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Unique Buildings Require Cutting Edge Design Solutions
Building and fire codes require construction and fire safety features based on a one-size fits all approach. While traditional code compliance may be acceptable for many buildings, for unique, complex and state-of-the-art projects the codes often limit design flexibility and can hinder the architectural design intent. Likewise, full compliance with the codes is not always practical, or appropriate, for renovation and reuse of existing buildings, historic structures, or buildings where property protection is critical such as museums, libraries, and data centers. For these applications performance based design is often required to demonstrate compliance with the intent of the codes.
JENSEN HUGHES has led the industry in developing and applying performance-based solutions to fire safety. Our experience with fire testing and research, fire modeling, and the code development process makes us uniquely qualified to develop and gain approval of performance-based approaches to fire safety. Our staff has chaired the development of the SFPE Engineering Guide to Performance-Based Fire Protection and the Code Official’s Guide to Performance-Based Design Review, and we have served as Editor-in-Chief of the SFPE Handbook of Fire Protection Engineering and authored several chapters in the Handbook related to performance-based engineering methods.
Maintaining Architectural Design Intent
Architects continue to push the bounds of building design through incorporation of new materials, non-traditional space configurations, offset or interconnecting vertical openings, and mixed building uses and occupancies. Prescriptive building and fire codes commonly do not adequately address such features and can often restrict architectural design options from achieving strict compliance. However, most codes allow for alternative design methods to be used, such as performance-based design, where it can be shown that an equivalent level of fire safety is achieved.
JENSEN HUGHES has applied performance-based methods to many projects incorporating alternative approaches consistent with the architectural design intent while also meeting the intent of applicable code requirements. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. incorporates large open spaces, curved (rather than rectangular) spaces, and a large central atrium. The museum (shown) presented a number of design challenges and code-compliance issues that JENSEN HUGHES engineers addressed through development of code alternates based on performance-based modeling of the building, including assessment of postulated fire events and analysis of occupant safe egress times.
Existing and Historic Buildings
Alterations of existing and historic buildings are particularly challenging because many of these buildings were built to older codes or to no code at all. Achieving strict compliance with modern building codes may not be feasible without substantial reconstruction, often at the expense of sacrificing historic or notable building features or at significant cost. JENSEN HUGHES can evaluate existing building conditions to determine the level of fire safety and code compliance, and develop alternative methods of code compliance that minimize the extent of reconstruction.
The Statue of Liberty is a historic structure that does not meet current building codes and standards. While it was recognized that improvements were needed to provide an adequate level of fire safety and to address security concerns, as a historic landmark and national treasure, reconstructing the Statue to meet current requirements was not an appropriate solution. JENSEN HUGHES worked closely with the National Park Service to evaluate the Statue using performance-based methods to develop a comprehensive fire safety design approach that met the intent of current codes while maintaining historic building features. Based on JENSEN HUGHES’ design solutions, the Statue was renovated to incorporate improved fire safety features and was reopened to the public.
For most buildings, required fire protection systems and design criteria are specified by local building and fire codes based on the generic use and features of the building (e.g., size, construction, layout) rather than based on specific fire protection goals and objectives. These codes primarily address life safety and basic building protection, but do not address protection of building contents. For buildings such as museums, galleries, libraries, computer and data centers, and high-value (archival) storage facilities, the prescriptive code requirements do not adequately address many of the important issues.
By employing a performance-based design approach, the fire safety features in a building can be tailored to that facility based on specific fire safety goals and objectives. In addition to life safety and basic property protection, the assessment can also incorporate design objectives aimed at preserving the building contents (e.g., art collections, computer equipment, archives) or for specific functional aspects of the institution (e.g., security, minimizing down-time). In some cases, such buildings require fire protection designs in excess of the prescriptive code requirements in order to meet either supplemental life safety or property protection objectives defined by the building owner or operator.