The Situation Room – London fire tragedy should mean the end of highrise buildings

Mac Olsen

It was tragic to see the smouldering remains of the 24-story Grenfell Tower apartment building in London June 14, leaving at least 30 people dead at press time.

That tragedy confirms to me that advocacy groups, urban planners, architects, elected officials and civil defence organizations in all countries should come together and support a ban on the construction of highrise buildings and skyscrapers. This must be done for both apartment buildings and office buildings.

I can hear my proposal being denounced, especially given the densely populated cities like Vancouver, Toronto, New York, London and Tokyo. After all, highrise buildings and skyscrapers are part of the urban landscape and advocates will insist that they are the only way to accommodate growth.

But given how susceptible highrise buildings and skyscrapers are to man-made and natural disasters, and given the number of deaths that can result, why should we continue to put lives at risk?

Granted, we don’t expect airplanes to deliberately fly into buildings, as happened with the World Trade Center on 9/11. Such horrific incidents don’t happen every day.

But because of that tragedy, the U.S. Government had to make a substantial number of changes regarding air traffic control and airline security.

The One World Trade Center rose from the ashes of the World Trade Center. Perhaps it is a symbol of peace and a message to terrorists that the U.S. will not bow down to them. But, just like the World Trade Center, I see it as vulnerable to a man-made disaster.

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it – and that’s especially true with these highrise buildings and skyscrapers.

We can look to the MGM Grand hotel fire that occurred in Paradise, Nevada on November 21, 1980. Eighty-five people died in that fire, of which 75 died from smoke inhilation and carbon monoxide poisoning. Another 650 people were injured.

At the time, the MGM Grand was 26 stories high and had more than 2,000 rooms. (Source:

So the pattern is there. The higher the building, the higher the number of deaths that can occur.

The bigger the building, the bigger and more complex the fire suppression and monitoring systems have to be – which don’t always work in emergency situations.

Returning to the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London, there were reports about the alarms not working. And as per a BBC News report last week, an advocacy organization, the Grenfell Action Group, alleges that emergency vehicle access to the building was ‘severely restricted’.

No doubt, other issues will come out regarding that building. Prime Minister Theresa May has ordered an inquiry into the tragedy.

I hope that new rules and regulations result – including a permanent ban on further highrise and skyscraper construction. The lessons learned from that tragedy can be applied throughout the world.

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