The Evolution of Fire Safety in Supertall Buildings

Peter Weismantle
Director of Supertall Building Technology
Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, Chicago

Evolution of fire safety concepts are discussed starting with initial concepts developed for the “last generation” (1970’s) of very tall buildings in the US, to the “early” (1990’s) designs in China and from there to the explosion of supertalls currently planned in China, Asia and Middle East. Those early fire-safety concepts using passive building elements in combination with active detection, alarm/notification and suppression has been maintained. Recognizing the effectiveness of this strategy, many locations have mandated retrofitting of these active systems in existing high-rises while maintaining requirements for passive protection.

As international design teams participated in the development of high-rise structures around the world; many of the concepts of fire-safe design first introduced in the US have been adopted, amended and otherwise modified to become global design standards. This process has been a joint effort of the architects and the fire engineers involved in supertall building design.

Early adoption and reliance on active fire suppression systems and the application of performance-based design, expert panels, peer review and special studies to validate building performance have evolved into standard practices worldwide. Although codes vary significantly between the US, Asia and Middle East; the overall fire safety strategies and the use of performance-based design tools to demonstrate compliance is used commonly on projects in all locations. Modeling is routinely used to demonstrate safe egress in cases where strict compliance may not be feasible. As high-rise design specialists, contractors and operators continue to develop and execute projects around the world, shared experience has helped foster advances in high-rise fire-safety and the practice of fire safe high-rise design worldwide.

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