Make Use of Verandah in High Rise Buildings for Fire Safety Aspect

The impact of Fire Safety Code in Hong Kong

The fire safety code has experienced a few rounds of reform. The most influential reform we opined was the code published in 1996 and also the code in 2011. While there are many honorable peers have shared the view to both code applicable in Hong Kong, GBE found one interesting HK-unique escape staircase arrangement which have been prevailing in 2 decades ago. This the verandah space intercepting between the apartment units and the requirement staircase (usually scissor-type)

 

Verandah Space being merged 

This verandah space was a space designed in half-open to the external air. The space is connecting between the staircase and the apartment unit through the fire-rated doors. Driven by congested space in Hong Kong, some verandah, in this case, has been enclosed by the window and merged to the apartment units. This was deemed to be against the fire safety code or approved plan.

 

GBP for showing the Typical location of the verandah in a domestic unit

The Provision of HK CAP 502

In 2007, the HONG KONG CAP 572 Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance has been put into enforcement. The “Purpose Of Ordinance” is cited in clause 2 of Cap 572 and We copied here as follows.

This ordinance is aimed to provide protection from the risk of fire of occupants, users, and visitors to certain kinds of composite buildings and domestic buildings.

The law further explains the requirements including fire service installation and equipment and fire safety construction for different kinds of buildings in its Schedule 1 , 2, and 3 correspondingly. The governing requirements stated clearly is to apply the Code 1996 as the “standard” to satisfy the intention of this Ordinance. Thus, the said “Verandah” enclosure or modification is likely in this radar.

 

What did Code in 1996 talk about the “Verandah”

In our view, there was no direct elaboration to the “veranda” being designed for the intercepting lobby between the required staircase and the unit. From the MOE code 1996 and FRC 1996, there was a few relevant paragraphs which came up eventually the “veranda” application as a protected lobby. Since the author was not the Code writer nor in an authoritative position to comment, this blog of write-up serves to trigger some interesting discussion.

 

The provision of the “Protection” lobby was written in clause 13.5 in MOE 1996 and the design of “Protection lobby” was explained in 11.3 FRC 1996. Nevertheless, the enclosing wall of the Protected lobby was further explained in clause 11.7. Honestly, it was a complex integration of different clauses at different code and could easily lead to various explanation outcomes. This undesirable situation such complex set of codes has been improved in lately 2011 code.

The interpretations of Protected Lobby stated in MOE 1996 Code

The design of “Required staircase and protected lobby” was explained in Clause 11.3 at FRC 1996 Code

The Clause 13.5 in MOE 1996 Code

Indeed, the old 1996 code has remarked very clearly in clause 13.5 MOE 1996 code that “such lobby shall be designed as a common area and an integral part of the staircase so that it could not be readily incorporated as part of any adjacent unit(s) of accommodation” The 1996 code did aware the issue of merging the protection lobby to the private unit. Nevertheless, the complex nature of the set of codes 1996 which led to different explanations may undermine the intention in clause 13.5.

Plan for demonstrating the Verandah between the required staircase and the apartment

Above is another example where the “Veranda” was inserted between the escape staircase and the apartment. Interestingly, the kitchen doors also opened to the verandah. It was believed that this layout configuration is hardly survivable in today’s Code.

“Common Staircase” shared by adjoining lot in Hong Kong

The leftover structure coming from rapid Urban redevelopment in Hong Kong

In the urban development , the land was delineated by “Block” and was subsequently craved or partitioned in a different section and eventually further craved into different sub-section. It resulted a lot of common boundary to each piece of lands adjoining to each other.

 

The common boundary bought in the typical implication of “party wall” and “common staircase”. There was a blog written by GBE about “party wall”. The reader is welcome to comment. “Common staircase” is what this article goes deep.

 

The main staircase of the building became as “common” because it was commonly shared between two pieces of land. The common staircase was jointly owned for the enjoyment of the entire building. Since it was common to two adjoining pieces of land, it naturally positioned at the boundary line. It was not a must but naturally came up in the middle between two lots.

Redevelopment and remaining common staircase

With the re-development took place in one piece of land, the adjoining land where the original main building sitting on was necessitated to maintain the common staircase for access. This came up the situation alike to the “Party wall” where the common staircase needs to be retained and still occupy land and space on the land going to be redeveloped.

