CECR Fire in Grenfell Tower London in 2017

After graduating from School of Planning and Architecture and working for a few years in Delhi, Gyana Meera moved to Canada and gained experience of over ten years there. She has been working on Institutional projects like hospitals, schools, cathedral, university buildings and courthouses. In a brief interview with CE&CR, she is comparing the practices and regulations of architecture in India and Canada.
CE&CR: We understand that you went to Architecture school in India and are now working in Canada. How long have you been working in Canada? What is your field of specialisation? What differences do you observe in the architectural practices between both countries? Gyana Meera: I moved to Canada after working in Delhi. I have been working in Canada for over a decade now. I did not pursue specialty within the field of Architecture during education. Therefore, I remain active primarily in the field of architectural design by choice and good fortune. My professional work in Canada has been largely focused on several Institutional projects like hospitals, schools, cathedral, university buildings and courthouses. Currently I work on large-scale healthcare projects including new buildings for hospitals, renovations of assisted living and long term care facilities. There are some significant differences I have observed in the architectural practices between India and Canada:
- Differences in Basic Structure of The Profession
There are some basic differences in the set up of Architecture as a profession between Canada and India. Unlike India, where the Council of Architecture governs the entire country, this profession is regulated by each of the provinces of Canada. Each province has a regulatory body, bound by government statutes, which protects the title ‘Architect’ that can only be used by professionals licensed by this entity. All companies providing architectural services are also required to be registered with and maintain professional insurance with them. However, there is also a national entity, which is more of an advocatory body, similar to the Indian Institute of Architects in India.
- Differences in the application and Enforcement of the Building Code
The following rules of the building code isa large part of the dayto- day work in this profession. One of the major features of the building code includes the mandatory requirement of professional Architect’s sealed drawings in the application for building permit for several occupancies especially where public life safety is of paramount importance. Therefore for care occupancies like hospitals, where the residents are unable to exit the premises unassisted, it is necessary for an architect to be involved. This initiates the chain of accountability.

Generic placeholder image Ms. Gyana Meera
B.Arch, Registered Architect
(OAA, Canada and CoA, India)
Some provinces are extremely proactive and have their own building code created by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing that are much more stringent than the National Building Code. Some cities also have local by-laws that have to be followed at the municipal level. The municipality enforces codes and bylaws when permit applications are reviewed. Architects, as professionals, are expected to know and apply these codes and are held accountable for lack of due diligence. The building inspector checks that the construction has followed the intentions of the permit application and that all the fire and safety codes have been respected to certify the building for occupancy. At each level in the process, the roles, responsibilities and liabilities are clearly defined for each entity involved. This maintains high professional standards in construction and although not perfect, results in a safer built environment.
I can give an overview of the concept of building codes in general. Life safety is the primary intention of building codes in construction. The first goal is to not facilitate fire. Using only non-combustible materials and compartmentalizing hazardous areas such as electrical rooms can achieve this. The next goal is a contingency plan. In the event of a fire, the contents of construction need to be fire-rated to withstand as well as not spread the fire for a particular period of time. This gives time to the occupants to exit safely provided they have multiple and continuous paths of egress. For example, the fire rating of walls is usually required to be a half hour more than the doors or openings within that wall so that in case of collapse, the doors collapse earlier than the walls and the occupants can exit safely. A minimum of two exits is required once the occupant load within a room is expected to be more than 60 or the room is larger than a specified area.
In 2017, Grenfell tower apartments in London caught fire, which spread very quickly allegedly due to flammable cladding resulting
CECR Fire in New York Apartment Building, December 2017
in several deaths. There was a fire in an apartment building in the Bronx area of New York very recently in December 2017 that again highlighted the importance of keeping buildings in conformance with the building code.
