The Indian billionaire whose firm manufactured the cladding used on the fire-hit The Address Downtown hotel in Dubai has urged developers to stop using the very products that helped him to make his fortune.
He also plans to start manufacturing non-flammable versions of the controversial aluminium panels in the UAE, in anticipation of tighter building safety regulations and increased demand for fireproof materials, according to The National.
Shaji Ul Mulk, chairman of Mulk Holdings, came to Dubai in 1982 and started his own tile-making company in 1985. In the early 1990s he acquired the rights to develop a brand of aluminum composite panel called Alubond USA, and his business took off in line with a construction boom taking place in the UAE at the time.
In an interview with the newspaper, Mulk revealed most of the cladding seen on buildings across the UAE consisted of older versions of the panels containing a high proportion of flammable plastic.
Newer versions – manufactured since 2012 when tougher building regulations were introduced banning the use of flammable cladding – contain only very small amounts of plastic.
However, the original panels are around 30 percent cheaper than their non-combustible alternatives, Mulk told the newspaper, and are extremely popular across the Gulf.
“Everything before 2012 had only LDPE [low-density polythene], that is the reality. Most of the cladding you see in the whole country, the whole GCC for that matter,” he said.
Panels are not the only problem, he added. The silicone strips used to seal the gaps between panels and the rods to hold the silicone in place could also be contributing to rapid spread of fire.
Mulk called for new rules to make suppliers responsible for the entire installation of a building’s facade.
He also said he wanted collective action by manufacturers to stop producing high-risk materials altogether. Demand for non-combustible cladding has historically been low in the Gulf, he reportedly said, but he predicted this will change following a spate of high profile building fires in the country last year.
In the aftermath of The Address fire, Dubai Civil Defense announced a review of all buildings in the UAE to assess the fire safety risk each poses. The review is expected to compel building owners to invest in upgrades, for example, replacing or improving outdated facades.
Mulk said his company had been producing newer, non-combustible, panels in Turkey for the past 18 months, in response to strict regulations there. He now wants to bring that operation to the UAE. “The product hasn’t been launched here yet,” he told The National. “Turkey is a way ahead on regulation…We have been producing FR-A2 panels for the past one-and-a-half years in Turkey and now want to bring that here.
“We have ordered the same plant here anticipating that the new [UAE building code] will be more stringent and demand will go up. From what we understand about what is coming, the implementation will be very strict.”
He added developers have a moral responsibility to make their buildings safer, even if the financial costs are steep. He urged installation of fire breaks using non-combustible panels in the first instance, which would at least limit the spread of fire.
“If I was a building owner I’d be the first one to do it because you immediately bring value to your building. In the worst scenario, if it burns it will only burn three floors. The feeling of social responsibility has to be there.
“I’m sure all the developers have made enough money from the buildings.”