 

The first and immediate concern is obviously the common staircase is an enclosed space and fall into the definition of GFA. Nevertheless, this common staircase is nothing helpful and undesirable to new development. To cope with this, the above-extracted part plan has illustrated the example of how the PNAP ADM -2 resolves the GFA problem. In short , the entire footprint of the common staircase be deductible from the GFA calculation. According to PNAP ADM-2 from the Buildings Department, the existing common staircase for an old building can be excluded from site coverage and plot ratio calculation.

 

Case Study in two adjoining Urban buildings

Building “A” was redeveloped in 1992. The landlord was obligated to leave the common staircase un-touched and exempted its footprint from accountable GFA. Building “B” was subsequently redeveloped in 2008, but the redevelopment of Building B has demolished partly the “common staircase” sitting on the respective piece of land.

Ground Floor Plan of Building A (showing the Location of Common staircase with Building B)

 

 

GFA Calculation of Building A

 

Ground Floor Plan of Building B (showing the Location of Common staircase with Building A)

 

 

Site Area Calculation in Building B

Another example showing the common staircase issue

Building “C” was redeveloped in 2004, while Building D was redeveloped in 1994. Building “C” and Building “D” retained the common staircase after both redevelopments.

Ground Floor Plan of “Building C”

Ground Floor Plan of “Building D”

Funny interesting maintenance issue

The interesting things come up is that building A which developed earlier than Building B was containing the old “common staircase” . This old left-over common staircase in Building “A” was not GFA counted by the time of redevelopment. The owner of Building A is caught in dilemma. The site where building A sitting on has fully exploited its GFA potential by the time of its redevelopment in 1992. It is now found no surplus GFA be able to assign to this leftover physical ” common staircase” space in the hope to light up again the space utilisation, particularly valuable in highly urbanised city area. The landlord of building A is naturally no incentive to maintain nor convert this common staircase to other proper usage. The only value is the external wall of the left-over common staircase which was being poised for signage in Building “A” (as shown on the photo below. Obviously, the author is wondering the maintenance liability to the grandfather jointly owned structure , i.e Common staircase

 

Misery of Non-accountable GFA in Existing Building. The road from plain drawings to value-added

GFA is the core asset in real estate

GFA – Gross Floor Area is considered as the core valuable asset in real estate. One of the significant governing regulation to GFA stated in Buildings Ordinance is Building (Planning )Reg 23. The Reg 23 (3)(b) have listed in literal form the areas which can be subject to non-accountable GFA whereas the Reg 23(3)(a) has included all areas within the external of buildings as GFA countable.

The Ordinance allows some accountant GFA in 23(3)(a) becomes considered as non-accountable GFA through the power vested to Buildings Authority by section 42 of Buildings Ordinance and explained by the ADV – 02 (PNAP 30 in former version). Some GFA calculation cases are further complicated by the injection of sustainable development requirements stated in APP 151.

Existing Building GFA vs Regulation 23(a) 

In existing Building which was built in decade ago plus , the control to the non-accountable GFA was relied by Reg 23(3)(b) which generally covered the essential plants / duct / carpark etc. When the landlord wants to review/revamp the existing GFA hoping for unlocking the hidden potential, the latest requirements in 23(3)(a) mentioned before will kick in to the backdrop.

Some areas within the building which had been exempted from accountant GFA in the past may have to re-examine under Reg 23(3)(a) and is assessed in the ADV -02. The interesting but painful point is that some typically exempted in the past may now become accountable unless the modification is granted by BA. In some case, the modification is not straight-forward but under complex assessment such as BEAM requirement in APP 151. Obviously, the latest GFA requirements has blocked the unlock of some potential GFA.

Example showing the effect impact from tightening of GFA assessment

Assuming there is plant room , this plant room is assumed be acceptable by Reg 23(b). The implication of GFA will be manifest because the protected lobby going with the plant room will be exempted. To the contrary, If the said “plant room” is NOT in Reg 23(b), the GFA exemption will be at the stakes. The wall and associated protected lobby solely serving for plant rooms will be subject to the “non-mandatory features”. The area of wall and associated protected lobby will be barred by the overall cap of 10% in paragraph 4 APP 151 for non-mandatory features) . The capping 10% will effect some GFA from non accountable back to accountable.

