Monday, June 26, 2017

Are We Awaiting Pune's Grenfell Tower?








“Fire & Gun powder do not sleep together”… Chinese Proverb.

Indeed words of wisdom has always flowed from the land of Zen & no wonder above simple logic which tells us a great deal about planning our buildings makes me respect Chinese philosophy a bit more! Before I explain the importance of this quote let me share something which I came across on Face book by great modern world’s architect James Law. This is about an incidence which shocked country like England, one of the most developed that too in Europe; it’s about Grenfell Tower fire which engulfed entire twenty five storied building in just few hours. The death toll has already reached to thirty odd numbers & eared to touch hundred as many people are still missing. Agreed it’s not first fire in the world’s big cities & we have seen worst yet it was one of the most damage making in history of England & nearly hundred people dying in Europe’s city is like thousand people dying in our country, now you can make out its scale! What is special about this fire is the lesson it gave the so called civilized world that with all modern days safety norms & systems yet it there can be such tragedy! On this background I came across a post on FB by famous architect James Law from Hongkong, which made me share my thoughts on the subject. Below is what James Law wrote about the Grenfell Tower fire, let’s go through it & then we can have a look at what’s scene in our cities here…

What is Wrong with Architecture?
Over the past few days, I was shocked by the news of the Grenfell Tower fire in London where 17 people have died and over 70 persons are still missing as of the time of this posting.
It cannot be without effect to myself as an Architect to reflect on this tragedy and to critique the state of Architecture today in which such a towering inferno could happen but otherwise have been avoided.
I ask myself how could we be living in a time when we have the engineering to fly, the technology to go to space, the science of fire safety, and the wisdom of common sense that we can still allow for death traps such as Grenfell Tower to even exist.
As a citizen I can lay the blame on society and perhaps the governance structures that have allowed such buildings. However as an architect, I have to blame myself and my profession for allowing for such an immoral paradigm of architecture.
Architecture has become obsessed with all that is unhealthy and immoral in the modern world. It has become a system focused on wealth and asset value. It is an instrument to extract financial gain in the urbanized condition, and architecture fundamentally has become a tool beyond the inhabitant.
Architecture has also become polarized and distracted, with its obsessions for beautification, aesthetics and branding over taking its fundamental obligations for safety, health and core values of community to protect and nurture its citizens.
Architecture was once a bright light for society, a beacon of values upon which society could build upon to create peace and stability. Architecture once represented from the creative output of man the optimism that we could build a better world for all.
But all this is gone. It's gone because the managers of Grenfell Tower did not have these fundamental values, and so made decisions in the design, upgrade and management of a building that ultimately became a death trap to so many innocent citizens.
What Grenfell Tower reminds me is that as architects, we have a moral responsibility to primarily safeguard the safety, health and well being of the public above all other considerations of aesthetics, sustainability, and commercial value.
What Grenfell Tower also reminds me is that until Architecture once again hold to higher ideals and core values of humanity, our architecture will become the fundamentally dangerous blocks of our urbanscape, and would have forgone our ultimate opportunity to build a better fabric of mankind.
It's time to wake up…. James Law.

What a sensitive mind this guy has, maybe that’s what makes you special from others in any profession & on this background except one day news on news papers no personality from the field of real estate or related to it has taken any cognizance in our country of this mishap. Well, I am not surprised, as in the country where more than three hundred people die every day in road accidents who cares for some seventy odd people dying in a fire in some country thousands of kilometers away from us! Here in this very State of Maharashtra our Mantralay itself caught fire & was burning for whole day killing few people but damaging entire working of this State for months & the repairs went for years & yet if someone visits the place the fire safety aspect is same or worst than what it was earlier! Now about the Grenfell towers, its neighbors as well survivors of the fire are claiming that they have been writing to authorities about the fire possibilities & lacuna in the fire safety systems but it went to deaf ears. I am not familiar with the fire safety system which manages these aspects in England but I know what deaf ears of system are! And why just deaf ears, we do witness everyday deaf ears along with blind eyes, numb brains, and crippled hands of the body named system. Here when I say system I meant not just so called Govt but everybody associated with the real estate. And I am deliberately saying real estate as if there is safety issue about an airplane then we blame aviation industry & same is about railway or shipping. Even if some industry meets with operational accident like Bhopal Gas leak by Union Carbide then we blame the chemical industry so if we are referring to building fires & safety aspect then every person associated with real in whatsoever capacity is responsible to the tragedy. And that’s why I called the system not just deaf or blind but dead as we have become veteran (read namchin in Marathi) criminals on the front of safety when it comes to the buildings! If somebody is hurt by my allegation then ask yourself just to have a look at some major real estate tragedies taking lives of many or ruining families’ entire future in one moment. If, why “if”,  I am sure most of us have forgotten a building which got fall down like house of cards in Ambegaon, Pune some three years back, killing a youth who was trying to save his new car & twenty families become homeless in few minutes! With all hohallah committees were formed by authorities, announcements were made to find our every illegal building & take action, safety audits will be done of every such building is also declared by the so called system; media highlighted news as well photographs of surveys being done by officers, associations of developers & architects. Safety code of conduct at construction sites were wrote as well various affidavits from structural designers, licensed engineers were made mandatory for plan sanctions & what happened after that? Nobody till today knows how many illegal buildings are there in & around Pune; rather still illegal buildings are being built. There are certificates as well affidavits by engineers & structural designers but each has taken care to save his skin while doing so as concern is not building’s safety but their own safety if mishap occurs! And then there are flood related tragedies causing landslides, site accidents, slab collapse & what not. Yes fire tragedy is yet to occur claiming some two digit & more lives but I am sure that day isn’t far away with this dead system!