India also has very similar codes and laws in place, but the education and enforcement of them has been insufficient resulting in incidents such as the hospital fire in Kolkata in 2011, which resulted in several casualties. Electrical system malfunction triggered the fire and flammable items stored in the basement flamed the fire. In 1997, fire broke out in the Delhi movie theater Uphaardue to a transformer malfunction but since the means of egress (fire exits) were blocked in violation of codes, it trapped people inside and raised the death toll.Most recently, on December 31st 2017, there was a fire on the rooftop of an upscale restaurant in Mumbai’s Lower Parel area. Most people were allegedly unable to find exits, staff was not adequately trained for fire safety and there was illegal storage of flammable goods. As Architects responsible for building a safe environment for everyone, it is important for us to realize our mistakes and learn from precedents around the world. Addressing the lack of training of life safety and codes within the education system and then enforcing them at every level will result in a much safer environment.
- Differences in Adapting to Society’s Changing Needs
The building codes are updated very frequently here in order to meet the changing needs of the society. Accessibility and sustainable construction have been adapted into the local codes and by-laws making it mandatory for professionals to follow because the access to public buildings, especially hospitals is considered a right, whether one is able-bodied or not. Some municipalities make it a mandatory requirement to provide stormwater management while rebuilding a parking area, because this sort of enforcement at the local level reduces the burden on the city’s often extremely old infrastructure. A similar contribution by each construction project whether small or large develops a truly sustainable built environment.
CE&CR: In India, a vast number of large private hospitals are existing and many more are coming up with excellent facilities. But the Government district hospitals lack many of the facilities except a few, one of the main reasons for which is funding. The Central Planning Body has now mooted the PPP model for healthcare in India. Though PPP model is followed in other infrastructure construction, it is a non-starter in healthcare so far. How does the PPP model work in Canada in the health sector?
G.M:
The 2016 census in Canada shows that seniors now outnumber children under the age of 14. Since a significant population of Canada is growing older, the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care in provinces like Ontario are very keen on providing funding for infrastructure projects that can increase the number of beds in long term care homes. At the moment, such homes have long wait times and private facilities are only affordable by the rich, which results in several patients being forced to stay in hospital beds longer. These clinical environments do not serve them well in the long-term. It also reduces immediate access to beds for others.
Unlike the United States, Canada has universal healthcare - that is, the public does not pay for basic medical care out of pocket. So every resident can visit the doctor’s office with a provincial health card and do not need to pay them directly. The medical professionals are paid by the government, which is funded through proportioned taxes paid by the residents. This ensures equal access to healthcare by every resident regardless of income or health status. Therefore various levels of governments fund infrastructure projects related to public healthcare. Several healthcare institutions hire architects to provide
CECR Fire in Grenfell Tower London in 2017
services that help them obtain funding and then follow through to construction once the funding is received. This process can take several years since it depends on how smoothly the approval is processed at every stage. Several private institutions also construct assisted living facilities for seniors. Due to the dire need for more hospital beds, PPP (Private Public Partnership) has been developed as a mode of delivery for new hospitals where private and public entities join together to construct brand new facilities faster and at low cost. This is possible because private contractors, architects, engineers, financiers and building operations entities form one team to provide services to the public client. The construction team builds the facility on a fast track timeline. Once complete, it is operated by the management team for several years giving the public sector client enough time to slowly take ownership of the facility. The private partner receives revenue from tenants as retail space is incorporated into the layout. This speeds up the provision of a state-of-the-art facility within merely a couple of years rather than several years of sequential planning, design and construction beginning only after funding has been obtained. In India, the need for good hospital infrastructure is evident and privately funded institutions are able to provide them but these facilities are unfortunately unaffordable for a majority of the nation. Since India also has government-funded hospitals, the PPP model implemented by the government at each level is an excellent proposal. It makes sense to implement this delivery model and provide better-equipped infrastructure for the general public at low cost in a timely fashion.
CE&CR: The architecture of India had been rooted in its history, culture and religion. But the modern architecture is heavily influenced by styles of other countries. What is your opinion on this?
