Cheryl Kahla
Deputy Online News Editor
2 minute read
3 Jan 2022
7:15 am

Parliament fire: Expert explains why repairs could take ‘many months’

Cheryl Kahla

Professor of structural and fire engineering, Richard Walls, said 'none of this is easy for a building designed in a different time'.

Firefighters from several fire stations trying to contain the blaze at the National Assembly building in the Parliament Precinct. Photo: Gallo Images/Brenton Geach

Professor of structural and fire engineering and Head of the Fire Engineering Research Unit at Stellenbosch University (FireSUN), Richard Walls, said the fire repairs at Parliament will take “many months”.

Parliament fire: The aftermath

When will repairs be finalised?

Walls said the repair timeline will be determined by a variety of factors, including the investigation into arson, as well as assessments of the building and the extent of the damage.

In addition, it’s hard to carry out repairs when a section of the building remains operational.

He said it is also a heritage problem, which could delay matters.

Heritage and design challenges

It could be potentially harder to source materials and there are many aspects to consider when working on the redesign.

Walls said the Heritage Society and consultants will work closely with engineers and architects to ensure the look and feel of the building is preserved.

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While the heritage aspect of the repair will be challenging, it could also be complicated by modern services, such as the kilometres of cabling to replace, as well as security and fire systems.

He said, “none of this is easy for a building designed in a different time”.

Modern solutions

There are, however, many modern solutions that would assist in preventing a similar incident in future, such as creating zones to limit the spread of a fire.

One cannot, for example, install a sprinkler system in a library full of delicate, historical books and documents, and should instead look at clean agent systems such as gas, mist or dry powder.

“It will be many months before the structure is up and running and open again. It’s going to be an interesting conundrum to see how Parliament continues”.

WATCH: Parliament on fire, several buildings under threat

Parliament fire won’t disrupt operations

Presiding officers in Parliament on Sunday assured South Africans that the upcoming 2022 State of the Nation Address and the Budget Speech would not be affected.

Speaker of the National Assembly (NA) Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula on Sunday said officials are distressed by this incident and the extent of the damage caused to the precincts of the seat of the national legislature.

The fire has affected both the Old Assembly Wing and the National Assembly Wing of the buildings of Parliament, which house the chambers of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces.