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In Light of Grenfell Tower: Changes Must Be Made Within The Construction Industry

We are constantly discovering deplorable actions by developers and design-and-build contractors due to their insatiable greed. There seems to be an increase in lack of responsibility or even concern about the safety of others due to their poor practices.

Architects that are licensed professionals have a responsibility to protect the interests of the building occupants, the general public, and the environment. This is something that these people within the construction industry have little to no concern about. Quite honestly, their lack of concern and poor skills should be regarded as criminal negligence. The total absence of skills in the UK construction industry is a result of people in power with responsibilities turning a blind eye and not regulating systems that will protect people.

The perfect example is the tragedy at the Grenfell Tower that caused lives and enormous destruction. There have been countless stories of many complaints by residents concerning their fears of insufficient fire safety. By all reports, there seems to be more than one malpractice that led to the horrific tragedy and there are probably many more stories from those who survived. It does seem that there were multiple failures on the part of the construction industry that must be addressed. I applaud the RIBA President’s demand for a meaningful public inquiry to get to the bottom of this catastrophe. Let’s hope these demands are not toothless.

It’s imperative that an investigation looks into all actions that were taken within the system that, if done properly, could have prevented this tragedy. The Prime Minister made a decision to implement actions that should have been learned from past fires in tall residential buildings over the years and find out if recommendations implemented from these fires were enforced at Grenfell Tower. This also includes implementing or improving avenues to get out of a building in the event of a fire. With proper guidelines, the loss of life would have been significantly lower. Also, did the local authorities read the reports endorsed by Sir Eric Pickles that were sent to them regarding the recommendations to place sprinkler systems in all tall buildings, both in new construction and existing construction? If these recommendations had been adhered to, chances are the fire would have been contained, the loss of life and serious injuries would have been prevented.

There are serious questions that should have asked regarding the reasons for renovating Grenfell Tower. It might be a bit cynical to believe the sole reason was to improve its appearance and thereby increase its market value in the area: Why was funding provided for re-cladding but not for a sprinkler system?

There have been reports that the fire may have been caused by faulty appliances. In the UK, housing landlords do not normally provide appliances such as ovens, washers, and dryers. The tenants in many of these buildings are very poor but are expected to have their own appliances and install them. Most of these appliances are old, second-hand, and not in good working condition The idea that a tenant should install their own gas cooker is not only appalling but a terrifying thought! Many of these people are disabled, in poor health, and do not have the expertise to install them safely. This is a requirement that should be placed on the landlord to provide and install all appliances before the tenants move in. This is a major requirement in other countries such as 
Germany.

Mrs. May’s comment “If there are lessons to be learned…” “If” is not a particularly good question as it’s obvious there are lessons that must be learned. Even if it’s too early in the investigation stage, it is believed that public investigations must be implemented quickly and the authorities should be ready with answers. The entire construction industry should be ready to get on board with proper changes which include the professional body and RIBA which managed to stay silent on the subject until they were pressured.

RIBA’s response, to date, has been far from adequate and seems to be extremely insensitive to this horrible incident. We believe that directly after this disaster, RIBA showed incredible insensitivity by issuing a tweet! The tweet was not related to the disaster but instead “clay brick and concrete Mexican house is set around a cactus tree.” Someone, please explain what that comment has to do with the Grenfell Tower tragedy!

Grenfell Tower was renovated by means of a contractor-led “design-and-build” contract. Through short-term financial savings and cutting back on skills within the local authority organisations, these public people have become even more reliant on outsourcing to the lowest bidder. This should leave everyone questioning whether the lowest bidder has the ability and skills to implement the same standards as one should expect from a public works project. This is a short-term mentality that is very lazy, leading to the construction industry being taken over by this incompetent form of procurement. Government agencies and developers are jumping on board even though they know there is an immense shortfall in skilled labor.

We have been pointing out, for some time now, that we have received reports from reliable sources that there is criminal negligence taking place within the construction industry. Uncaring and greedy contractors are only looking to make short-term profits at the cost of everyone else’s safety. That said, overall scrutiny has dramatically dropped due to the use of privatised checking agencies that just happen to be employed by contractors. Without a doubt, this is a huge conflict of interest when it comes to providing certificates that the contractor needs.

