An architect who worked on the Grenfell Tower refurbishment has said he was unaware of several fire safety requirements for buildings and considered it a “subject outside of my competence”.
Tomas Rek, a former employee of architects Studio E, said at the time he did not know what would constitute a material of limited flammability and was unaware how individual parts of the cladding system should be considered for fire issues.
He worked on the block’s revamp between September and December 2013 and helped prepare drawings and the project’s National Building Specification (NBS), a document used by designers to describe required materials, standards and workmanship.
Under questioning by the inquiry’s chief lawyer Richard Millett QC on Wednesday he said he had only a limited knowledge of the requirements of building regulations and approved fire safety guidance.
Mr Rek said: “I mean retrospectively looking at it I think it would help if I had a better understanding, of course.
“We had a fire consultant on the job and I considered fire-related issues a complicated subject outside of my competence.
“I believe I assumed that the design of the cladding and materials involved had been considered before my engagement …”
Regarding a meeting about the proposed cladding system in September 2013 with external wall subcontractor Harley Facades, Mr Rek said he thought the focus was “more to do with the appearance and price of the various materials and not their fire performance or fire rating”.
Afterwards, lead Studio E architect Bruce Sounes sent an email to Mark Harris of Harley saying his “back of a fag packet” figure for the cladding had been deemed over-budget, according to emails.
The next month, Mr Harris emailed Mr Rek regarding pricing, saying from a “Harley selfish point of view our preference would be to use ACM” (aluminium composite material).
Mr Harris added it was “tried and tested (on many Harley projects), and we are confident in the cost base”.
The inquiry has heard that combustible ACM cladding panels were chosen in 2014 over the originally proposed zinc in a bid to save £454,000 on the Grenfell refit.
Mr Rek also said he was unaware of previous high-rise fires involving cladding and did not have an understanding of how a panel with a polyethylene (PE) core would behave in a fire, the inquiry heard.
Describing it as “some sort of plastic”, he said he recalled that the panels had already been selected prior to his involvement in the refurbishment.
He added in his witness statement: “I may have assumed that compliance with building regulations had already been confirmed prior to my involvement, since I had simply been asked to obtain samples of these materials and the focus appeared to be on the appearance and cost of the product.”
The ACM Reynobond PE panels used in Grenfell’s cladding system had a heat combustion akin to diesel and close to lighter fluid and possessed a high-calorific value compared with other construction materials, the inquiry has previously heard.
They were found to have fuelled the fire’s rapid spread at the 24-storey west London block in June 2017.
Seventy two people died as a result of the blaze, which was sparked by an electrical fault with a fridge-freezer.