Case by Case assessment 

Valuable assets in the urban areas are all GFA driven for the best maximization of property value. This is the key driving incentive to closely review and revamp from time to time to unlock the potential hidden GFA in the active asset management.

(Reader is advised to look also other strategies which have been shared in our other blog” of this website)

 

 

 

 

Fire Safety in Commercial Premises

Fire safety can be regarded as one of the primary considerations in building designs. The terms of fire safety cover a wide range of building concepts, ordinances, and regulations under the law. When we consider the fire safety works in banks, the concept of Fire Safety (Commercial Premises) Ordinance should not be omitted. The introduction of FS(CP)O is one of the ordinances which aims to provide better protection to the occupants and visitors on certain kinds of commercial premises.

Prescribed commercial premises and specified commercial buildings are under the scope of the ordinance.  For the captioned the premise, they are required to update that fire safety construction including means of escape, means of access, fire-resisting construction under the Code of Practice for the Provision of Means of Escape in Case of Fire 1996, Code of Practice for Fire Resisting Construction 1996, Code of Practice for the Provision of Means of Access for Firefighting and Rescue 1995 respectively. Also, the premises required to update fire services installation following Codes of Practice for Minimum Fire Service Installations and Equipment and Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Installations and Equipment 1994 when the total floor area exceeds 230 square meters.

As a building professional to cope with the above issue, a desktop study needs to be conducted first. It is essential to calculate the number/width of the exit door and exit route following the purposed usage of the premises. The comparison of the recorded plan and Fire Safety (Commercial Premises) Ordinance may draw attention to the fire safety deficiencies. The site visit is followed to identify the deficiencies. fire services system always associates with water supplies and electricity. For the aged building, some non-emergency services like electricity will be located in the exit route. However, those non-emergency services did not enclose by FRR materials. It may post a potential fire hazard. Insufficient width of the MOE route, insufficient number of exit routes to the required staircase, presence of the fire shutter in the exit route, absence of exit sign, absence of the exit door, etc are the common scenario for the aged commercial premises to deal with the ordinance. The reasons for the above deficiency can be caused by certain reasons including the change in use, the absence of the fire safety ordinance during the construction period, and unauthorized building works by the owners.

Structural Appraisal to the Loading Case in Yuen Long Premise

When I was an undergraduate in Building Surveying, I learned from many textbooks that the structural design process usually starting with the loading assumption. This assumption is presented by outlining different loading cases. In simplicity terms, some loading cases are what we called UDL while some are point load.

Example of UDL

Example of point Load 

When we deepen the idea of loading further, there are generally three types of load including dead loads, live loads, and wind loads. Dead loads are due to the self-weight of the structure. Live loads consist of all the loads which are designated to be placed on the structure, For example, loads of people and furniture. This live load is strongly correlated to the usage and obviously the heavy-load machine will demand strong live load capacity.  Wind loads generally come from the pressure of wind acting on the structure.

Example of live load, dead load and wind load

In order to ensure safety and health for the built environment, Buildings Authority has enforced the Building (Construction) Regulations under HK CAP 123. There emphasizes the minimum imposed load or live load in our term for different usage. For instance, the distributed load for the domestic floor is designed as 2 kPa while the general restaurants are designed as 4 kPa. The structural design should follow this stipulated requirement to attain compliance.

 

Drifting down the river, the user of the structure, i.e. the occupier in the premises, may mis-sue or alternate the usage without carefully considering the designated live load. In our many Structural assessments.We noticed the occupier might have over-loaded the structure unintentionally or might have alternated the usage which exceeds the permissible live load.

 

In the situation like aforesaid said, the structural element itself may exhibit some undue behavior like the development of a huge crack on beam component or deformation. Adversely speaking, it is a very unfavorable observation because the structural damage may cause immutable damage to the elements. Sometimes, immediate propping or secondary support may be required to stop the damaging.

Expert Witness (Construction)

Acting as the “Expert witness” to offer expert opinions to the court is a very meaningful assignment for the building professionals. Nevertheless, the Expert should act impartially to provide his expertise and experience to the matter or direction given by the court.

Sometimes, the court discredits the weighting of expert witness opinion because the expert may cherry-pick on providing the expert analysis on the matters concerned.