We spoke with a senior council building control officer regarding the potential for corruption within the building control services. Private companies are now taking on these roles to compete with publicly funded building control. They are paid by the contractor by providing certificates that pass inspection. The RBKC Building Control was directly involved in inspecting Grenfell Tower. That said, there should be questions regarding the opportunities that these inspectors have to understand in order to pickup flaws in defective design or construction. There seems to be a lack of understanding due to under funding for the role of inspectors. They do not have the opportunity to collaborate with an independent professional architect that is normal practice in traditional building contracts.

With the depletion of independent architects, there is an incredible loss of the key components of quality control. If a contractor hires an architect to check the construction of a building but has no legal power to issue contract instructions, there is an obvious lack of control over the operation which, in turn, leads to another conflict of interest.

In order to maintain an adequate level of quality control, there should be a highly-skilled, professional designer to implement contracts in a traditional way. They should have the power to implement changes when they find flawed work. Unfortunately, the Thatcher government managed to put professionals in handcuffs and place the reins in the hands of contractors. This practice has never changed since then.

Thanks to the power held by contractors regarding design-and-build contracts, architects have lost all abilities to instruct the contractors. It amazes us that the government has accepted that contractors are in charge, hiring architects and giving them instructions or totally shutting them down if they do not agree. Architects are continually feeling powerless but go along with this government approved the practice. We have never gotten involved in design-and-build contracts and do not plan on doing so. We have gone out of our way to convince our clients to stay away from this practice as well as managing to get local authorities to allow us to control the quality of detailing in the designs because we have shown them the benefits of traditional contracts in order to deliver the very best quality assurance from the start of construction through to the completed project.

I strongly believe that it’s time for the RIBA to take back control and leadership in this matter. They must start developing a RIBA report that will help the government bring about needed changes. The government must start putting people’s lives ahead of a contractor’s profits.

That is not to say that architects have never made mistakes because that is just not true. Everyone makes mistakes because no one is perfect and that is precisely why we need a system that will prevent or find problems before they escalate, creating a serious situation. We do not believe that design-and-build contracts offer any form of checks and balances. Sadly, design-and-build contracts have taken away many safeguards providing a high-level of risk to the public and the environment by incorporating poor quality and unscrupulous practices by contractors.

The fact remains many people and organisations willingly participate in rushing to get the job done to decrease the costs which result in poor quality, value, and removes safety factors in order to get the most out of their financial investments. These practices are deplorable and should be stopped!

From the time we first started our architectural practice, we have witnessed many traditional construction firms disappearing, replaced by financial organisations led by managers who do not have the skills or expertise for these projects. These managers are only brought in to complete a certain level of construction in order to supply contractors with excellent profits. We have spoken to many highly qualified subcontractors who are not even being paid for their work!

Unfortunately, architecture is now a business of opportunity, not a community service. These firms are looking to make as much money as possible regardless of the moral issue, no longer representing what or who they are supposed to be. They have become the puppets of the construction industry. Young, up-and-coming architects need to learn the details involved in building construction but it seems to be a lost trade.

There were many complaints filed about the Grenfell Tower before the disaster ever happened. Many of these complaints were directed at the organisation that decided to privatise the council’s maintenance and procurement departments. There were many other complaints regarding how the construction was carried out, including gas pipes that were not properly encased to protect them in the event of a fire. It’s very hard to believe that these pipes were not encased properly, considering the numerous complaints that were filed. Even though there were numerous complaints, why was a flammable cladding material used on the facades? Also, was there ever any consideration given to fire breaks to stop a fire from spreading to the cladding?

We have constantly spoken up about the poor practice of creating a ventilated cavity between the building’s structure and its external insulation. This practice renders the insulation totally useless and creates an avenue for the fire to spread and intensify!

It really bothers us to witness this kind of installation is applied to buildings and nothing is being done about it. On one occasion we contacted the Authority Building Control Department to place a complaint. Eventually, we spoke with someone who informed us that the building was being overseen by a private building control company. When asked if this was his project, would he consider it an acceptable practice? His only comment was he didn’t know, explaining that he is only a building control manager, not a building control officer. On two different occasions, we tried to contact the private building control company as well as the people in charge of regulating the building control requirements, on both occasions we got nowhere! It seems, that no one is in a position to be held responsible.

