National Construction Code

Performance-based design as an NCC Compliance Option

Written by Marianne Foley ABCB Subject Matter Expert (fire safety), Fellow and Principal Fire Engineer, Arup 31/05/2018
Image of a building on Shelly Street, Sydney

One of the ways that the ABCB is trying to assist practitioners in raising awareness and competent use of performance-based design is through developing case studies to meet the NCC Performance Requirements.

Using Performance-based fire engineering, here’s some real-life examples where Performance Solutions have been successfully developed to address fire safety related issues.

Example One: Office buildings, Sydney

In a refurbishment of the office building at 50 Martin Place, floors were opened up to an atrium to create interconnected floors over 10 storeys (rather than the DTS two floors), improving natural light, air quality and connectivity for staff. Smoke curtains and a bespoke smoke exhaust system, along with sprinklers, detection and warning systems, and generous exit widths for the number of staff, formed the fire safety strategy. In the resulting space, staff productivity increased, offsetting the cost of the refurbishment.

Structural fire engineering analysis was also used in the design of another office building, 1 Shelley Street, to reduce the required fire protection to an external structural diagrid. This reduced the amount of intumescent paint required, which saved both time and cost, and improved the quality of finish that was achieved. Reducing construction materials also provided sustainability benefits.

Example Two: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Housing precious works of art, the DTS smoke exhaust system was replaced in the fire strategy with sprinklers and compartmentation, avoiding the regular loss of carefully climate controlled conditions as the smoke exhaust system was tested. This approach reduced the level of risk of damage to the artworks whilst meeting architectural vision and enhancing security.

Example Three: Royal North Shore and Blacktown Hospitals

In high rise hospitals, both sprinklers and a zone smoke control system are required under the DTS Provisions. With a high degree of compartmentation, limitations on door opening forces and special pressurisation requirements for infection control, achieving compliant system performance for a zone smoke control system in a hospital is notoriously difficult. Bespoke smoke control designs have been used to improve reliability and reduce both capital and maintenance costs, reducing precious health care spending, and using it to achieve better healthcare outcomes.

Example Four: Heritage buildings

Many heritage buildings have been protected and preserved by using performance-based fire engineering in adaptive reuse. The office building at 39 Hunter Street features a bespoke atrium suppression system using infrared (IR) detection and open head sprinklers to keep potential fire sizes low in the case of an atrium fire. This allowed interconnection of eight floors with an open atrium, as well as using heritage fire stairs with non-complying (DTS) bounding construction. The open atrium was part of the ecologically sustainable development (ESD) strategy for the building, allowing good natural light, ventilation and improved energy use. The building was the first heritage building to achieve a six star Green Star rating in Australia.

Example Five: University buildings

University research buildings, such as Sydney University’s Charles Perkins Centre and UNSW’s Tyree building benefit from performance-based fire engineering, with reduced fire ratings for laboratories allowing compartmentation using glazing and wall wetting from multi-floor open circulation spaces. This approach allows greater visibility into research spaces, as well as greater connectivity between researchers and students, creating better conditions for innovation and attracting world class researchers to Australia.

Consider your options

Performance-based design comes with some challenges; particularly education, clarity of outcomes and building approvals. But whilst the ‘tick box’ approach of DTS is far easier to manage, these real-life examples demonstrate the benefits that can be achieved using performance-based design.

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