G.M:
India no doubt has a rich culture and history, being one of the oldest civilizations in the world. There is nothing negative about being
CECR Uphaar Cinema Fire, New Delhi, 1997
influenced by styles of other countries. But this becomes a problem when there is no context or substance behind the influence. For example, a glass façade building with an artificially cooled environment in an extremely hot place like New Delhi does not make a sustainable building. It means that while thoughtlessly replicating the aesthetic, we disregarded lessons learnt from our history where the basic principle of stack effect was used to keep buildings cool. Historical buildings in the deserts included high ceilings and small but several openings with lattice or jaali patterns for continuous airflow and view to the outdoors. Even in recent modern day India during the British rule, summer cottages were built with large verandahs around to allow for shade and breeze within the house inspired by local architecture. British architecture in India was built for the foreign way of living but the buildings adapted to the context. Influence is important for architecture to evolve but adapting to the local context is very important for long-term sustainability.
CE&CR: What are the procedures for certification of Indian architecture degree in Canada? What procedures one should go through in Canada to be a member of the Council of Architecture?
G.M:
As a country of Immigrants, Canada has a system set up for foreign-trained professionals to be recognized for their credentials and integrate into the local way of the profession to be able to apply for licensing. A national body, Canadian Architectural Certification Board (CACB) accepts applications to review credentials of foreign degrees in Architecture. This is the first step to getting recognition for the degree. Depending on the outcome of this application, the degree is either approved in full, a few extra courses might be required or the degree may not be recognized. Generally most professional degrees from India are eventually recognized. More information can be found on their website http://cacb.ca/en/home/.
As I noted before, each province in Canada regulates the profession. So, after the degree is recognized, the next step is to apply as an intern with the provincial body and start recording hours of professional work. It is important to get a broad range of experience as there is a minimum amount required in each category such as learning codes, programming, site planning, construction drawings, site visits etc. Graduates of local architecture schools are also required to complete this step towards licensure.
The final step is examination, which is required by all graduates of local and foreign schools of architecture. Canada has recently started conducting annual exams for architecture licensing, which is based on the national building code and is recognized by all provincial associations, named ExAC (Examinations for Architects in Canada). Most associations also recognize the ARE (Architect Registration Examinations) held by a national body in the United States, which has been available for Canadians for a long time.
Once all the exams have been successfully completed and all the required hours of work experience are met, the intern can apply for registration with the provincial association to be allowed to use the protected title of ‘Architect’. After this title is awarded, to keep the license active, it is mandatory to log hours of continuing education by attending conferences, reading and keeping up with the profession.
CE&CR: What would be your advice for an Indian architecture student who would like to work in Canada?
G.M:
In Canada, there is a lot of recognition given to practical experience much more than for higher education within this profession. So in general, there is a higher chance of getting hired with a bachelor’s degree in architecture and a couple of years of work experience rather than a master of architecture degree from India with no practical experience. A good command of spoken and written English language skills are important to be able to work within the field. Architectural drawings and documents submitted for construction are legal documents and the language used can result in assumption of liability.
CE&CR: “Green Construction” is the buzzword in building a sustainable society. What is your opinion regarding this? Briefly describe your experience with this in Canada.
G.M:
Green construction is only a small part of a sustainable society. A truly sustainable built environment is where each entity synergistically creates a system that can survive for many years and adapts to changing environment. For example, the LEED system certification was a great start to creating awareness of building green. But today, it is more important to incorporate the lessons learnt from it and include them within building codes. For example, Ontario Building Code amendment SB12 implemented in 2016 sets high standards for energy efficiency in residential buildings. Inclusion in codes makes it mandatory. Building green should not be restricted only to buildings where the client can spare the expense for such a process.
Recycling should become part of the society as a whole - right from a small family apartment to a large mall with several restaurants. Use of renewable sources of energy should be implemented at the higher levels of government. A singular construction project receiving a LEED certification is not as meaningful for the society as a whole if the power generation in that area is primarily from coal. Ontario for example, in 2014, became the first North-American government to successfully eliminate use of coal-fired power plants. This kind of change in the system, although expensive and long, requires a commitment from higher-level authorities resulting in a trickle down effect. This results in a true sustainable built environment.