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Case Study: The Earth Galleries - Fire engineering, fire modelling, evacuation & smokeIn 1996 a successful lottery bid enabled the make-over of the traditional geological Museum into the high profile and high-tech Earth Galleries. With an opening to coincide with the premiere of the blockbuster ""Independence Day"" the Earth Galleries combine traditional Museum structure with an innovative and interactive vision of the Earth.
This atrium building was formally home to cabinets displaying the Earth's natural treasures, but in a passive and, to some minds, unexciting way. Now the atrium has been transformed into a vista of the constellations, one of the largest escalators in a British public building rises to the atrium roof, passing through a revolving globe constructed from metals of the Earth hand-crafted into the shape of the World's continents.
The challenges this vision brought to fire safety meant a wholly engineered approach involving the modeling of occupants and population distribution, evacuation movements, fire initiation and smoke transport modeling, and led to a unique fire safety strategy which balanced hazard against tenability. Using existing features and new systems we were able to ensure the intentions of the designers could be realised whilst ensuring occupants would be able to evacuate safely should the worst happen. Fire risks were reduced by the incorporation of low heat fixtures and construction of limited combustibility; smoke curtains and downstands incorporated into the exhibition spaces enabled the modeling and control of smoke, modifications to existing (and Listed) windows to remove smoke using natural ventilation techniques, and the construction of new stairs, were designed.
In considering new stairs LWF designed escape capacities using flow rates rather than prescriptive stair widths. We innovated the modification of an existing disused building linking the Geological Museum with the Science Museum, ensuring that the interests of Heritage and Planning were optimised. This resulted in a low-cost stair with minimal environmental impact and also enabled the Museum to take advantage of newly refurbished office and valuable storage space. A further stair was constructed which utilised the benefits of Planar technology.
Fire Safety Engineer: LWF
Design & construct manager: Northcroft Construction Architect: Pawson Williams Architects
Building service engineer: Klimaat
Quantity surveyor: Northcroft QS
Structural engineer: Fothergill & Co
Project value: £13,000,000