The General Services Administration (GSA), a federal agency which serves as the government's property manager within the United States has joined some of the nation's biggest landlords in trying to repeal stronger safety requirements for new skyscrapers, that were added to the UBC and IBC last year arguing that they would be too expensive to implement.
The new provisions are based on a report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which issue safety standard recommendations after building catastrophes, and now requires all non-residential buildings over 420 feet or about 40 stories to have more robust fireproofing and a third stairwell for emergency egress. Also, the new codes would require all buildings taller than 75 feet to have "glow in the dark" markings on stairwells as a back-up in case the power goes out. The fireproofing in itself must be capable of withstanding an impact of 1,000 pounds per square foot and could cost real estate developers $13million for a 42 story building as well as $600,000 a year in lost rent due to decreased rentable floor space.
David Frable, a GSA fire safety engineer argued that, "It does not take a NIST report or a rocket scientist to figure out that requiring extra stairs will increase general occupant evacuation times but the question that needs to be answered is at what economic cost to society?" Frable and many others from the GSA have written petitions to the International Code Council to rescind the changes this week at the Minneapolis Code Council meeting.
As the debate rages on, one consideration that might be made is to replace the third stairwell with specially designed elevators that can reliably operate during a fire or any event of power outage. The GSA are hoping that this will help recover lost building space and money to what they describe as "an emotional reaction to the 2001 attacks that has led to unrealistic and unnecessary new building standards."
Well, I am not surprised that the GSA, who are really developers are more interested in overall profit above the occupant's safety. I know that the Sept 11 attacks were isolated cases and there is a very slim chance that another plane could come crashing into another highrise but as long as there is that likelihood of occurrence, everything should be done to prepare for it. I do understand the concern about reduced square footage within the building but safety is a higher priority. That is what architecture is about! Not just pretty building to fatten a landlord's purse but a place of refuge and safety for the tenants.
This new standard is no different from designing for earthquakes which definitely requires more money for something that might never happen but still we ensure that the building is ready to withstand the strongest tremors specific to the site. That being said, the General Services Administrations should stop worrying about the money being taken from their already bulging pockets and get with the program.
Images obtained from The New York Times.
For more information check www.nytimes.com/2008/09/08/washington/08codes