Thursday, 31 December 2015

Should the Dubai Fire Scare us Away From High Rises?

The Dubai fire on Thursday is the stuff of nightmares. But the risk of tower fires is much greater in the developing world.

In a surreal New Year’s Eve tableau Thursday in Dubai, thousands watched an elaborate fireworks display erupt from the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. Just a short distance away, another of the city’s huge towers, the nearly 1,000 foot tall Address Hotel, was engulfed in flame.

The juxtaposition of the massive Burj Khalifa and its smoldering neighbor highlights a risk that’s increasingly prevalent in the world’s cities. As urban populations expand, high rises and ultra-high rises are becoming commonplace—but those structures can become death traps in the blink of an eye. How much should that worry us?


That depends, in part, on where you are. The list of recent serious skyscraper fires is dominated by sites in the developing world. A Rem Koolhaas-designed hotel at the headquarters of China Central Television was set ablaze by New Year’s fireworks in Beijing in 2009, though luckily the building was unoccupied at the time. That wasn’t the case when a Shanghai apartment building burned down to its girders in 2010, killing at least 49and injuring many more. Nine more were killed in a 2010 tower fire in Bangalore.

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