In Memoriam - Margaret Law

We are greatly saddened to lose SFPE Fellow Margaret Law, MBE, CEng, FSFPE, who died at her home in London on 27 August 2017. (Submitted by a colleague at Arup.)

Margaret was born in London and graduated in physics and mathematics from the University of London (BSc). She joined the Fire Research Station in the UK in 1952, and over 20 years, established herself as one of the world’s leading fire scientists, carrying out research into many aspects of fire behavior and its effects on building materials and structures. She also became involved in how these research results apply to building regulations, codes of practice and design guides. Her research included ignition and fire dynamics, heat radiation from fires, requirements for building separation, and structural fire behavior.

Margaret next spent a few years in the Directorate of Research Requirements at the Department of the Environment in the UK, assessing research priorities in building and construction.

In 1974, she joined the Ove Arup Partnership as an adviser on fire engineering for projects being designed by the firm. She also created innovative fire safety solutions on major projects such as the Pompidou Centre in Paris and Kansai International airport. She was particularly renowned for her work on structural steelwork in fire, with codified methods still relied on today in the USA, UK and Europe.

Margaret was a visiting researcher at the Science University of Tokyo in 1987 and was made Visiting Professor at the University of Greenwich in 1997. She was actively involved in national and international committees concerned with fire safety throughout her career, getting fire safety engineering principles accepted within codes/standards and the regulatory framework. In the UK, she was instrumental in developments that culminated in fire engineers achieving chartered status through the Institution of Fire Engineers.

Margaret’s many national and international awards included an MBE in 1993 for her services to fire safety and the Arthur B. Guise Medal from the SFPE in 1994.

At the end of 1990, Margaret retired and became a consultant to the Ove Arup Partnership. Her book of papers, “Some selected papers by Margaret Law: engineering fire safety,” was produced to honor her achievements when she finished this consultant role in 2002. Its contents are testament to Margaret’s high standards, commitment to fundamental scientific understanding, technical rigor, and ability to translate fundamental principles into practical building design solutions.

Margaret was concerned with all aspects of fire safety, particularly in buildings for which the standard rules and requirements of regulations did not directly apply. She published and explained her work so others could understand, question, and implement it. She believed profoundly in what she termed measurement and, as she said in her 1990 paper, “What is a Fire Engineer”: “Measurement and quantification are fundamental to any proper engineering design. It is sad so many people are reluctant to measure things: presumably that might cast doubts on what they know to be right.”

Margaret expected fire safety engineers to be “tough enough to stand up to a good deal of questioning” and “able to push other people in the same way: justify what you are saying if you expect to be taken seriously.” She had a fearsome reputation, which is also exactly why she was so deeply respected and so greatly admired. She was a devoted, kind and patient teacher. Her colleagues at Arup greatly enjoyed all the stories and memories shared by the many people affected by Margaret throughout her stellar career.

There are two great monuments to Margaret’s lifetime achievement: the body of her published work, and the worldwide consultancy practice of Arup Fire, now some 220 strong and still growing.

Margaret was a private and humble person. She may never have realized her influence, her global reputation and the esteem with which she was held by so many.

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