Façade Failure Mechanisms and Risks in Fire

The relevance and appropriateness of fire safety testing and guidance for façade systems is being outstripped by the rate of evolution of façade systems, configurations, and materials. Current guidance has largely evolved from guidance that was specific to historic forms of façade construction; namely, masonry cavity wall systems insulated with non-combustible inorganic insulation materials. A recent series of fatal fire events involving modern façade systems in high-rise buildings consisting of combustible insulation materials have led to concern in the Fire Safety Engineering community and various players in the construction industry.

Two key assumptions behind existing code recommendations regarding fire safety of façades are that: (1) the façade system is mechanically fixed to the main structure by fire resisting fixings; in other words, fire would not result in the rapid detachment of the façade nor would the fire be able to rapidly penetrate the cavity; and (2) the insulation is not combustible, and so even if a fire were to occur or break into the cavity, fire would not spread within the cavity. Neither of these assumptions is necessarily true for modern façade systems. For instance, aluminium is commonly used as fixing, and the protection to the cavity is often some form of plaster board based build­up.

Furthermore, due to stringent requirements on building energy performance, foamed polymer insulation materials such as expanded polystyrene, polyurethane, polyisocyanurate, or phenolic foam, are increasingly being used. The use of combustible materials introduces a new series of fire risks that need to be carefully addressed.

The above concerns require the use of advance quantitative methods able to satisfy multiple design criteria. In order to implant fire safety within this framework, knowledge on the fire performance of façades and the relation between their different sub-systems needs to be developed. This PhD project, supported by ongoing work by Arup and Edinburgh University, will identify and quantify the response and failure mechanisms of facades in fire in highrise buildings. It will identify and quantify potential consequences for occupant, public, and fire fighter safety. The outcomes are expected to provide guidance on fire risk assessment and considerations for design, construction, operation, and maintenance of building façade systems.

This project is an Industrial CASE studentship supported by EPSRC and Arup. The successful candidate will be expected to undertake collaborative work within Arup during the project.


Further Information: 

Academic Supervisors: Dr Rory Hadden & Dr Juan Hidalgo, School of Engineering, University of Edinburgh
Industrial Supervisor: Andrew Pettit, Arup, Fire Engineering

Institute for Infrastructure and Environment

Fire in the Lakanal House tower block on 3 July 2009. Six people killed and 20 injured.
The Lakanal House Fire (Camberwell, London). Source: www.bbc.co.uk
Façade fire in the Address Downtown Hotel on New Year’s Eve 2016.
The Address Downtown Hotel Fire (Dubai). Source: http://www.express.co.uk/
Fire in the Marina Torch on 21 Ferbuary 2015.
The Marina Torch Fire (Dubai). Source: www.dailymail.co.uk

Principal Supervisor: 

Assistant Supervisor: 


Minimum entry qualification is an Honours degree at 2:1 or above (or international equivalent) in a relevant science or engineering discipline (civil, mechanical, or chemical engineering), possibly supported by an MSc Degree. Experience of fire/combustion and/or materials/structural testing would be beneficial though not necessarily essential. The successful applicant will show ability to work across engineering disciplines and interact well with industry. Standard English Language requirements apply for EU/Overseas applicants. Further information on English language requirements for EU/Overseas applicants.


Strong candidates will be considered for full EPSRC Industrial Case level funding - open to UK/EU candidates only. Further information regarding the EPSRC Industrial Case eligibility and requirements.


Further information and other funding options.

Informal Enquiries: 

Closing Date: 

Thursday, September 1, 2016