”In Dr Chan’s report, he appended a number of “assessment” and “condition survey” reports (Reports) prepared by Wong & Cheng Consulting Engineers Limited (WC) for the Owners prior to the 2015 Order. The assessment/survey reports attached to an expert report were inadmissible on the basis that although leave had been given to adduce the expert report, it had not been given to adduce the assessment/survey reports attached to it. The Court pointed out that expert evidence is not only evidence of opinion, but also factual evidence which goes to an expert issue. ” (Expert reports within expert reports and the need for leave to adduce them – Deacon, 2019)

It is undeniable that the factual evidence and dispute could become the admissible opinion but not only the jargon words. As seasoned experts in the construction field, we adhere to the Code of Practices (COP) and construction standards, therefore we can provide reliable professional advice and expert witness testimony.

Dedicating to the construction assignment of “Expert witness” can showcase our superior knowledge and skill in the construction industry, and can also tackle the deadlock situation and bring to light in court.

Paramount importance is to assist the parties in approaching the fact of matters and hopefully the contesting parties can settle the disputes eventually.

Coring the rock stratum engineering our pile foundation

Site investigation is a term to cover a lot of aspect about the site. For the Engineer in construction site, it means the process to find out the soil and rock condition. From the project management perspective, we see the most essence is whether the quality control system is working well in place . This control system involves sampling , inspection, recording and counter-check. Although the PNAP has imposed a lot of restrains in the site investigation, the entire controlling mechanism still heavily rely on the professional site staff. The sample taken will be inspected the the engineer. This inspection is to be fed back to the Designer to confirm the design assumption of piling coincide well to what happens on site. This is the feedback loop essentially important in the entire QA process.

I witness the coring process and I can say the coring of soil / rock is not a pleasant job. Sometimes, the sample was damaged in the process, sometimes, the sample was dropped in pieces. Thus , a good sampling and coring process did demand patience by labour, right machine set up, on-site engineer inspection and recording.

 

 

Senior Citizen Housing display away the stranded podium retail asset

Senior Citizenship house is now calling for de-densitified 

Why the World’s Highest Virus Death Rate Is in Europe’s Capital

Senior Citizen becomes the upset topic of today C -19 prevalence. Many asset managers are looking the way to improve the stranded property for post c-19. GBE noticed the demand for de-densitified the habitation has triggered the call for more Senior Citizenship habitation houses.

In the metropolitan like Hong Kong, the aged population also faces the strong need for sleeping accommodation. The podium floors which are worst hit by declining retails business, is now hot for turning into elderly center. GBE shares with you that the technical constraint in premises for elderly houssuch window provision, headroom, DMC restriction, town planning ,street level entrance for emergency , catering and sanitary provision, supporting facilities, and operation needs. The licensing authority is Social Welfare Department while the law is Residential Care Homes (Elderly Persons) Ordinance.

Paradox of “Area” in Building of Hong Kong

There are a ranges of terms from “Usable Floor Area / space – UFA , “Saleable Area – SA ” , “Gross Floor Area – GFA “, ” Internal Floor Area – IFA” , “Common Area – CA”, “Lettable Area – LA ” and “Construction Floor Area – CFA” to describe and present the “area” of the space in numerical way. The confusion of amongst these terms stems from the different definition of their respective legal context, code of practice and the application. In short, “Usable Floor Area” is originated from Buildings Ordinance for population estimation in a proposed space whereas the Saleable area is for property conveyance in First Hand sale. The “Common Area” is the idea coming from Deed of Mutual Covenant and Building Management Ordinance. On the contrary, “Construction Floor Area” is for construction cost estimation and this area covers also the ceiling and wall face area.

Hong Kong Institute of Surveyor has published the “Code of Measuring Practice” MPracticeCode-199903 (1) There has laid some quick understanding to the “area”.

residential area of the city at dusk,bird’s eye view

 

 

Macau Land Law No. 10/2013

In 2015, the Macau government has announced one of the most influential amendment to the land law no 10/2013 . It expressly empowers the government to forfeiture/terminate/revoke of land tenure if there was no development being executed as per the land contract. This becomes very alarming for property investor.

The law permits some excuses for the landlord if they can show the reasons why tenure non-fulfillment persists. Engineering technical reasons are usually considered acceptable if it is convincing.

In 2020, the post-pandemic has caused many asset be evaluated and be available for sale. Property investor must pay enough attention for the effective tenure legitimacy.