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Weekend roundup: Two years after Grenfell, Barking Riverside fire raises familiar questions

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This week’s top stories reviewed by the AJ’s Simon Aldous Fire hits Sheppard Robson flats at Barking Riverside • Dulwich Picture Gallery pavilion opens • WilkinsonEyre completes student pods for Dyson Institute

The Grenfell Tower fire, which occurred two years ago this week, was a tragedy made all the more appalling by having been so avoidable, with the tower’s own residents having previously warned about the building’s fire risks. 

Thankfully, there were no fatalities or even serious injuries following last Sunday’s fire at flats in Barking Riverside. But fire-safety expert Sam Webb thinks that is less to do with the building than the time of the fire, during the afternoon when many of the residents weren’t at home. 

‘If this fire had occurred 12 hours later we would have woken up to a death toll to rival Grenfell,’ he told the AJ. 

The fire spread across the timber-clad balconies of the six-storey Samuel Garside House, a mix of private and housing association flats, designed by Sheppard Robson and completed in 2012. Twenty flats were destroyed with a further 10 damaged. Photographs and footage on social media depict a raging blaze that apparently spread in minutes. 

And according to residents’ association treasurer Venilia Batista Amorim, residents had written to the builder, Mace, and developer Bellway Homes to express concerns about the timber cladding, and were assured that the materials were fire retardant. 

However, it has since emerged that the wood-based ThermoWood material used for the cladding had a Class D fire rating, which is not fire retardant. UK timber bodies have since criticised the scheme for not specifying Class B. 

The use of the material did not contravene any regulations. But had the building been more than 18m tall – and built this year – neither option would have been permissible, as they would have contravened the revised Building Regulations. These only allow cladding with a Class A fire rating. 

Which does raise the question of why the combustible cladding ban has a height exemption. Only last week, regs expert Geoff Wilkinson wrote about this in the AJ, arguing ‘We need a single system, not twin-track ones. Try telling residents of 17m-tall blocks that no change is required.’ 

All this comes as the Grenfell United campaign group commemorated that tragedy by projecting giant messages on high-rise buildings around the UK, highlighting safety concerns of the blocks’ residents – from dangerous cladding, to a lack of sprinklers and defective fire doors. 

While government ministers were adamant that a tragedy like Grenfell could never be allowed to happen again, two years later, a public inquiry into the fire feels as if it has barely got going and more than 300 high rises remain clad in combustible material. 

‘Nothing changes except people get promoted and any inquiry can be stretched to infinity,’ commented Webb. 

Poll: What is the main lesson of last weekend’s fire at Barking Riverside? 
• Extend the combustible cladding ban to buildings below 18m 
• Ban timber balconies 
• Banning materials is the wrong approach 
Vote here 

Last week’s poll referred to Tarek Merlin’s suggestion of subscription housing and asked where readers would rather live. Topping the poll at 50% was a traditional terrace; while 38% favoured a modern new-build home. Only 8% were enticed by the heir to the throne’s traditionalist utopia Poundbury; but subscription housing fared even worse, attracting a mere 4% of votes.

Dulwich pavilion: try now, buy later

Dulwich colourpalace adamscott

Dulwich colourpalace adamscott

The latest temporary pavilion at Dulwich Picture Gallery has opened – and if you like it, maybe you can have it. The Colour Palace was designed by architecture practice Pricegore and artist Yinka Ilori and is part of the London Festival of Architecture, which takes place throughout June. 

The colourful design was inspired by Dutch wax fabric prints on display in a Lagos market and is intended to represent a multicultural London, fusing European and West African traditions. The lightweight structure is raised on monumental concrete ‘elephants’ feet’ and constructed from thousands of individual pieces of hand-painted timber battens assembled in louvres. 

The first Dulwich pavilion was installed two years ago, designed by IF_DO, and was subsequently reinstalled in the playground of a local primary school. This year’s pavilion is, however, being advertised for private sale by estate agent The Modern House with a guide price of £25,000.

Used the vacuum cleaner? Now live in the pod

Wilkinsoneyredyson peterlanders

Wilkinsoneyredyson peterlanders

WilkinsonEyre has completed a village of modular student housing pods for the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology in Wiltshire – the college set up by inventor James Dyson.

Dyson is famous for his bagless vacuum cleaners and Airblade hand dryers – as well as being a vocal supporter of Brexit while moving his headquarters and most of his manufacturing to Singapore.

The student pods are built of cross-laminated timber, clad in aluminium, and were factory-built in Scotland. Practice director Chris Wilkinson likens the stacked arrangement to Moshe Safdie’s acclaimed Habitat 67

The village will house some 50 students completing four-year engineering degrees while working as part of Dyson’s staff. The pods curve around a central ‘roundhouse’ hub building, which includes social and teaching spaces. 

Also this week 

  • Nicholas Grimshaw has stood down as chair of Grimshaw, the global practice he set up nearly 40 years ago in 1980. The High-Tech pioneer will turn 80 this October. Earlier this year, he was presented with the RIBA Royal Gold Medal in recognition of his lifetime’s work. Key projects by the practice have included the Eden Project and Waterloo International Terminal, while its revamp of London Bridge station was named Building of the Year in the RIBA London regional awards. Grimshaw has been succeeded by the company’s deputy chair Andrew Whalley, who has worked alongside Grimshaw since 1986. 
  • New practice EcoResponsive Environments has won a competition to design an extension of Letchworth Garden City. The practice was formed last December by architects formerly at PDP and beat entries from Sarah Wigglesworth Architects, CF Møller Architects and Stride Treglown. The Reimagining the Garden City contest asked for modern-day interpretations of Ebenezer Howard’s visionary Garden City principles which could be applied to a 44.5ha site to the north of Letchworth garden city in Hertfordshire, built at the start of the 20th century in accordance with Howard’s ideas. 
  • A retired architect who lives in a 15th-century castle near Edinburgh is set to be sentenced next month for embezzling more than £350,000 from a charity. Ian Brash pled guilty to taking the money from a medical charity, the Dr Robert Malcolm Trust, while he was a trustee. He is expected to be sentenced next month and under proceed of crime legislation could be made to pay more than £1.5 million.

Simon Aldous’s Weekend Roundup is emailed exclusively to AJ subscribers every Saturday morning. Click here to find out about our subscription packages

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