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 M. Aldalou
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?