Thomas Bell-Wright, CEO and Chief Technical Officer
As a regional pioneer in façade consulting, Dubai-based Thomas Bell-Wright International Consultants (TBWIC) has been at the forefront of advancing building safety standards across the GCC, where some of the world’s most impressive skyscrapers can be found.
Operating since 1995 and with extensive facilities in Ras Al Khor for curtain wall design review, curtain wall testing and fire testing, TBWIC offers expertise that goes beyond merely understanding a structure’s aesthetics, said CEO and Chief Technical Officer Thomas Bell-Wright.
“Curtain wall, which is the façade element of a building, is a repetitive system installed from the ground up. Problems arising from poor curtain wall design or construction could lead to the premature failure of the entire building, which would be disastrous financially,” he said.
The curtain wall literally hangs from a structure like a curtain hangs on a door or a window at home. Usually comprising lightweight materials like aluminium, combined with glass, stone, marble or metal panels, a curtain wall not only maintains water and air integrity in the cladding system, it also provides adequate wind, thermal and seismic response – all of which are crucial to a building’s performance.
“Essentially, what it does is keep the weather out and the people in, while providing the aesthetic requirements that architects are looking for,” Bell-Wright adds.
At TBWIC’s laboratory, 2-storey prototypes around three or four panels wide of curtain wall systems are constructed in a chamber and subjected to a series of tests that simulate real-life scenarios such as wind-driven rain, using an aircraft engine. Building components must pass three criteria – air infiltration, water penetration and structural load – before TBWIC can give its stamp of approval.
Despite being an integral component of modern architecture, curtain wall design review and testing are not mandated by local authorities and are done on a voluntary basis to protect building developers’ interests, said Bell-Wright.
However, recent developments in structural engineering and a growing clamour for sustainable buildings have made façade consulting in general, and curtain wall testing in particular, a vital part of the building design management process by discerning commercial property developers.
Over the past two decades, TBWIC has built a solid reputation in the regional construction industry and has contributed significantly to the advancement of façade consulting as a discipline. Aside from being the first façade consultancy in the region, it was also the first domestic company providing curtain wall testing and subsequently the first fire testing facility.
The company is accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service for ISO 17025, which is the single most important standard for calibration and testing laboratories worldwide. Laboratories with this accreditation have demonstrated that they are technically competent and able to produce precise and accurate test and calibration data.
TBWIC is also accredited for ISO 17020, an internationally recognised standard for the competence of agencies inspecting buildings; as well as the US-based International Accreditation Service’s AC291, a standard that allows the company to conduct firestop (fire protection system) inspection and address technical aspects of fire and life safety from project construction to completion.
“We’ve also extended our fire testing capability to become accredited for ISO 17065, making us the first domestic certification body to test, certify and label fire doors,” said Bell-Wright.
Demand for TBWIC’s testing and certification services spans the Middle East, North Africa and the Indian subcontinent.
Prior to TBWIC providing fire testing in the UAE, Bell-Wright said certification of locally produced fire doors, which is required by the UAE Ministry of Civil Defence, was an onerous process involving shipping the components to the UK or elsewhere in Europe to be tested. If the fire doors fail, the manufacturers have to repeat the same process, incurring a hefty price tag in the end.
Bell-Wright, who is also a fellow of the Society of Façade Engineering, believes that their services support the local economy by stimulating the domestic fire door manufacturing industry, promoting more home-grown brands. It has also served the certification needs of neighbouring regions and given impetus to Dubai’s status as a commercial hub.
Business is thriving for TBWIC as the GCC building construction industry fires on all cylinders.
The company is in the process of developing new facilities in Jebel Ali, which will be three times the size of their facility in Ras Al Khor. Within the next year or so, they plan to relocate in phases, starting with the curtain wall testing, followed by the fire testing and the façade consulting divisions.
TBWIC also continues to add new tests to their portfolio of services. Recently, they have received accreditation (from IAS, a US accreditation body) for the National Fire Protection Association NFPA 285, a standard fire test method that basically evaluates how fire burns and spreads on the exterior of a building. IAS is part of the International Code Council that created the International Building Code and Bell-Wright said this is a particularly important test for a region with so many high rise buildings.
The playing field has widened for TBWIC as competition intensifies with the entry of big multi-national companies, but Bell-Wright remains confident.
“As a privately held company, we appreciate having the flexibility to take on new types of tests and make decisions that respond quickly to the needs of the market,” he said.
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