New Year's Eve Fire in Dubai Hotel Casts Doubt on Safety of Mideast High-Rises

The Address Downtown hotel, a 63-story, mixed-use high-rise very close to the world's tallest building, went up in flames on Dec. 31, raising questions about other high-rises that use the same heavy cladding material building on the exterior.
January 4, 2016, 12pm PST | Irvin Dawid
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Fortunately only 14 people suffered minor injuries, and the evacuation of the building was very orderly. The cause is still under investigation. People had gathered at the hotel to view the fireworks display at the nearby Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. It was the Emirate of Dubai's third high-rise fire in three years. [See below for February fire in the 79-story "Torch" residential high-rise.]

"Ultra-modern, flamboyant designs often involved heavy use of cladding - layers fixed to the outside of buildings for decoration, insulation or protection," writes Andrew Torchia, Middle East economics editor for Reuters. "(E)xperts are asking if the layers may in some cases make buildings more vulnerable to fire."  

"The fires that have erupted in Dubai landmarks have raised concerns about the quality of material used to clad the emirate’s buildings," The National, a leading [United Arab Emirates] UAE newspaper, reported on Saturday.

Experts say most of Dubai’s approximately 250 high-rise buildings use cladding panels with thermoplastic cores, the newspaper said. Panels can consist of plastic or polyurethane fillings sandwiched between aluminium sheets.

In February last year, hundreds of people were evacuated from one of the world's tallest residential buildings when fire broke out at the Torch, a 79-storey skyscraper in Dubai. An investigation by the building's management found most of the damage was to the exterior cladding.

Dubai, with over 2 million residents, is the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates, according to Wikipedia.

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Published on Saturday, January 2, 2016 in Reuters
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