Glasgow School of Arts Fire: Lessons About Asbestos And Hazards

 

One year ago, a fire ravaged a major art ‘museum’ which was the library of the Mackintosh building of the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland.  They are trying to rebuild it but are debating how to do this.  The story of this destruction and rebirth is typical of what is going on today in architecture and various rules and laws that harm buildings.

 

The work on the library was due to several factors especially the problem of dealing with asbestos.  Many years ago, fears of cities burning to the ground led to the creation of fireproof curtains in theaters as well as building materials especially roofs, floors and other places prone to fire exposure.  Then it turned out that asbestos has cancer dangers so all types of asbestos was then demonized, the good, the bad and the ugly all at the same time.

 

So instead of safe buildings protected from fires, we have very dangerous buildings that burn like crazy but we don’t have asbestos cancer deaths.  It is a toss up.  Some forms of asbestos is very bad but others are not bad at all but both have been disposed of in favor of higher flammability due to a misguided belief that firemen can save everything somehow.

 

This isn’t working so hot in reality.

 

Things we found in the fire: Glasgow School of Art’s restoration brings surprises | Art and design | The Guardian

 

 “With Mackintosh, you expect it to be amazing craftsmanship,” says Page. “We had always assumed, for example, that the great timber columns holding up the mezzanine, which really defined the room, were carved from single pieces of oak. But the fire has shown them to be nailed together from a few lengths of pine, then covered with a thin facing plate.”…

 

Hahaha…I build houses.  And I do a lot of scavenging.  I take all sorts of stuff and make it into wonderful looking constructions.  I am happy that these older people did likewise.  They managed to tack together throwaway junk and make it look marvelous which is true magic.

The inferno, for all its horrendous destruction, has also provided an opportunity. The fire suppression system – which was tragically almost complete before the blaze, but delayed by the discovery of asbestos – will be finished, along with services threaded through newly exposed ducts and voids. The notoriously leaky north-light studio windows, ravaged by the flames, will be replaced with versions that hopefully keep out the drips.

 

When they took apart the library they opened up the walls and brought in oxygen and voila: this burned pretty thoroughly.  The pine woodwork burned, too, because pine is a lot easier to ignite than oak.  My house has a bit of oak in it due to owning an oak forest and a mill to cut the wood into beams and planks.

 

When oak does burn, it burns longer than pine.  So it is harder to stop.

 

About the windows: there is no excuse for leaking. This was never fixed because the entire building was turned into basically a museum and the library was shut to students for the most part to preserve it so it ceased being a living entity but became a useless appendage which, like all such, became a hazard.

 

The fire began BECAUSE of the renovation.  It was something that made foam to fill the gaps in the walls that exploded and began the fire in the first place.  The open spaces to be filled then caught fire thanks to removing parts of the walls. So the ‘fix’ was the destroyer here, it didn’t combust on its own.

 

The Guardian article goes on to mention that the debate is over making the useless library back into a dead space/museum or letting students use it again.  The answer is obvious: it must have function again to be worth keeping.
We now go onto another news story about fires.  I wrote in the past about huge wooden apartment complexes that catch on fire, mainly due to maintenance work  or under construction and it happened yet again:  Hamptons condo complex in fire reduced to rubble | Daily Mail Online

 

The 90-condo holiday home building in Westhampton collapsed at around 3pm on Wednesday…Twelve fire teams were deployed to fight the blaze but could only battle it from the outside, it lasted past 8pm…The fire was so intense it melted the paint off buildings in the vicinity and sent smoke up three miles high.

 

These buildings have no realistic firewalls.  Once they get going they can’t be stopped no matter how many fire units show up.  They burn with amazing ferocity and are death traps and I am puzzled as to why these menacing buildings are allowed to be built.  But then, lots of money goes to politicians who allow this.

 

Since we tossed out asbestos as a fire protection material, we have to replace it with something equally good and wood isn’t that thing.  Obviously all the sheetrock used in these multiplexes should be fireproof board but this costs more than twice the price of cheaper sheetrock.

 

People don’t often know that sheetrock comes in different thicknesses, too.  Builders prefer to use the thinnest boards possible.  So buildings burn and no one changes a thing.  The Glasgow School of Art didn’t have sprinklers because this would change the museum look of the place so they endangered everyone in a public space.