Continued complaints regarding the Grenfell Tower and blatant warnings were filed from many different sources including the high-risk of a fire. As for Teresa May’s comment about lessons learned, this is a clear indication of just how out of touch she and the government truly are. The construction company’s response was that the project met all required regulations and was handed over when the completion notice was issued by the Department of Building Control, despite what happened.

Quite honestly, architects and the RIBA need to stop making excuses for a really bad system. RIBA should stop remaining silent and start making significant changes before another tragedy happens. Tweeting about the President’s remarks followed by other insignificant tweets is not only insensitive but leaves the door open for another disaster to take place. One official in RIBA did comment about reading an article in the German media that states very clearly that fire safety regulations in Germany prohibits the use of inflammable insulation materials for buildings higher than 22m but is obviously not the case in either the UK or France.

Regarding evacuation from tall buildings, there should be two separate stairways that are completely separate mechanically, electrically, and structurally in order to prevent smoke from entering the stairway and allowing people to get out safely. In all fairness, this might not be possible in older buildings.

We do not know if regulations in the UK have similar requirements but are just not as strict or whether the regulations are just being ignored. Someone needs to address the RIBA and find out if they have anyone in place to research these regulations and make a meaningful statement in the very near future. We are not holding our breath that this will ever happen. There is no forum on RIBA’s website for debate leaving us to believe that professional architects that are members of RIBA really don’t care.

Everyone should be extremely angry about this horrible disaster and the unnecessary loss of life. We should be angry about those injured and think about the pain and suffering felt by families who lost their loved ones. It’s time we all stood up and put pressure on those in charge to bring about change so this kind of tragedy never happens again!

In all honesty, we do not believe that the public is going to just stand by and let this kind of conduct continue. The public is not going to be happy with anything less than significant change!

In Conclusion

The tragedy that took place at Grenfell Tower should never have happened. This fire, along with many others, could have been prevented once and for all if new regulations and restrictions were in place. From the Prime Minister to those in charge of building codes must step up and demand ethical conduct from the construction industry. If they refuse and continue to drag their feet, how can they get up in the morning and look at themselves in the mirror?

Innocent people died or were seriously injured in this horrific fire because of poor, greedy practices. The people living at Grenfell Tower were poor, do you think officials would turn a blind eye if this happened in Knightsbridge or 10 Downing Street? It’s time that the UK gives control back to architects who have the expertise and understanding to ensure buildings are meeting proper codes for the safety of the public.

Control should be taken out of the hands of contractors and their design-and-build contracts. Are the images of this fire embedded in the minds of our government, the Department of Building Control, and all other departments that have been involved in shady practices? Maybe or maybe not, but it certainly is embedded in the minds of the public and their voices will be heard through elections and the replacement of those people within departments that let this tragedy happen.

Here’s hoping things will change and innocent people will not be harmed any longer due to greed and the bottom line.

 

Earth-friendly Homes

Choosing Green Products & Materials For Earth-friendly and Adaptive Homes

In this day and age, everyone has become very aware of green products that are earth-friendly and good for the environment. These green products are now reaching the building of new homes or when homeowners decide to renovate. Architects, builders, and designers are opting for earth-friendly, adaptive materials that will make homes a healthier environment. With the constant changes in the needs of people, it’s time to understand the economic and health factors for designing safer homes.

Read on to understand the terms Earth-friendly and Adaptive homes.

Earth-friendly home

Earth-friendly Homes

Designing earth-friendly homes have come to light through the efforts of several countries for providing a cleaner environment, creating sustainable living, and improving health. Designers and builders have advanced and developed better skills in order to meet the new demands of their clients. When talking about environmentally friendly homes, this includes the materials used to either renovate or build a new home. Many architects and builders are turning to biodegradable materials for a home’s interior. This is a very interesting concept that actually takes ideas from ancient times when materials for homes came from nature.

For the construction of an earth-friendly home, even the paint products must be eco-friendly. Not only for safer walls but also the health and well-being of the occupants. Another concept being applied is the creation of outdoor rooms. Outdoor rooms use only natural light and air, cutting back on the cost energy. Along with eco-friendly homes, having eco-friendly products will lead to a healthier and environmentally sustainable lifestyle.

 

Adaptive Homes

Adaptive home designs consist of two major factors:

• The ability of a home to adapt to a changing lifestyle of the residents
• The ability of a home to adapt while withstanding many environmental changes.

