Construction quality could be catching up with other industries

This blog was written by Lynne Ceeney, Technical Director at BSRIA

If you order steak and chips at a restaurant, but the waiter delivers hake in strips, you would be rightly annoyed. Instinctively you blame the waiter, but it could have been a problem with the ordering software, a misreading in the kitchen or just the wrong dish being picked up.  Whatever, you would send it back – it is not what you ordered.   In new buildings, this happens all the time.  Poor communication during the briefing, design and construction process, and poor handover and operation leads to a building that doesn’t deliver the performance the client thought they had ordered in the first place.  Unlike a dinner, it’s not practical to send a building back and wait for the one you asked for to be delivered.  Instead extensive snagging lists, expensive defect resolution and defensive “best we can do” fixes by the facilities team are often used to try and get the building closer to its intended performance – and “closer” is usually the best that can be achieved. The owner and occupier end up with a disappointing building, and the designers and construction company are left with a disappointed client.  The blame chain spreads, and it’s hard to pin down the fault.

The impacts run way beyond disappointment.  Occupier discomfort impacts staff retention, and the increased societal focus on wellbeing indicates that employees will expect higher standards from their place of work.  Poor commissioning or confusing controls mean building systems that don’t work properly and need constant attention or premature replacement, as the uncomfortable working conditions impact on worker productivity.  Inefficient buildings use more energy requiring more cash and causing more carbon emissions.  In fact buildings contribute 37% of UK green house gas emissions from gas heating, and consume 67% of the electricity used in the country.  It’s no wonder that larger investors are taking much more of an interest in the sustainability and performance of buildings rather than just the upfront capital cost.  Good buildings are an asset, poor buildings become an expensive liability in terms of operating costs and void periods. Competitive property markets compound this situation.

With a typical building having a life expectancy of at least 60 years, we are building in problems for this generation and the next.  We’re not great at mass retrofitting, (and the high demand for additional building stock means a capital, skills and material shortage) so we need to get it right first time.  Effective management tools with this aim abound in other sectors, for example DRIFT, (Doing it Right First Time), Six Sigma, LEAN and Zero Defects.  We see the approach being used in food manufacture, car making, pilot training, and patient healthcare, to name but a few sectors.  So what about construction?

Soft Landings is the equivalent tool for the construction sector.  This tried and tested process was developed to help to produce better performing buildings – not necessarily exceptional in performance, but buildings that deliver in operation what they were designed to do in the first place.  Getting a building right requires a shared focus on operational performance of the building right from the start, and throughout the design, construction and commissioning process.  The use of Soft Landings delivers this shared focus, improving communication and collaboration between all parties in the building delivery chain.  It helps everyone to avoid the pitfalls that diminish operational building performance. It fits with RIBA stages, integrates into existing construction processes, and does not require a specific building procurement model.  You can download Soft Landings guidance from the BSRIA website .

However it is always helpful to find out about real world experiences, and to talk to others who are using Soft Landings to help them to produce better buildings.  With this in mind, BSRIA have organised the 2017 Soft Landings Conference (June 16th 2017 at RIBA, Portland Place, London W1B 1AD). You will hear from a range of speakers from different parts of the construction process – including clients – who will explain how they have used Soft Landings in their projects, and the value that it has delivered for their buildings.  You will also hear their hints and tips, and there will be plenty of time to ask questions and take part in discussion both in conference and over lunch.

It’s time for the construction industry to catch up with other industries in terms of quality, to produce buildings that perform as expected, through a delivery process that gets it right first time.  Soft Landings is a process that helps the delivery chain to do this.  For more information on the conference please contact our Events Manager, Tracey Tilbry.

 

Contractors can’t build well without clients that lead

Did anyone see the recent news story on the Edinburgh PFI schools with structural failures? In 2016 we shouldn’t be constructing buildings with feeble brickwork. We have Victorian and Edwardian schools that have been standing for over 100 years without these problems. More ironically we have 1960s CLASP schools – built on a budget with the flimsiest of constructions – still standing and performing their role well after their sell-by date. OK, they’re usually freezing in winter and boiling in summer, with asbestos in places a power drill shouldn’t reach, but at least they’re still standing.

