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Grenfell inquiry: Studio E told client not to share fire strategy with fire brigade

Grenfell shrine anthony coleman
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Studio E associate Bruce Sounes urged his client on the Grenfell Tower refurbishment not to show the fire strategy to the fire brigade because they might support a ‘severe interpretation of the regulations’

Sounes denied being ‘devious’ as Grenfell Tower Inquiry lawyers probed him about the emails in a session yesterday (11 March) afternoon.

The inquiry has now been suspended until Monday as Sounes, for the second time, was not well enough to give evidence today.

In an email sent on 1 April 2014, Claire Williams of the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), the project’s client, told Sounes she had met a ‘fire engineer liaison chap’ and wanted to get the fire strategy ‘on to their radar’. She asked Sounes to send the fire strategy, authored by fire experts Exova, ‘asap’.

Sounes replied to her the next day with a copy of the fire strategy and accompanying mark-ups by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBCK).

But he said: ‘I would not show this to the LFB [London Fire Brigade]. They are likely to support the severe interpretations of the regulations which Exova believe are unnecessary because this is in an existing building.’

studio e mail

studio e mail

Source: Grenfell Tower Inquiry

Email sent from Bruce Sounes to Claire Williams of the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation 

Sounes told the inquiry that he did not want to show the fire brigade the strategy because it needed to be updated as ‘the mark-up highlighted requirements to fireproofing the risers off the central lobby, which I had not had the opportunity to discuss with RBCK’.

The architect was asked whether he thought it was in his client’s interest to ‘try and get through the building control process without too many issues being raised by building control’. Sounes replied: ‘It’s not my role as an architect to be devious, I’m sorry.’

The inquiry had previously heard that Studio E did not check whether the insulation put forward for Grenfell Tower met key performance standards.

The practice had prepared the National Building Specification (NBS) documents on behalf of client KCTMO to be used for contractors tendering for the Grenfell Tower refurbishment in 2014.

The document states that all products used had to comply with the standard for systemised building envelopes set by the Centre for Window and Cladding Technology (CWCT). 

But, in the same document, Studio E had explicitly specified Celotex FR5000 aluminium foil insulation for the cladding system. This was even though project architect Thomas Rek had said he had not checked whether it met the CWCT standard. The product ultimately used on the Grenfell Tower cladding system was its sister product, Celotex RS5000. 

Inquiry lawyer Richard Millett added that to specify Celotex insulation on the document it would have had to be entered manually on the NBS system to override the automatic specification of mineral wool insulation.

At the time, the NBS platform offered four insulation products which could simply be clicked on to be specified for a project. A box would have popped up on the program and warned a user who was specifying a product usually used elsewhere, Millett said.

Rek, a former project architect at Studio E who worked on the NBS documents for Grenfell, said he could have entered the clause specifying CWCT compliance into the NBS, but admitted he was not familiar with the standard.

However he told the inquiry it was ultimately the responsibility of the contractor to check their design and materials complied with CWCT standard – even for materials specified by the architect.

tomas rek

tomas rek

Tomas Rek was made redundant by Studio E in December 2013. He flew from Copenhagen, where he now lives and works, to attend the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. 

Rek told the inquiry he did not know where the idea to use Celotex FR5000 had come from, while Sounes later told the inquiry he thought the material would be suitable because it ‘had been put forward by Max Fordham, who I understood had undertaken this sort of project many times’.

Sounes, who returned to the stand after being taken ill earlier in the inquiry, added: ‘I guess I made an assumption they had used this product before under similar circumstances. I was inferring acceptability from Max Fordham.’

Sounes acknowledged he had been sent a data sheet on the Celotex FR5000 insulation from an employee at Max Fordham, and that it made no reference to it being of limited combustibility or suitable for high-rise buildings.

He added that he thought the insulation would simply char in the event of a fire because that is what he had been told by a Celotex rep at his previous job in 1998 or 1999.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Industry Professional

    Re the statement in the report: "However he told the inquiry it was ultimately the responsibility of the contractor to check their design and materials complied with CWCT standard – even for materials specified by the architect."
    Moving forward, all designers need to do their best to ensure that what they specify does meet the standards they intend to be met. Reliance on others to check makes designers appear indecisive and less relevant. Or, as a designer, am I missing something?
    If a contractor can check something then cannot the designer do so as well or is it that the contractor concerned is a specialist and so is deemed to know more about this particular design detail than the designer?
    Jeffrey - a civil engineering designer - comment made via the IHS

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