Nov 22

LSA Alumnus Jack Banting published in FRAME

Nov 22

2022/23 Design Think Tank Module Launches

Nov 22

Mentoring can transform the architecture profession – for good

Nov 22

APPLICATIONS ARE OPEN FOR 2023/24

Nov 22

Alternative Routes To Registration: An Evening with ARB (17/11/2022)

Nov 22

Circular architecture needs material passports

Nov 22

Apply To The LSA: Online Intro (23/11/2022)

Nov 22

BOOK NOW! Part 2 Open Days (7/12/22-25/1/23)

Oct 22

LSA Registrar

Oct 22

Operations Manager

Oct 22

London School of Architecture announces strategic collaboration with Black in Architecture

Aug 22

LSA Summer Design Charrette

Jul 22

How fire has shaped London – from 1666 to Grenfell

Jul 22

Voices on: Architecture and Fire Safety

Jun 22

JOB OPPORTUNITY:  DESIGN TECTONICS TUTOR

Jun 22

JOB OPPORTUNITY:  DESIGN DIRECTION MODULE LEADER

Jun 22

JOB OPPORTUNITY:  DESIGN HISTORY TUTORS

Jun 22

JOB OPPORTUNITY: DESIGN STUDIO TUTORS

Jun 22

JOB OPPORTUNITY:  DESIGN CITIES MODULE LEADER

Jun 22

Voices on: Architecture and Displacement

May 22

Job Opening: Design Think Tank (DTT) Module Co-Leader — Apply by 20.06.2022

May 22

You’re invited to the LSA Summer Show 2022

Mar 22

LSA students shortlisted for London Festival of Architecture design competition

Feb 22

ELEVEN DESIGN THINK TANKS AIMING TO TRANSFORM THE CITY

Feb 22

LSA launches new bursary scheme for students from low-income backgrounds Copy

Feb 22

LSA announces Thomas Aquilina as inaugural Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation Fellow

Feb 22

LSA Tuesday Talks

Feb 22

Meet students, faculty and alumni at our Open Evening — 24.02.2022

Jan 22

Why Apply to the LSA? Thoughts from our Academic Director

Jan 22

Job Opening: Professional Events Co-ordinator — Apply by 18.03.2022

Dec 21

Will Tooze & Daniel Wood — Plan for Chalk Bridge

Dec 21

Siân Wells — Feminist City

Dec 21

Peter Salman — The Deconstruction Institute

Dec 21

Jayden Luk — Grow The City

Dec 21

Jack Morgan — Freedom of Movement

Dec 21

Harriet Stride — The School with Roots

Dec 21

Freddie Hutchinson — Channelsea Tidal Gardens

Dec 21

Dominika Pilch — Kingsland Centre

Dec 21

Carlos M C Pereira — Social Celebration

Dec 21

Amir Hossein Noori — Narratives of De Beauvoir

Dec 21

Sam Butler — The Co-Evolving Workplace

Dec 21

Sam Pywell — Hackney Centre of Change

Dec 21

Ross Langtree — Wick Ridge

Dec 21

Mikolaj Strug — Identity and Accessibility

Dec 21

Dougie Haseler — No Fixed Abode

Dec 21

Jonathan Boon — Arrival Space

Dec 21

Francesca Taplin — Active Cities

Dec 21

Sebastian Maher — Build Back Beta

Dec 21

LSA LAB Director Lara Kinneir chairs UN HABITAT workshop on ‘New Urban Agenda’

Dec 21

Developing Competencies for Tomorrow’s Architect — the LSA at the ARB’s professionalism and ethical behaviour workshop

Load more

How fire has shaped London – from 1666 to Grenfell

In an excerpt from his new book, Liam Ross considers how London has been shaped by fire safety regulations, and the relationship between architecture, government and fire

 

The Great Fire of London, which occurred in 1666, destroyed as much of the city as did the Blitz, burning out the medieval centre as far as its defensive walls. The effects of post-fire regulation, from the 1667 Reconstruction Act through to the 1774 Fire Prevention Act, were more wide-reaching. Often cited as the first act of building regulation in the UK, they shaped the urban form, construction materials and detailing of London in ways that are still visible today.

 

Outlawing timber construction they made mandatory the use of London’s now familiar brick; requiring non-combustible and protruding party walls they defined the height and roof profile of much of the city; controlling the separation between windows as well as their depth, they designed the future city’s facades; regulating the width of plots to facilitate the standardised production of structural components, they reshaped patterns and types of land and property ownership. The terraced houses through which London expanded during the 18th and 19th centuries were “more or less the clauses of [those] building regulations turned into bricks and mortar”(1), and those regulations were shaped most profoundly by a particular way of thinking about and mitigating fire risk.

 

Three hundred years later, when the Blitz tore holes in that fabric, it cleared the space not only for new buildings but also for new ways of thinking about fire risk and building regulation. The German bombing campaign also accelerated ambitions for “slum clearance” ongoing since the time of Charles Booth. Where those bombs fell, towers later rose.

 

The Barbican Centre, built on land bombed in WW2. Photo: Sean Troup

Like slow-motion dust plumes, post-war rebuilding replaced low-rise, private brick construction with new building types and technologies: the reinforced concrete frames and pre-cast panels of point-towers and slab-blocks, often lined with asbestos. And those new forms of construction likewise depended on new forms of regulation; the Second World War was itself the prompt for the UK’s first national building code; the exigency of post-war reconstruction displaced a patchwork of local authority by-laws with a unitary national code. That is, the Great Fire and the Blitz didn’t just pave the way for isolated building projects; through those regulatory frameworks designed in their wake, they prompted programmes for reconstruction that were city-wide, indeed national in scope.

 

[…]

 

Like the Great Fire and the Blitz, Grenfell is today prompting change within the UK’s fire-safety legislation, bringing particular scrutiny to those concerned with the testing of materials, and the use of combustible cladding at height. A ban on combustible cladding over 8m has already been imposed, requiring the re-cladding of other buildings, many of them also post-war towers now found to be unsafe. Further regulatory changes are expected, and these will extend the impact of that single fire well beyond its original site.

 

Grenfell Tower in 2018. Photo: Guido van Nispen/flickr

That is, the Grenfell fire will leave marks on cities across the UK, if not the world. But as we have seen, the marks of many fires are also legible within the built fabric of that one building. Overlaid on Grenfell Tower and its site we have already seen a number of different programmes for the reform of urban fire-safety: those forms of testing now problematised for allowing highly flammable materials to be certified as safe and installed at height; those post-war building standards that supported new building types and modes of construction, but seen as problematic by subsequent governments; and those prescriptive urban and architectural rules that, imposed in the wake of the Great Fire, would replace London’s previously timber buildings.

 

Our cities are an archaeology of fire; they are formed from successive acts of regulation, each prompted by and learning from particular building fires, each seeking to re-shape our built fabric and its legal frameworks in different ways.

 

 

Liam Ross is an architect and senior lecturer in Architectural Design at the University of Edinburgh. This excerpt was taken from Ross’ new book, Pyrotechnic Cities: Architecture, Fire-Safety and Standardisation (London: Routledge, 2022)

 

Notes

(1) Andrew Saint, ‘Lessons from London’, in Cities for the New Millennium (London: Taylor & Francis, 2001). p. 159.