Grenfell Tower
Grenfell Tower. By Natalie Oxford –, CC BY 4.0, Link

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

The flammable building cladding which helped turn Grenfell Tower into a blazing torch which killed at least 58 people on the 14th June this year may have been chosen in part due to its climate credentials.

Grenfell Tower cladding that may have led to fire was chosen to improve appearance of Kensington block of flats

Material would help make the flats look better from outside, planners noted

Andrew Griffin @_andrew_griffin Thursday 15 June 2017 08:59 BST

The cladding that might have led to the horrifying blaze at Grenfell Tower was added partly to improve its appearance.

During a refurbishment aimed at regeneration last year, cladding was added to the sides of the building to update its look. The cladding then seems to have helped the fire spread around the building, allowing it to destroy almost the entirety of the structure and kill people inside.

And that cladding – a low-cost way of improving the front of the building – was chosen in part so that the tower would look better when seen from the conservation areas and luxury flats that surround north Kensington, according to planning documents, as well as to insulate it.

A number of conditions were attached to the 2014 decision to approve the plan – many of which related specifically to the material used in the cladding, so that the council could ensure the “living conditions of those living near the development” were “suitably protected”.

The council noted that the cladding would also improve insulation, helping keep sound and cold out from the building, and improve ventilation. An environmental statement said that the “primary driver behind the refurbishment” was to address the insulation and air tightness.

“The reclad materials and new windows will represent a significant improvement to the environmental performance of the building and to its physical appearance,” the planning application reads. “The design of the scheme as a whole has fully considered policy requirements, expectations and aspirations, fully taking into consideration the immediate and wider surroundings, particularly focussing on creating a wider environment that works as a coherent place,” another part of the same document says.

That planning application concludes with a statement that “the development will provide significant improvements to the physical appearance of the Tower, as well as the environmental performance and the amenity of its residents”.

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According to Wikipedia, the cladding used was a mixture of aluminium sheet and Aluminium coated Polyethylene. Polyethylene is a relatively good heat insulator – at least compared to Aluminium, which is a good heat conductor. Production of polyethylene is also much less carbon intensive than producing aluminium, so a sheet of cladding which contains Polyethylene is likely “greener” than a sheet of cladding made entirely of Aluminium.

But Polyethylene is highly…