The reasons for these high profile failures are easy to park at the door of the PFI process. One can blame cost-cutting, absence of site inspections, and lack of quality control. Some even say that the ceding of Building Control checks to the design and build contractor is a root cause: site labour can’t be trusted to mark their own exam paper when their primary interest is to finish on time and under budget.

Some commentators blame the design process, and bemoan the loss of days of the Building Schools for the Future programme when design quality was overseen by the Commission for Architecture in the Built Environment (CABE). The erstwhile CABE may have tried to be a force for good, but project lead times become ridiculously long and expensive. And would it have prevented structural failures? Hardly likely.

The one cause of these failures that doesn’t get enough press coverage is the important client leadership and quality championing. It can be argued that clients get what clients are willing to pay for, and there’s no industry like the construction industry for delivering something on the cheap. The cost-cutting, the emphasis on time and cost at the expense of quality control – all this can be pinned on a client base that does not lead, demand, oversee, and articulate what it wants well enough to prevent the desired product being delivered at the wrong level of quality at the wrong price.

Which means that clients have to a) get wiser on what can go wrong, b) get smarter with their project management, and c) articulate what they want in terms of performance outcomes. Truly professional designers recognise this, and are prepared to guide their clients through the shark-infested waters of writing their employers requirements. But once that is done the client’s job is not over. They can’t simply hand the job over to the main contractor and turn their back until the job is complete. They need to be closely involved every step of the way – and keep key parties involved beyond practical completion and into the all-importance aftercare phase.

Soft Landings provides a chassis on which focus on performance outcomes can be built. The chassis provides the client with a driving seat to ensure that standards are maintained, along with a shared construction team responsibility to make sure the building is fit for purpose.  The forthcoming BSRIA conference Soft Landings in London on 23 June is a good opportunity to learn how this can be done. It will focus on workshops where problems can be aired and solutions worked through. It will be led by experts in the field who can suggest practical solutions for real-world projects. Why not book a place for you and a client? For more information visit the BSRIA website. 

Design Fine Tuning?

 

Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

BSRIA has been involved in many recent projects including an independent assessment of the realised performance of low energy / environmentally conscious buildings.  This includes projects associated with the Technology Strategy Board’s Building Performance Evaluation (BPE) programme.

The emerging results for more than 50 non-domestic buildings have now been analysed by BSRIA to look at what works well, and when things don’t, why this is the case.  It’s always difficult to generalise based on such a diverse building stock, ownership profile, procurement route, supply chain capabilities, and operational approach, but its clear that in many of the buildings there is a significant performance gap between design intent, and realised performance.  Analysis of such data is always a challenge.  How does one attribute, for instance, any shortfall in performance between the specification, design, construction, commissioning process, and to operational issues such as sub-optimal energy management and / or changes in operating regime such as an extension in occupancy hours.

However one lesson inferred from the analysis is that with some low carbon (and / or energy) buildings one of the unintended consequences is that sometimes the building has been finely “tuned” to minimise carbon (and / or energy), and capital costs at the expense of the building’s resilience in the face of, say, changing patterns of use or internal gains.  Put simply, if a building has been engineered to reduce energy and or carbon for a particular set of operating conditions, and one way of achieving this is to simply size ventilation, and air conditioning plant in line with those conditions, what happens if say internal gains increase as a result of higher occupancy loading?  In practice it is found that some environmental designs lack the flexibility to cope with changes in business use because of limitations built into their design.  This happens with more conventional buildings, with the difference for environmental buildings being more pronounced because the design in many cases is more finely “tuned” as we move ever closer to “near zero”, or “very low” energy / carbon buildings.

BSRIA’s experience identifies many of the good practices required to ensure environmental buildings work well, and also the impact of poor practice.  Overly sensitive design is one cause of poor performance in practice.  So the question is why do some clients and their design team include a sensitivity analysis to design services and size plant so as to ensure resilience, whereas others adopt an approach best characterised by “lowest capital, highest environmental ranking, never mind about actual performance in use”?  The likely answers are complex.  Those found by others like Latham and Egan come to mind for some instances: informed clients recruit supply chains who know their business, and both understand implications of design decisions; post-occupancy-evaluationanother is the chasm which can often occur between those who specify, procure, and lease buildings, and those who occupy and manage them.  Perhaps a third is that once a building has been occupied, too seldom is thought given to how the building will actually work in the face of changes in occupant requirements.

The question for BSRIA is how we can provide a steer and guidance to our members and the industry as to how best to ensure that we build the next generation of environmentally sensitive buildings to be even more resilient in the face of likely changes those buildings will face over their lifetime.  A building which has a very low carbon and / or energy design use, but which fails to provide a productive environment in the face of foreseeable changes in operating conditions can’t really be described as “sustainable”.

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Chief Executive, Julia Evans. For more information about BPE you can visit our website or visit the TSB’s BPE pages where you can look at case studies and methods of BPE (you may need to register to access these). 

Making buildings better – measuring for improved building performance

Andrew Eastwell, BSRIA CEO

Andrew Eastwell, BSRIA CEO

BSRIA has always been in the business of measuring, whether it is a physical quantity such as temperature or pressure, a market assessment such as volume of product imported to a given country or a softer, more management-orientated value such as a benchmark or satisfaction score. Measuring is a fundamental characteristic of our industry’s operations and it is in BSRIA’s DNA.

The need for accurate and more comprehensive measurement has been increasing in response to the revolution that is the low carbon agenda. Revolution is no idle description either. In just over a decade, carbon signatures of new buildings have been required to fall to “nearly zero” – yet few owners were even aware of their building’s operational carbon use at the start. In looking backwards over the past few years, I think BSRIA can be proud of its role in promoting the increased use of through-life measurement embedded in processes such as Soft Landings and the associated building performance evaluations.

There is another BSRIA process that is associated with the collection of measurements. This is the process that turns detailed, often randomly accumulated and frequently disconnected data and information into documents that can be used by our members to guide them in their work. A couple of decades ago this process was greatly enhanced by the availability of a managed construction research programme that not only contributed funds from central government but much more importantly brought focus and long term stability to the accumulation of knowledge. This stability was crucial since it enabled individuals to establish research skills and careers with enduring value to the sector they served. Loss of this programme has also resulted in a loss of cohesion between frontline companies willing to collaborate within the longer term research process.

There is a however a new kid on the block that may be about to revolutionise the traditional measure/analyse/publish process that has dominated research and guidance in our sector.

As disruptive technologies go, Big Data has managed to remain under the public radar quite well until the recent disclosures of the USA “Prism” project. Under Prism, colossal quantities of data harvested from both open and private sources are analysed to identify supposed threats to homeland security. It is the use of automatic analytics software combined with large arrays of sophisticated new sensing technologies that makes Big Data techniques so intriguing for the built environment sector.

By way of example, consider the problem of maintaining comfortable temperatures in a space. Traditionally we have used lab research on volunteers to establish what “comfort” requires. Ole Fanger took years to generate his widely used algorithms but they still do not cover all the possible variables that affect perceived comfort. We now use a thermostat, with a setpoint guided by Fanger, and assume that all is well with our occupants. In the new paradigm, cameras utilising facial recognition software will be capable of spotting yawning (too hot, too much CO?) or sluggish activity (too cold). This data is available for every worker in a given space and a “voting” system used to optimise comfort over the group.

But of course there is more. This data could be available from many sources in a Prism type environment. There would now be the potential to mine the data to establish new benchmarks feeding back to the design process that can be tailored to the particular activity type. Schools, offices, homes and shops each can be analysed not just to establish a single setpoint value but to understand in great detail the envelope or distribution of responses. At last, proper large scale data sets can aid our work – and most of what we need to do this is already available through installed BEMS.

