How High Design & Building Codes Can Co-Exist

Architects are going to great lengths to create unique spaces that are innovative, visually stunning and functional. But it takes more than just an art-inspired building or an aesthetically pleasing high rise to be considered an example of successful high design.

Many up and coming trends in architecture have their origins in high design. But with avant-garde architecture comes the question of a building’s design and how it operates within the confines of fire and safety codes. While it may require more research into regulatory issues and building materials, it is possible to be innovative with design while adhering to the codes that will keep your building and its occupants safe.

Let’s look at some of the more popular elements of high design and explore a few ways you can ensure these elements meet code requirements without losing design integrity.

Open Floor Plans

While you have likely already planned to incorporate the latest fire-safety equipment into your designs, it’s also important to consider smoke management—especially in areas with large, open spaces.

One of the most popular design trends is the use of open spaces—particularly in the workplace. While ideal for fitting more people into a space and promoting a collaborative work environment, open floor plans can create challenges when it comes to code adherence.

By design, open floor plans don’t contain many natural fire and smoke barriers which limits the amount of time for occupants to exit the building. By adding fire and smoke curtains to a fire and smoke management system, an additional layer of protection is created that increases overall building safety. And because curtains are concealed in the ceiling, they won’t detract from your design.

Smoke curtains, like Smoke Guard’s M2100, can be set to deploy when the smoke detector is triggered. The curtains then form a physical barrier between the smoke and unaffected rooms, creating a safer escape route and giving occupants more time to vacate while allowing firefighters to quickly enter the building.


Multi-Level Atrium

Large, towering atriums are common in high design and often connect multiple floors through open stairwells, escalators or elevator shafts. If not properly designed to code, atriums increase the risk of fire or smoke quickly spreading to multiple levels.

Large open spaces like atriums would also greatly benefit from smoke curtains. Smoke Guard’s M4000 fire-rated curtain is an ideal solution for atriums that span multiple floors because it doesn’t need corner support posts. It can also be integrated into existing local smoke detection systems, adding another layer of protection.


The M4000 has the capability to shield both staircases and escalators from smoke and flames or acts as a reservoir for smoke on upper floors of an atrium area. The smoke curtain’s  dimensions are also highly adjustable, allowing for custom installations.

High Rises and Elevator Shafts

Skyscrapers have always been a high design favorite, and as the number of high rise buildings increase, elevators begin to play a more important role in building safety. A solid option to help your building adhere to both current and future codes is the use of smoke curtains that are specifically designed for elevator doors.

Smoke Guard’s elevator smoke curtains are great options for unique building layouts because of their ability to be customized, their minimal impact to the overall design and appearance of a building interior, and no impact at all to the elevator itself.  


When paired with the fire-rated doors that are present in nearly all elevators, the M200 and M400 curtains provide smoke and draft opening protection that complies with fire and safety codes. You can also integrate these curtains seamlessly with existing systems to bring your elevator system up to code.

For complete design freedom and flexibility, especially for unique elevator lobby designs, the M600 smoke curtain is completely customizable and can seal nearly any opening, making it a star player for high design.

Flexible Design Challenges

Flexible design is another growing trend that fits in well with the creative and innovative solutions often found in high design architecture. A building with flexible design allows itself to respond to its environment. It can be readily transformed to meet the needs of its occupants, meaning interiors can be easily repurposed, moved or changed depending on the current needs of the space.

The ever-changing nature of flexible design makes it an ideal choice when thinking of the overall lifecycle of a building and its sustainability over many years. But at the same time, the ability to change both the layout and occupancy level with each transformation can create some confusion when it comes to fire and safety code adherence.

How can you ensure compliance after repurposing a building? According to fire protection engineer and author Douglas Evans, there are a few ways to address this issue while still staying within the boundaries of codes and regulations:

  • Talk to code authorities and review your proposed design and specifications. Also ask about using alternatives to achieve compliance. For example, are there equivalent devices that meet code requirements? Sometimes this is only considered a short-term fix, but there are times when alternative devices end up getting included in the building code.
  • Find out if there are allowances within the code. Review the code to see if there is an allowance that states the code itself isn’t expected to address all applications. If you can show what you are doing with your space and that you’re providing at least the level of protection stated in the code, then the jurisdiction may approve it.

Keep Up With the Latest Codes and Regulations

Understanding how your building will best operate within today’s safety codes will help you showcase the unique aspects of high design architecture today and well into the future. 

To stay on top of the latest codes and requirements, check out the National Federal Development Association (NFDA), the International Code Council (ICC) and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).

Smoke Guard has also developed a resource guide to help you understand specifications and give you more insight product and design compliance. Click here to download the PDF. Contact us to speak with a professional about protecting your building.