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Sun 23 Dec 2007 10:02 AM

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Closed door policy

Opening the discussion to universally accepted standards.

Since the first walls were erected and joined together with coverings to create the first structures, emphasis has been placed on the means by which people can enter and exit those structures. Whether medieval arches; pediments of the Renaissance or Japanese shoji screens, doors have played an important role in both form and function of architecture.

Given the size and scale of development in the Middle East, the pace at which new door technologies and products are evolving, is dizzying. "With the expansion of the hospitality sector, the Middle East is a huge potential market and as such, it is a very demanding region. It aims to become a world benchmark in high-class lodging, and clients require all the very best in relation to materials, innovation and state-of-the-art technology," says Nestor Iturrioz, Onity's export area manager for the Middle East and Asia.

"The biggest challenge is to keep readily available stock of the right material, as every project seems to use the term ‘fast track'. Our clients have severe deadlines to meet in order to maintain building handover dates, and they expect manufacturers to comply," says Adam Taylor, general manager at Häfele UAE.

Safety and security

Quite often when you walk into hotels and offices that have big open atria and lobbies, you’ll find sliding doors. As soon as that door opens and closes, the loss of energy in terms of air-conditioning is tremendous.

No one in the industry is suggesting, however, that form overshadows function with regard to doors. At the end of the day, doors need to be designed around the two core principles of functionality: Safety and security. "You need security to lock the door and to make sure it's tamper-proof and burglar-proof, but the door also has to incorporate the ability to exit people from the building in a safe and efficient way," says Ben Shaw, regional director at Dorma.

"There is no point in having the best lock in the market if the door will not match its strength and resistance; if they are not matched, the superior features in one will be undermined by the other," says Iturrioz.

Manufacturers face the constant challenge of providing consumers with secure doors that are also aesthetically pleasing.

"[The door market] is about more than just security," adds Shaw. "In terms of aesthetics, people want to see attractive entrances rather than big ugly things that make the door secure but ruin the aesthetic of the surrounding area."

A glaring omission

Assume for a moment that three universal truths exist with regard to doors in the Middle East: The market is enormous; manufacturers are developing technology that boggles the mind; and everyone wants the biggest, strongest, best and most attractive one available.

The proverbial elephant in the room, however, is that in the Middle East, there currently exists no universally accepted production standard to which architects and manufacturers must comply when creating their buildings or making their products.
The problem arises when, for example, an architect schooled and trained in the EN standard, employs products from a manufacturer that adheres only to the NT standard. The end result is incongruence in the products used for the project and, ultimately, poor workmanship and high replacement fees. Because their function ranges from directing people in emergencies, to keeping unwanted guests out, to reducing energy consumption, doors are particularly vulnerable to this lack of classification.

"It's unfair to those companies that put so much time, effort and money into R&D and attaining accepted certifications. They find that they're competing in tenders with companies that haven't done any of that," says Adnan Fatayerji, managing director of Sunflex.

"[In this region] we have standards from all over the world. If you visit the civil defence departments for most of the Gulf States, you'll get a varying set of standards from Singapore to Australia to America to South America to Europe," says Shaw, Dorma. "Take ISO 9000 closing standard, for example; in most parts of the developed world, you wouldn't be able to visit the site or even bid on the project without [adherence to] ISO 9000."

This is how countries move quickly from developing countries to developed ones... The governments in the region could make it easier for the industry by creating a particular standards office so you wouldn’t have to go to 12 different ministries to determine which product to use.

It would seem that, with respect to the civil service industry, a precedent is being set. A precedent that is still one of gaining international certification rather than seeking something regional.

"We're finding that civil defence departments are serious about fire compliance for doors and hardware so we are making sure all relevant products are tested and certified by approved accreditation companies from the UK," says Taylor.

ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) standards help develop, manufacture and supply products to various industries in a safe, efficient and environmentally-friendly way.

For the Middle East, a region where all of the world's predominant theories on architecture and construction converge, to not have an accepted set of standards for products being used, is a recipe for inefficiency and, eventually, disaster.

"If we cannot put a finger on a manufacturer's performance data, what's the point?" asks Taylor. "The only option is to create a physical mock-up so clients can get an idea of the size, shape and feel of the product before purchasing."

As the Middle Eastern market matures, there will be increasing pressure on the industry to make a final decision on the issue of certifications. That decision will not be without its pitfalls, but it seems that among the considerations will be whether or not to develop a regionally specific certification.

"For this market to develop one of its own standards would be almost impossible and totally unnecessary," says Shaw. "It would be a good idea to adopt perhaps the European or American standards, but not accept every standard out there."

A major hurdle

"The products that some companies install last just six months or a year. Faulty products aren't the client's fault because they generally don't understand the technology. Architects need to inform developers about the reality of the situation during the planning phase," says Fatayerji, Sunflex.

The problem, however, requires not just a meeting of minds between manufacturers, developers and architects within the industry. There needs to be a universally accepted process by which certification can be gained, which starts with supporting legislation. "The problem with lobbying for a particular standard is accessibility. If I want to lobby for a particular standard, where would I go?" asks Shaw.

Just as legislative bodies have recently decreed that all future buildings in the UAE will be ‘greener' in accordance with an accepted standard of eco-friendly buildings, perhaps that type of mandate is necessary for door technology as well.

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