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Arup Fire has recently obtained a National Type Approval from Local Authority Building Control (LABC) for 15 apartment design principles which have the potential to radically change apartment layouts and streamline the approvals process.

Fire engineering has been used to enhance the common areas of residential buildings, as in the case of the introduction of an atrium to an entrance foyer, or longer single-direction travel distances.

But apartment layouts have remained static, largely due to the guidance requirement for an enclosed entrance area inside the front door of each flat. As internal apartment layouts are often predesigned and sold to generate capital for construction prior to Building Regulations submission, architects and developers have been reluctant to push the boundaries of apartment design, because of the perception that the approvals risk is higher when moving away from the guidance documents.

Arup Fire found itself in the position of presenting the same layouts to authorities in various locations and receiving different responses each time. An increasing demand from private developers led Arup to attempt to clarify the ambiguities in the approvals process. Arup Fire, together with Arup Associates (architects), sought an LABC National Type Approval to ensure that design requirements would be consistent nationwide.

Arup met with three local authorities to discuss a series of apartment layouts which had been developed by Arup Associates.

During several meetings over many months, possible layouts were discussed in detail. Solutions and appropriate provisions for each layout progressed and were agreed. Arup made the submission to LABC, with Flintshire County Council as the approver, and two third-party reviews were carried out by Warrington Borough and Liverpool City councils.

Instead of specific layouts, a series of 15 rules has been approved, to give architects much greater flexibility in residential design. Each of these 15 principles provides an individual twist on the requirements of the residential market. By increasing fire detection with devices such as heat detectors and smoke alarms, open-plan apartments can achieve the same fire-safety standard without the 30-minute fire lobbies which were required in the past.

For example, if a smoke alarm and a sounder are installed in a bedroom, and a heat detector is added to a kitchen, an open-plan layout is permitted with a bedroom opening directly off the lounge.

Using this approach, Cartwright Pickard is currently working on a 121-unit project in Sheffield for developer Urbani.

Although Type Approval is not legally binding, according to LABC, it facilitates 'a consistent approach with a fast track through building regulation approval'.

Most local authorities will accept plans which follow the new Type Approval because they have been checked and deemed to meet the spirit of the regulations.

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