Creative uncertainty: Arup Associates, Fire Safety, and the metaengineering of Government

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Abstract / Description of output

The discipline of Fire Safety Science offers us an instance of close congruence between governmental and architectural concerns: Emerging in the context of Postwar Britain, its ambition was to submit aspects of building performance to empirical analysis in order to renovate the UK’s existing framework of reactive regulations; closely associated with the work of Arup Associates, its innovations have supported and are expressed by the celebrated works of ‘High Tech’ architecture, moments of ‘Total Design’ in which technical performance and architectural expression are rhetorically attuned.

But neither fire nor safety submit easily to empirical analysis, their chief characteristics – the dynamics of fire-spread, and occupant behavior – being notoriously fickle. Attempts to model either of these phenomena are therefore fundamentally limited, their results open to interpretation and doubt. This paper tracks such doubts through a series of papers by the founder of Fire-Safety Science, Margaret Law, and a number of related architectural projects completed by Arup Associates. It suggests that, as opposed to being accurately assessed or mitigated, the unruly effects of fire - for both building and life-safety – have offered a kind of creative uncertainty in the midst of scientific, governmental and architectural thinking. Through their exploitation of these opportunities, the paper suggests fire-safety engineering and its related architectures have operated as another arena for the governmental transformations we recognize as part of the neo-liberal turn.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNeoliberalism on the Ground
Subtitle of host publicationArchitecture and Transformation from the 1960s to the Present
EditorsKenny Cupers, Helena Mattsson, Catharina Gabrielsson
Place of PublicationPittsburgh
PublisherUniversity of Pittsburgh Press
Number of pages45
ISBN (Print)9780822946014
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020

Publication series

NameCulture, Politics, and the Built Environment
PublisherUniversity of Pittsburgh Press


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  • De-regulations double

    Ross, L., 10 Mar 2016.

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

    Open Access

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