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The millennia-old history of how architectural tragedies have shaped cities

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13.06.2019

It’s been two years since a disastrous fire broke out at Grenfell Tower, a residential block of flats in North Kensington, London, on June 14, 2017. The fire is believed to have started on the fourth floor, “in and around” a fridge freezer. It escaped through a kitchen window, traveled rapidly upwards through the cladding—which had been fitted during recent regeneration efforts—and ultimately claimed the lives of 72 people.

The report from the first phase of the public inquiry into the fire has been delayed and no criminal charges will be considered until 2021 at the earliest. Yet a number of households affected by the fire are still in temporary accommodation and the tower remains standing, as a reminder of this disaster. The Grenfell Tower fire not only survives in the nation’s collective memory—it will, like so many previous catastrophes—continue to alter the shape of British cities for years to come.

Buildings and the urban landscape evolve in response to past accidents and future threats. For example, long ago, devastating fires led to the establishment of organized fire services. The earliest historical record of organized firefighting dates back to the Roman times. It was first the Familia Publica—a firefighting force made up of slaves—and later the Corps of Vigiles that had stations throughout ancient Rome, from which they........

© Fast Company