident in the UAE. Alexandra Tohme, founder of a Dubai-based online retail outlet, says she is concerned about the next step. ”As a resident, I want to know if my tower has it [flammable cladding] or not. And if so, can it be fireproofed?”

In September, The National spoke to an international fire-safety consultant who told them that almost three quarters of high-rise buildings in the Emirates have ‘facades made of dangerous materials’. Thomas Bell-Write is the chief technical officer for an international consultancy and at the time, he explained that the facades have a ‘combustible thermo-plastic core between two sheets of aluminum’. To put it simply, those will burn easy and fast.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a ticking time bomb but it needs to be addressed,” said Bell-Wright back then. Considering the incident today, Kipp would disagree. That’s exactly what it is.

What really gets Kipp fuming though is that this cladding has been banned in Britain and other parts of the world for approximately 30 years. In the 1980s, the UK discovered the dangerous element, found a safer alternative and subsequently banned its use.

Thirty years on, the UAE still uses it. Why?


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  1. john on November 19, 2012 3:27 pm

    “…What really gets Kipp fuming though is that this cladding has been banned in Britain and other parts of the world for approximately 30 years. In the 1980s, the UK discovered the dangerous element, found a safer alternative and subsequently banned its use.
    Thirty years on, the UAE still uses it. Why?…”

    Because it’s cheap?

  2. M. Aldalou on November 19, 2012 3:35 pm

    You’re right John, right on the dot.

  3. ZeTallGerman on November 20, 2012 12:16 pm

    Fire safety & awareness are non-existent in this country. I have witnessed fires in my previous apartment buildings and also in my office tower. Every time, either the alarms weren’t working or the fire exits were blocked by furniture, rubbish etc. or sometimes the doors were even locked (!) or the extinguishers were faulty. I’m so glad that these days I live in a villa where I have (with my own initiative and money) installed alarms and extinguishers. Now my safety is in my own hands. True story: the other day a friend of mine received a phone call at 11pm from civil defense, stating “sir, we have a message in our system that the fire alarm in your car workshop has been activated.” So my friend says : “Jeez! So why are you calling me?” Her response: “Ehm… well… do you want us to send someone in case it really is burning?” … what are you supposed to response to that? “Nooooooo, don’t concern yourself! I’ll just grab a bucket of water and drive there myself!” … … …

  4. MK on November 20, 2012 1:12 pm

    I just read this headline from National
    and it’s shocking! It’s kind of like saying we’ll look into it, but i the end, we won’t point any fingers at who’s to blame!
    It must become a law that architects must refrain from specifying ACP and go for solid panels instead. Sure it’ll be more expensive, but people’s lives are at stake!

  5. M. Aldalou on November 20, 2012 5:12 pm

    Ze Tall German (funny name by the way), you’re absolutely right. It is practically non-existent. I am glad for you that you live in a villa now.

    Your friend’s story is absolutely shocking even by UAE standards.

  6. M. Aldalou on November 20, 2012 5:12 pm

    MK, you’re right, it’s ridiculous. Somebody needs to be accountable.


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