These designs should create a sustainable lifestyle that provides the home with a better longevity and the occupants enjoying a safer lifestyle.

The Wind Engineering Research Center has stated that using stronger lumber and concrete, good quality insulated panels, and domed ceilings will help homes withstand severe weather. These conditions include storms, tornadoes, and possibly earthquakes. With the rise in serious weather conditions hitting the country, yearly, it only makes common sense to use better quality materials for building homes.

These homes should also have adaptive spaces such as sliding doors and even secret rooms. These are concepts are being used by builders and interior designers for superior designs in limited floor areas while still providing a good deal of space for a growing family. It is also important to choose a design that will be much easier to renovate when there is a need to expand. This is the concept that architects have named Adaptive Home Designs.

An Additional Note: Consider purchasing space-saver items and multipurpose furniture.

 

Formaldehyde flooring

Hidden Unhealthy Chemicals

Designers know that the planning process must incorporate the needs of their clients both emotionally and psychologically. They must also take into consideration the materials being applied to products through treatments and processing during manufacturing.

Unfortunately, many products are manufactured using a dangerous chemical called Formaldehyde. These products include, but not limited to, synthetic carpeting and underlays, insulation, paints, particleboard, adhesives, foam cushions, and plywood. Formaldehyde is also commonly found in many cosmetics, for better absorbency in paper towels, and fabric softeners! Wrap around this thought: Formaldehyde is a chemical used in the embalming process!

Research has proven that formaldehyde gives off gases that cause allergic reactions, triggers asthma attacks, and is an eye irritation. Although problems can be alleviated when changes are made to the home’s environment, there can be many other issues such as migraines, MCS or Multiple Chemical Sensitivities causing chronic candida infection (also known as a yeast infection), and heavy metal poisoning from certain products such as paint. If you or a family member are suffering from any sudden reactions or symptoms it is important to contact a health care professional who is knowledgeable in environmental illnesses.

 

Natural & Healthy Choices

Moving away from chemically treated products and using natural products instead for an eco-friendly home environment seems to be the wiser choice. You can make small changes within your home that are natural, cost-efficient, and good for you. Instead of running out to the store and purchasing an electric air purifier, buy plants instead! Plants can remove pollutants from the air giving you cleaner, healthier surroundings and are decorator friendly!

That said, how can you know which plants will work the best and what toxins are present in your environment? Interior designers have discovered NASA’s list of the best plants that are the most effective. Some of the most popular and effective plants include the Spider Plant, Dragon Lily, and Date Palm. With careful planning, a designer can choose the right plants and flowers to add a wonderful touch to their client’s décor. They will choose plants that are easy to maintain and yet are highly productive at cleaning the air.

Whether your environment is a large business, small shop, your office, or your home, you need to plan carefully to create what you are looking for. Whether you are a client or a Do It Yourself enthusiast, there will be many questions that an interior decorator or designer can help you out with. In general, they know the building codes that comply with the acceptable materials vs harmful materials. Living a healthy lifestyle goes far beyond the removal of diseases, it’s an interior that provides a sense of well-being and toxin-free surroundings.

Chemicals have been used in products for way too long and have proven to lead to a large range of health issues. Read the labels of household products and find out what the heck is in the products. Comprehensive research online can help sift through many common products and discover what you should stay away from. Even though many homes are now being constructed using natural, safe materials, you can still change your home’s environment into something that you will feel so much better about. Talk with environmentally knowledgeable designers for interior alternatives. If you are an interior designer, provide your clients with healthy, safe, choices when renovating or redesigning their homeses.

 

renovating your home to sell

Ideas For Renovating Or Remodeling Your Home To Sell

Homeowners are always reaching out for advice during various stages of projects they are taking on for their homes. Whether constructing a new home or getting ready to sell their existing home, they need help. Some homeowners are adding on or renovating to increase its value when they decide to put it on the market.

Homeowners are looking for professional advice for their projects in the hope of increasing the possibility of their home selling faster now or sometime in the future.

Always remember, people who are looking to purchase a new home want to see a home as a place they can call home. They do not want to have to imagine if they’d feel at home after they do the work. To increase the value of your home, you may need to take on some projects, whether adding on to or through renovations. Here are some ideas to help you give your home an added boost and will pay off in the long run.

