Katharina Bengsch explores the installation of aspirating detectors at a prestigious concert hall in Germany, and how they can ensure life and property protection
ACCORDING TO the fire source statistics of the Institute for Loss Prevention and Disaster Research (IFS) from 2002 to 2016, it can be assumed that more than two thirds are initiated by slowly developing, smouldering fires.
Conventional point type smoke detectors are at a disadvantage here, as depending on whether they are optical fire detectors or heat detectors, the smoke detectors only react to a high smoke concentration or the heat detectors to an elevated temperature in the protected area. Then, it is often too late for countermeasures, and only the early recognition of smouldering and incipient fires ensures material values and saves human lives.
For this purpose, the Wagner Group has been developing aspirating smoke detectors since 1997. For example, its Titanus systems detect the causes of fire as early as possible by constantly supplying air samples to the sensitive optical detectors that are examined for the smallest smoke particles. The aspirating smoke detectors can be used in a temperature range from -40°C to +60°C. Using fire pattern recognition, the detectors differentiate between fire and deception and offer safety against false alarms, while all devices and accessories are VdS certified.
But there is more to it than functionality: the group has been installing aspirating smoke detectors in aesthetically demanding environments for years. In this context, one of the most prestigious projects is the Elbe Philharmonic Hall in Hamburg, Germany, where air sampling smoke detectors disappear into the ‘white skin’ of the Great Concert Hall and form part of the comprehensive fire protection concept.
Elbe Philharmonic Hall
A visit to Hamburg’s Elbe Philharmonic Hall starts with a little ticket. But not necessarily with a concert ticket. A plaza ticket is enough to visit the hall, which officially opened in January 2017, 15 years and three weeks after the first sketch was drawn up. The 360° outdoor terrace is freely accessible to visitors, and the route to it is impressive. An 80m long escalator known as ‘The Tube’ links the hall’s ground floor entrance to its visitor deck. This is one of the longest escalators in Western Europe.
On arriving at the plaza, the size of the concert hall becomes apparent for the first time. Constructed atop the former Kaispeicher A building, built between 1963 and 1966 and used as a warehouse for tea, tobacco and cocoa until the 1990s, the glass, steel and wooden complex towers 110m into the air. The view from the outdoor terrace is spectacular; sitting on the banks of the Elbe River, the hall is surrounded by water on three sides, and the Elbe bridges are close by.
After reaching the outside plaza, this is where the experience ends for normal plaza visitors, however – a concert ticket is the only way to access the concert halls and areas above.
A highly extensive fire protection concept is used in the hall, comprising a wide range of systems from various companies. Technical manager Dennis Just describes the building as having an ‘extremely complicated and nested design’.
Mr Just and a team of 22 staff have been responsible for technology in the Elbe Philharmonic Hall and the Laeiszhalle concert hall since 2013. With its 26 floors, the building resembles a high rise apartment block – and the routes through it are correspondingly long.
As a result, the fire protection requirements were enormous. For instance, there are structural fire protection measures such as fire doors that prevent the entire hall from having to be evacuated if a fire is detected, and in the case of a full house, the building would contain 4,500 visitors – not to mention several hundred employees and musicians. In addition, the overall concept includes system based fire protection solutions, which is where Wagner came in.
Its chosen air sampling smoke detectors in the silent version use active fire detection to protect around 40 rooms in the hall, including its showpiece, the Great Hall.
With its acoustically sophisticated inner shell made of gypsum fibreboards (‘white skin’) and its freely suspended structure within the building, the concert hall is unique.
Units were also installed in the Little Hall, foyer areas and technological areas. Mr Just emphasised that ‘smoke detection is an extremely important matter for us’, and he was heavily involved in the selection of the fire protection systems during the long project and construction phase.
Discussing the installation, he noted that ‘air sampling smoke detectors are an ideal solution for the halls’, adding that to date, they have worked error free. Furthermore, he believed that no longer using point type detectors in the foyer areas was ‘exactly the right decision’, as unlike point type detectors, the sampling points of the units can be almost invisibly integrated in walls and ceilings, in keeping with one of
the architectural firm’s mandatory stipulations.
The requirement to use Titanus air sampling smoke detectors for earliest smoke detection resulted from both the structural conditions and the architectural firm’s specifications that the detectors had to be installed almost invisibly. As a result, air sampling smoke detectors were the only viable option for the Great Hall as this has a height of 25m, while the system itself covers approximately 40 rooms including the Great and Little Halls, the quay studio, foyer areas and technical rooms.
In total, the gross floor area of the concert space covered is 4,000m2, with 3,300m2 of this the Great Hall seating 2,100 people, and the remaining 440m2 the Little Hall with 550 seats. Together with heat sensor cables in the floor of the auditorium, the units control a high pressure mist extinguishing system for fire suppression, so that if a fire is detected, the extinguishing system’s sprinkler heads are pre flooded – until then they are dry. If the heat cables also detect a rise in temperature in the room, the extinguishing system triggers.
The high pressure mist extinguishing system therefore uses a two fold safety mechanism. After all, damage to the permanently installed organ and the ‘white skin’ responsible for the good acoustics in the hall is inevitable because of water contact. As it is not only the hall’s structural design that is complex, but also its floor plan and the interlinking systems within the scope of the fire protection concept, the fire service responsible for the concert hall has to conduct regular emergency drills. They are assisted by clear maps and information about the exact position of the individual systems – and even the individual air sampling points of the Wagner system.
Katharina Bengsch is an editor at Wagner Group. For more information, view page 5