Teaching Fire Safety in Schools of Architecture: The Spanish Case

Teaching Fire Safety in Schools of Architecture: The Spanish Case

Juan Bautista Echeverría (University of Navarra, Spain) and Maria Fernández-Vigil (University of Navarra, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-5053-6.ch010
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Fire safety teaching in schools of architecture has become more relevant over the last years in Spain due to the influence that it has in the professional architectural project. The introduction of fire safety knowledge in the intermediate courses of architectural studies has important advantages for the student, who quickly perceives the project as a normative discipline. However, fire safety regulations are complex and difficult to understand for the students. The experience along the last years has progressively evolved from an analysis of the legal documents to a more frequent use of graphical representations. A combination of symbols, diagrams, and simple drawings has proven to be quite effective: Symbols act as anchor repeated throughout the learning process. Diagrams are a first approach to the characteristics of the building. And the simple drawings complete the information so the students can work on the proposed exercise.
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Fire Safety (FS) aims to prevent and mitigate the unwanted consequences and effects of fire. The Society of Fire Protection Engineers, an international pioneer institution in the scientific development and dissemination of fire safety, defines Fire Protection Engineering as “the application of engineering principles to prevent and mitigate the unwanted impact of fire” (SFPE, 2018, p. 3). Table 1 contains the technical skills that a fire protection engineer should have according to the same organization (SFPE, 2018, p. 9).

Table 1.
Technical competencies and knowledge areas for the professional practice of Fire Protection Engineering, FPE
Fire ScienceHuman Behavior and EvacuationFire Protection SystemsFire Protection Analysis
Knowledge AreasHeat Transfer
Fire Chemistry
Fire Dynamics
Human Behavior and Physiological Response to Fire
Egress and Life Safety Design Concepts
Passive Systems
Active Systems
Fire Detection and Alarm
Fire Suppression
Performance-based Design
Smoke Management
Evacuation Analysis
Structural Fire Protection
Risk Management
Numerical Methods and Computer Fire Modelling
Building and Fire Regulation & Standards

As it can be appreciated, Fire Protection Engineering is a very complex field, which integrates diverse aspects, such as the physics of fire and its performance in buildings, human behavior, or risk analysis. Regarding Fire Safety (FS) in buildings, in which this paper is focused, there is an interaction between the building, its occupants and the destructive fire (Figure 1). This means that predicting how a fire is going to affect a building and its occupants deals with uncertainty and needs very different skills and the use of predictive methods.

Figure 1.

Graphic scheme by B. Meacham


Probably because there is an inertia of the traditional role of the Architect in the building process, Architectural education in Spain represents an exception in comparison to other countries. Many technical competencies are required in the university programs, being one of them the capacity to develop safety projects, evacuation, and protection of buildings (Ministry of Education, 2010).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Prescriptive-Based (Specification): Being prescribed or specified in terms of dimensions, materials installation, or operation.

Descriptive (Prescriptive) Requirement: A requirement expressed using definitions, particular (product) types or classes, or design features.

Objective: Goal or objectives the building must achieve.

Acceptable Solution (Approved Document, Deemed to Comply): A solution that has been determined by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) to comply with the societal goals, functional objectives and performance requirements stated within a performance-based regulation. These may be specific prescribed/specified solutions, provided in or referenced by the regulation, or performance-based solutions derived using verification methods provided in or referenced by the regulation.

Alternative Solutions: A solution that differs, in part or in whole, from the solutions offered by the acceptable solution or verification method but achieves compliance with the performance requirements of the building regulation to the satisfaction of the AHJ.

Performance-Based Building Regulatory System: A regulatory framework for the built environment which consists of 1) a performance-based regulation (code), 2) acceptable solutions, 3) verification methods, and approved methods of analysis.

Functional Objective: A statement of how a building or its systems function to meet a societal goal for the building.

Performance-Based: Being described in terms of the performance of a material, product, component or system which can be measured, calculated, or predicted.

Functional Requirement: A requirement expressed using only qualitative terms and stating a goal or objective which shall be achieved (e.g., “buildings shall have escape routes which allow users to leave the building sufficiently quickly and safely, taking into consideration its purpose and size, and whether emergency equipment can be used”).

Risk-Informed: Method or technique which considers qualitative and quantitative risk.

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