 

Accessories Flooring Fixtures

Accessories, Flooring, And Fixtures

Anything that you can put your hands on should be in good condition and good quality. This includes faucets, door knobs, cabinet pulls, etc. An item that can be touched is seen as adding value to your home. Scratched up or damaged worn out floors are going to give a negative reaction to potential buyers. That does not mean you should just ignore items that are not seen, they should be in good working condition as well.

It’s a good idea to consider replacing or repairing worn out old faucets, toilets, sinks, and the list goes on. Taking care of these items will definitely add value to your home and will increase the possibility of selling when you are ready. If your home was built a long time ago, get rid of old light fixtures, they are a real turn-off to potential buyers.

 

painting

Painting

A good coat of paint always adds value to your home and gives it a fresh, new look. Many homeowners have found that even though their fixtures and floors are in great shape, the walls haven’t been painted for some time. Repainting can make a room brighter, cleaner, and looking brand new. Picking up paint swabs at our local home improvement center might just give you some great ideas. You might consider a completely different color that will make a dramatic difference to a room.

Consider having an accent wall in a room that is a different color from the rest of the walls. It can give you are really nice look and even add depth to the room. Stay with white ceilings as colored ceilings are not popular and can actually detract from your room.

If you are considering painting the exterior of your home, have approximately 3 different paints. One for the body of the home, another for the trimming and possibly a different color for your main door. Get some color ideas and talk to professionals to help in choosing colors that work together and will compliment your home.

Many new homes are using natural materials that provide texture and color for a very effective look. If you have natural materials, such as stone, rock, or brick you might consider having them professionally cleaned and you really shouldn’t paint these materials.

 

bathrooms

Bathrooms And Kitchens

Bathrooms and kitchens have always given homes the best value. Unlike 30 years ago, kitchens are no longer a place to just prepare meals, they are places where people come together. Because they have become a center point, it’s really important that materials are good quality and up-to-date. Replacing worn-out old appliances, fixtures, and flooring could add great value to your home. That said, do not go overboard! You must keep in mind the price range of your home. If you spend more than what you can expect from your home, you are throwing money away. Potential buyers do not want to pay for high-end items that are not necessary, so stay within a realm of reason.

If you decide to upgrade your bathroom and you don’t have decent storage you might want to bring in more. Whether storage or fixtures, it does not have to be expensive, speak with people at your local home improvement center to get cost efficient items that will add value to your bathroom. If you have space, consider adding a powder room to your bathroom. Ceramic tiles for the floors and walls are still the leading materials for bathrooms. If you will be expanding your bathroom, you might want to consider bringing in a professional unless you know what you are doing. A bad job will end up costing your more.

 

extentions

Additions

If you want to renovate or add a room to your home, hire experts to get the job done correctly. Unless you are really good at doing these projects, you could make your home look even worse and lose value. An expert will also know any codes that must be met before you can proceed on additions. A professional will know what will work but not become overwhelming for your style of home. They will look at your space, design a plan, and give you a layout that flows. Experts will be able to address any issues that might detract as well as what might increase your home’s value.

 

Landscaping

Landscaping is extremely important for increasing the value of your home whether you are planning on selling or simply want to improve your home’s appearance. Landscaping will be a first impression for potential buyers so it needs to provide a really nice appearance when potential buyers stop by. Again, consult with professional landscapers who can provide you with a really nice laid out plan for your front and back yards. Don’t go overboard with personal touches, if you are selling, as your taste might not be what a potential buyer finds appealing. Furniture, accessories, window treatments, and gardens can be easily readjusted by a future owner.

 

contemorary interiors

Final Touches

When getting ready to show your home, remove personal items that can get in the way and distract from a room. You want potential buyers to see themselves living in this home without feeling they are moving into “your home”. If you are renovating your home for yourself, then you have a great deal more flexibility. Still, keep in mind that one day you might want to sell your home and will not look forward to starting all over again.

Home improvements do not have to cost you an arm and a leg. You can improve your home quite simply by applying new paint to each room. Changing out old faucets, toilets or sinks will make your home more appealing to potential buyers. Keep an eye out for appliance sales and talk with the experts at your local home improvement center.

If you plan on staying in your home for some time, spread out your projects so you are not overwhelmed!