The fire experts working on the Grenfell Tower refurbishment warned that Studio E Architects’ proposals would make the ’crap condition’ of the tower’s fire-safety worse
The revelation came during the latest session of the Grenfell Inquiry (4 March), which had to be cut short after Studio E associate and project lead on the job Bruce Sounes was taken ill.
Inquiry lawyer Kate Grange had concentrated on the role of fire expert Exova, its role, what Studio E had expected of it and whether it had ever properly considered the risks related to the external cladding.
An internal email sent by Exova early in the design process, following a conversation between one of its employees and Sounes, showed that the consultant had concerns about Studio E’s proposals, especially ’about merging uses around a single stair’. However it seemed Exova was happy to ‘massage’ the proposals.
It read: ‘We have just sent through the existing fire strategy for it, basically 1970s 24-storey residential tower with non-residential use to the first four floors. They are now adding additional levels which merges uses around a single stair. Not great.
‘Basically I have told him we can massage the proposal to something acceptable, with separation, lobbies etc, but that there are approvals risks to the project on the shaft/MOE [method of escape] front.
It goes on: ‘They are making an existing crap condition worse so it’s a matter of working the worse bits out and making the new stuff work. No sprinklers wanted.’
Asked about the contents of this internal email, Sounes told the inquiry: ‘It raises a level of concern I was not aware of.’
He followed up: ‘I do recall that this issue of different uses [and] sharing an escape did come up subsequently. [But] I wasn’t aware there was anything fundamental behind.’
Asked if Studio E had ever given any ’serious consideration to the introduction of sprinklers’, Sounes replied: ‘It wouldn’t be something we would hold a view on, so I don’t think we would have. We would have expected the fire consultant to recommend or building control to advise any requirement. The architect wouldn’t normally hold a view on that.’
Sounes was also asked about the reports Exova had been asked to draw up for Studio E, in particular about the apparent lack of attention given to the overcladding in the fire expert’s reports.
The inquiry heard evidence that Exova should have known about the exterior envelope plans from various earlier meetings and documents.
Yet Grange pointed to the introduction to Exova’s Grenfell Tower Outline Fire Safety Strategy issue number one from October 2012. She said: ’Do you agree that it doesn’t state there that the refurbishment includes the overcladding of the tower?’
Sounes said he agreed. The architect was then asked whether he had ever queried that with Exova to which Sounes replied: ’I don’t recall doing so, no.’
Grange went on: ‘Do you remember noting the omission at the time you read the report? Do you remember noting, “Ah, he’s summarised the refurbishment and what it comprises, but overcladding is not in there”? Do you remember that thought occurring to you?’
Sounes again replied: ’No.’
The evidence session was later adjourned for a second morning break but did not resumed. Its chair, Martin Moore-Bick, announced that Sounes had been taken sick and would not be returning ‘today or even tomorrow’.
The next witness on the stand will be Studio E designer and ex-Foster + Partners’ associate Neil Crawford who helped run the job towards its completion.