Like every NOC there is a farce of fire NOC (no objection certificate from fire dept about building is safe on fire threat front) in real estate, as the norms are age old & not keeping practicality with today’s planning as well needs. With illogical minds some cut paste rules have been formed & everybody accepts it, as one there is no point in applying logic with Govt & second everybody knows once the building is complete nobody is going to care what is happening at site regarding fire safety! For e.g. two stair cases & making it air tight; visit any building & see the way these staircases are planned, these airtight staircases will become smoke chambers actually as they are not maintained & doors are having gaps in most building. What I feel a staircase outside of building line & open from all sides will be best actually but that’s not allowed. Then the biggest joke is fire engine side margins i.e. distances of building line from the boundary walls, these are keeping in mind Snorkel i.e. fire rescue system but to my knowledge its break down since long; thanks god till now no need has arrived yet for the same. Then there is fire rescue area mandatory to be kept as 25% of floor area above eighth floor height; here also when every flat has a terrace why one needs as in the kind of our residential buildings with main construction material is concrete, bricks i.e. makes it impossible for fire to spread from one flat to other, there no need for such. As we don’t have central air conditioning or airtight passages & lobbies with false ceilings. And then why on rescue zone on just eighth floor, what about mid floor rescue how it’s going to serve the purpose for entire building? Fir pumps at ground floor with capacity of head rising till tenth floor is also one more joke as how it can help when the fire is inside. So many things have to be revamped & make the fire NOC really effective is need of time.

The most important & equally neglected aspect is post occupancy maintenance of fire safety arrangements made by the developer. There is no fire safety audit mandatory & I don’t know one residential complex where it’s being done. You can visit any building even high rise, two or three years down its occupancy & you will find it in grave situation of fire safety front. Fire pumps are not being maintained, water sprinklers haven’t been tested since its fixing. The fire hydrant hose pipes & Valves are not in place as well in non-functioning mode. And why just common areas but even inside the flats where fire danger is most because of heavy wooden interiors most people don’t even have a fire extinguisher in their flats! The entire internal concealed wiring which is main reason of fires due to short circuit is hardly checked periodically by skilled wireman.  The scene in commercial buildings especially IT parks which are most susceptible to fires isn’t different, though a shade better than residential buildings. Mock fire drills are never conducted so that the occupants will be aware how to behave in case of fires. Actually a lesson to learn from the Grenfell Tower fire is the basic building material which made the entire building caught fire like a match stick! The so called glazed buildings we have in the name of modern look IT parks are actually death boxes in case of fire, making all the smoke gets clogged inside the building & in addition to it all this gazing & cladding works ends up generating more heat & making rescue operations impossible. Even the developers doesn’t take this aspect seriously as along with giving air conditioners & fancy gadgets in flats nobody thinks of giving fire extinguishers, this shows lack of our vision on safety from fire! This is where James Law’s concerns needs to be seriously taken by entire architect as well engineering fraternity as while planning & executing our planning only we can take care of fire factor at its best! All this shows the negligent attitude of us as a society, regarding our own safety from fire. But then what else can be expected by the people who need a law or get fined for not wearing helmet while driving when their own head is at stake!

Now speaking about rescue operation, our firemen are at par with our soldiers at frontiers & salute to their courage, looking at the way they have to work with age old equipments our fire brigade has! Recently there was lots of publicity in media about first Fire Brigade Museum being opened in Pune. This museum displays the history of Pune fire brigade as well various equipment used to fight fire, pictures, models & panels. Agreed its great way to make common citizens aware about the tough job fire brigade has to do. Though the firemen from Pune’s fire brigade jokes that their existing equipments itself are in historic condition & needs to be kept in the very museum only! And they are not wrong as recently I read a news about fire suits which the firemen needs to wear while extinguishing fire have become old. The news also mentioned that fire department after repeatedly demanding for all these equipments, is still awaiting the fire suits as well helmets & authorities has no time to look in for demands of fire brigade! Well well, when we will fulfill fire brigade’s such very basic demands; after few firemen lost their lives along with some Grenfell tower in the city gets burnt out? And if this is attitude of our dead system towards the fire brigade itself then, who the hell cares about citizens & the buildings they reside in!

With the rampant growth happening in & around this smart city we can’t afford to neglect safety aspect that of the residents in all these building. On this background sensitiveness towards building planning & execution by architects like James Law stands out as growth doesn’t mean just building tall buildings & occupying them to fullest capacity. Growth is giving the citizens safe life style also & this can happen when everybody associated with the growth becomes sensitive & act responsibly for the same! I will conclude with my condolences towards the victims of Grenfell Tower & with the words, “No more Grenfell Tower!”

-- 
Sanjay Deshpande 

Sanjeevani Dev.

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