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World Desire to make London's Grenfell Tower 'prettier' likely escalated blaze

07:50  16 june  2017
07:50  16 june  2017 Source:   pri.org

24-Story London Residential Tower Erupts in Flames

  24-Story London Residential Tower Erupts in Flames The London Fire Brigade said it had sent 40 fire engines and 200 firefighters to battle the fire at Grenfell Tower in West London.Police, fire and ambulance crews raced to Grenfell Tower, part of the Lancaster West housing estate about a mile northwest of Kensington Palace.

The newly added aluminum cladding used to cover London ' s Grenfell Tower is being blamed for the fire's rapid spread. Planning documents reveal the material was used in order to make the flats look better from the luxury apartments nearby.

Investigators are trying to get to the bottom of the fire that consumed a 24-story tower block in West London . And although some of these buildings were cheaply constructed, Heathcote says Grenfell Tower was actually built to be pretty safe.

  Desire to make London's Grenfell Tower 'prettier' likely escalated blaze © Stefan Wermuth / Reuters

Investigators are trying to get to the bottom of the fire that consumed a 24-story tower block in West London. British Prime Minister Theresa May is promising a full public inquiry into the tragedy.

But Financial Times' architecture critic, Edwin Heathcote, has already identified one cause: He says "prettification" was at least partly to blame.

Grenfell Tower is a typical concrete, public housing high rise. In the 1960s and ’70s, local housing authorities erected thousands of them all over the UK. And although some of these buildings were cheaply constructed, Heathcote says Grenfell Tower was actually built to be pretty safe.

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Written by Sarah Birnbaum, Narrated by Marco Werman. Download the app and start listening to Desire to Make London ' s Grenfell Tower ' Prettier ' Planning documents reveal the material was used in order to make the flats look better from the luxury apartments nearby. ©2017 Public Radio

Desire to make London ' s Grenfell Tower ' prettier ' likely escalated the blaze . PRI's The World. The newly added aluminum cladding used to cover London ' s Grenfell Tower is being blamed for the fire's rapid spread.

"It was a concrete frame with concrete columns on the outside, so there wasn't anything inherently badly built about it," he says.

But then the neighborhood around the building began to change. Today, it's surrounded by multimillion-pound luxury apartments. And the concrete Brutalist building was considered an eyesore.

The housing authority that owns Grenfell Tower decided to embark on a 8.6 million pound refurbishment. Part of that project involved wrapping the building in an aluminum cladding so that it would blend in better with the luxury towers nearby.

Experts say it was that cladding that turned the building into a tinder box on Wednesday.

"The aluminium composite panels are only very thin sheets of aluminium foil on the outside [of the building]. But there's usually a gap between the wall of the existing building and the cladding panel," says Heathcote. The flame gets drawn up through the gap, causing a chimney effect.

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Desire to make London ' s Grenfell Tower ' prettier ' likely escalated the blaze . PRI's The World. The newly added aluminum cladding used to cover London ' s Grenfell Tower is being blamed for the fire's rapid spread.

Related: Desire to make London ' s Grenfell Tower ' prettier ' likely escalated the blaze . Tower residents and many others in the area are still struggling to come to terms with what they have seen and lived through.

This diagram shows how the flame was drawn up through the cavity between the building and the aluminium panel, creating a chimney effect.© Credit: Courtesy of Probyn Miers This diagram shows how the flame was drawn up through the cavity between the building and the aluminium panel, creating a chimney effect.

The fire jumped from the fourth floor to the 24th in just 15 minutes. One eyewitness told London Channel 4 News that the cladding "just caught up like a matchstick.”

Heathcote says the fire raises important social questions.

"There are something like 4,000 of these social housing blocks still in the UK. And a lot of them are being gentrified."

Cladding, Heathcote points out, "is a typical response to gentrification." It attempts to "improve" a building's appearance to make it more marketable to private investors, while ignoring structural deficiencies. If Grenfell Tower hadn't been "prettified," it might still be standing today.

London fire: Tests show other high-rises have suspect panels .
Tests so far have found that at least seven high-rise apartment buildings in England have combustible external panels like the ones believed to have contributed to a fire that killed 79 people in London, Prime Minister Theresa May's office said Thursday.Downing Street said 600 buildings in the country have "similar cladding" to that of Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, which was destroyed by the June 14 blaze.The Department for Communities and Local Government later said that figure refers to buildings with all types of cladding and that not all of them necessarily have cladding made from the same aluminum composite material as Grenfell Tower.

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