 

And the mega wood complexes might have sprinklers but NEVER IN THE ROOF AREAS where the fires mainly rage out of control.  So this simple solution is avoided or actively fought off so buildings burn.

 

Like this famous one:  1992 Windsor Castle fire.

 

1865 there was a museum fire that luckily didn’t kill hundreds of people:  DISASTROUS FIRE. – Total Destruction of Barnum’s American Museum. Nine Other Buildings Burned to the Ground. LOSS ESTIMATED AT $1,000,000. A History of the Museum and Brief Sketch of its Curiosities. Scenes Exciting, Serious, and Comic at the Fire. The Police Prompt and Vigilant—The Firemen Earnest and Active.GREAT EXCITEMENT IN THE CITY.Thirty Thousand People in the Streets Pickpockets in the Crowd Accidents and Incidents. THE AQUARIA. THIRD FLOOR FAMOUS PETRIFICATION, THREE MEN OF EGYPT, THE FOURTH FLOOR, THE HAPPY FAMILY, ORIGIN OF THE FIRE. SCENE WITHIN THE MUSEUM, COMIC INCIDENTS, A FEARFUL PANIC. PROGRESS OF THE CONFLAGRATION. ARRIVAL OF THE METROPOLITAN POLICE. THE FLAMES EXTENDING. CLOSING OF SHOPS. THE FIRE CHECKED. INCIDENTS. THIEVES ARRESTED. ACCIDENTS. LOSS OF CURIOSITIES. THE SUFFERERS AND THE LOSSES. DISASTROUS FIRE. – NYTimes.com

 

Ah, back in the good old days when the New York Times had actual reporters who gave raw news with no filters to clean up reality.  Note also the NTY praised the police for stopping pick pockets and looters.

 


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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Glasgow School of Arts Fire: Lessons About Asbestos And Hazards

  1. Rob

    We have building codes that require double layered sheetrock on ceilings, sprinkler systems anywhere a fire could race (like long parallel floor beams), all to give enough time to evacuate, but not put out, the fire. Even residential homes are now required to have smoke detectors that are inter-connected so that the alarm goes off all over the house.

    As for fireproofing, I noticed a house going up with 100% metal studs. The only one I’ve ever seen.

    ΩΩΩ

    ELAINE: Those cheap mega mansions burn to a crisp in no time at all due to being all cheaper wood and no fire breaks. You need masonry walls about every 25 feet to stop fires. Sheetrock just doesn’t do it.

    Simple to test: light a fire next to sheetrock, even two layers and put your hand on the surface of the side away from the fire and it is very, very hot! Light the same fire on one side of a 6″ thick masonry wall and it is somewhat warm on the other side. This prevents spontaneous ignition on the side away from a fire.

  2. JimmyJ

    I’ve mentioned it before but I can’t say it enough. All of the bug killed pine, the majority of pine wood logged from Canada and western US, is highly combustible due to the action of fungus on the fibre, and also is half the deflective strength of normal green pine. Yet vast quantities of this wood is cut using Gov subsidies and used in home and apartment construction.

    Not one building code or engineering spec has been adapted to this crap wood. Its a huge scandal that no one knows.

    Worse, two large sawmills in northern BC exploded and burned from the bug kill pine dust not being recognized as more combustible than green wood dust, resulting in several deaths and severe burns in others. The local Workers Comp is only just recognizing and dealing with the change in wood dust properties, for safety reasons. Meanwhile in one affected community there is a showcase all wood 7 story building made from… guess what.

  3. emsnews

    That is most certainly true! Dead pine is dangerously dry. The natural oils of living trees protects the wood fiber.

    Older buildings when the wood is too dry, can be fixed with wood-based oils applied to it like painting and this soaks in and revives it. I use natural oil based stains a lot on wood to save it.

    In ancient homes, burning wood fires and cooking oily things in it keeps wood ‘alive’,

  4. Old Ari

    I had a good friend die from Asbestos dust, poor man he spent the last year of his life in hospital.

  5. emsnews

    Yes, the miners who dug it up were the ones who suffered greatly just like coal miners.

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