Fire Safety Performance-Based Design
Hong Kong Fire Services Department

Exemplary Services@Gov
2011

Going the extra mile for architectural creativity

Does the high ceiling of the atrium on the fourth floor in Langham Place ever catch your attention? Eye- catching special features in buildings like this are not just the creation of architectural designers, but they also include collaboration from the Hong Kong Fire Services Department (FSD). By introducing a "performance-based design" approach in vetting building designs, the FSD has successfully opened the way for design creativity in the city's architecture.

Applying scientific fire engineering principles, the "performance-based design" approach looks at the unique designs, geometry, people characteristics and the fire risks of individual buildings. The FSD analyses how flames and smoke may spread in a building and how people could escape if a fire breaks out. After examining the fire engineering designs, the team only approves designs that meet all fire safety requirements even under the worst circumstances.

Making buildings travel in time

The "performance-based design" approach not only benefits modern architecture design but also contributes to the revitalisation of historical buildings, said Mr Tam Tai-keung, Senior Divisional Officer of the Hong Kong Fire Services Department. As an example, Kom Tong Hall, an Edwardian building that used to be Ho Kom Tong's mansion and is currently the Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum, needed to install sprinklers in accordance with the current standard. The FSD considered various innovative options to preserve the building's original design without compromising fire safety. These measures, including restricting the activities in exhibition halls and limiting the amount of combustible materials that can be placed inside the building, reduced the threat of a fire without needing to install a sprinkling system that could ruin the building's historical character.

"Performance-based design" is also used in various revitalisation projects. Built in 1930s and located in Mongkok, Lui Seng Chun, an architectural combination of "Tong-lau" and classical Italian design, is being renovated to serve as Hong Kong Baptist University's Chinese Medicine and Healthcare Centre. Its internal layout is the result of meticulous fire engineering planning: the Chinese pharmacy services will be situated on the ground floor for the convenience of the physically disabled and the die-da services, traditional Chinese practices for bone-setting, and acupuncture will similarly be available on lower levels for accessibility. Additionally, an external staircase will be built facing the back alley of Tong Mi Road to meet the means of escape requirements without altering the original building's layout or changing the building's facade.

Thinking ahead of time

"The 'prescriptive design' approach, which was widely used in the past, clearly stipulates that a minimum of fire service installations and equipment must be installed. Such clear cut guidelines are relatively easy to follow but can stifle creativity. There are no precedents to follow for 'performance-based design' projects," Mr Tam said, "Nevertheless, we are all determined to 'move with times' and adopt out-of-the box thinking to give freedom to architectural creativity."

In today's dynamic world, living by the rulebook is not always the best approach to a problem. Thanks to the FSD's innovative thinking, modern design and historical heritage buildings can continue to sustain in the city without compromising their safety or cultural value.

The FSD has adopted out-of-the-box thinking and successfully implemented the 'performance-based design' approach in vetting building plans.
The FSD has adopted out-of-the-box thinking and successfully implemented the "performance-based design" approach in vetting building plans.
The high ceiling of the atrium on the fourth floor in Langham Place
The high ceiling of the atrium on the fourth floor in Langham Place
The exhibition hall of Kom Tong Hall
The exhibition hall of Kom Tong Hall
The outlook of Lui Seng Chun
The outlook of Lui Seng Chun