Shattered windows spark safety fears

Residents of high-rise apartments in Dubai are worried after several incidents in which panes of glass have spontaneously broken without warning.

Christine Stewart stands next to a shattered glass pane in the Time Place Tower where she lives in the Dubai Marina.
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DUBAI // Windows in high-rise apartment blocks are spontaneously breaking because of a combination of shoddy workmanship and inadequate building regulations, construction experts say. "I came home from work and it was smashed, and I'm not quite sure how or why," said Nina, 38, a Briton, who found a half metre-long window damaged in her one-bedroom flat on the 36th floor of a tower in New Dubai.

"On the ground there were a few splinters, but it was more the window being cracked while still in the frame." According to experts, Nina was probably the victim of building contractors who had improperly fitted window panes. Large temperature fluctuations then caused the metal frames to expand and contract, straining the glass beyond its breaking point, they believe. The problem is compounded by insufficient building regulations with regards to window installation, they say, leaving standards to be decided by contractors and developers.

"There are some incredibly bad practices - contractors who don't know what they're doing, putting things together in ways that are completely unacceptable," said Tom Bell-Wright, founder and owner of Thomas Bell-Wright International Consultants, which specialises in building facades. "As far as regulations are concerned about installing windows and glass, there aren't any." Asked if such regulations were maintained by Dubai Municipality, Kamal Azayam, a mechanical engineer who works in the qualifications and building studies section, said: "As far as I know, nothing."

Such decisions were not overseen by the Government, he said, but instead depended "on the requirements of the consultants". Christine Stewart is baffled as to why a glass panel in the lobby of her apartment building suddenly shattered into dozens of pieces on Saturday. "Nothing had hit it, nothing had happened," said Ms Stewart, 46, a Briton who works in the media. "It just literally went, and people were sitting nearby. It could have hit them, but luckily it didn't.

"What worries me is what caused such a thing to happen, is it going to happen again, and how safe are our apartments." When Barti Makhijani returned to her 28th-floor apartment in Dubai Marina recently, she found one of the five window panes in her bedroom, which run from floor to ceiling, was cracked in numerous places, but still intact. "It looked at first glance like it was raining on just that window," said Mrs Makhijani, 30, an Indian who lives with her two children.

"It was shattered, as if a large stone had hit and some sort of ripple effect all along that centre pane. From what I understand, it was the outside pane that was shattered. "I've got children around, and what if somebody throws something at that window like a ball because I'm not always in to guard the window?" The cost of replacing the window, about Dh12,000 (US$3,200), was borne by Mrs Makhijani's insurance. But the men who did the repair told her "it wasn't the first flat in the building that experienced it".

Paul Rogers, managing director at Eminent Surveyors and Loss Adjusters, described Mrs Makhijani's window as "frosting up". This happens when windows are installed without the necessary "wedges", which act as shock absorbers. This exposes them to greater amounts of thermal pressure, making them more prone to buckling. "It's mostly the outside pane that shatters," he said. "If the inside shatters, that's serious because it means the glass was fitted the wrong way."