There is one further gain possible from this approach. Traditional academic research leading to refereed papers and thence to institutional guidance can take half a working lifetime to complete. Big Data results can be achieved in hugely reduced timespans. Take the case of adverts you see on Google – these are tailored specifically to you based on purchase decisions you may have only made via unconnected sites a few hours earlier. Scary but true.

Big Data is where BIM, Smart Cities, performance contracting and responsive design meet. It challenges all the preconceptions of professional codes, cuts swathes through the notion of privacy and opens up “our” market for knowledge to an entirely new set of competitive players. The next decade is going to be seriously exciting and I am sure BSRIA will remain strong to its ethos of Measuring and Managing in this startling new environment.

BSRIA provides a range of services to conduct and support BPE, from the complete evaluation to providing energy monitoring instruments and benchmarking building performance.

How to procure Soft Landings

BG 45/2013 Soft Landings procurement Guide

BG 45/2013 Soft Landings procurement Guide

BSRIA has just launched its latest guidance on the Soft Landings graduated handover process.   How to Procure Soft Landings – guidance for clients, consultants and contractors is designed to help clients and their professional and building teams frame their Soft Landings requirements in a consistent and structured manner.

 The guide is a response to two clear trends in the use of Soft Landings. Primarily, clients aren’t sure what they are asking for when they call for it in tenders. Construction firms are seeing wide differences in client requirements. The initiated clients may spell it out, but for every expert client there are 20 who simply ask for Soft Landings without a clear idea of what it is.

 Many builders and contractors, particularly those not up with current thinking, are similarly clueless on how best to respond. That’s one of the downsides with an open-source protocol – the viral spread of Soft Landings is a good thing, but a lack of certification and control means that the uninitiated can easily catch a cold.

 Second, Soft Landings is being adopted by central government as a formal procurement policy. This is Government Soft Landings (otherwise known as GSL), a Cabinet Office-inspired interpretation of Soft Landings for government clients. While it’s not a million miles away from the official version published by BSRIA and the Usable Buildings Trust, GSL takes a more facilities management perspective of the process and focusses far more on getting guaranteed outcomes from the construction industry. GSL is slated to be mandated for central government projects in 2016, along with the adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM), with which Soft Landings is well-suited.

 So what we have, then, are commercial clients still a little confused in their (voluntary) adoption of Soft Landings. On top of that is an incoming group of government clients, building anything from schools to prisons to aircraft hangers,  for whom Soft Landings is a huge unknown but who will be mandated to adopt it. BSRIA’s view is that it might be a good idea to lay out the best ways of expressing Soft Landings in client requirements, pre-qualification questionnaires, and invitations to tender, so that the clients and industry alike get greater consistency in Soft Landings projects from the very outset.  

 The procurement guide has benefited substantially from the Soft Landings User Group, a BSRIA-run team of clients, architects, consultants and contractors who have learnt from experience on Soft Landings projects what works well and what doesn’t. This learning has been used to create practical, generic requirements for Soft Landings activities that can be used in project documentation. 

 A body like the User Group is absolutely vital for the practical development of Soft Landings. BSRIA knows it doesn’t have all the answers, and in any case should not dictate how Soft Landings is put into operation on real projects. Each project has its own needs and objectives, and each form of procurement throws up its own set of opportunities and challenges. The trick is to find out what works in each context, and try and find ways round thorny issues like novation and cost-cutting for instance, both of which can compromise the best of intentions.

 The guide provides specifically-worded requirements for each step in each of the five stages of Soft Landings.  The guidance is split into three sections, with requirements worded for clients appointing professional designers, clients appointing main contractors/builders, and contractors appointing sub-contractors.  Inevitably, there is some repetition, but the guide gets round that at relevant points by referring the reader to sections in the guide where a specific requirement is more logically located. 

Stage 3 - Pre-handover

Stage 3 – Pre-handover

The example shown is typical. Energy metering installations are proving to be a major problem – they are installed to satisfy Building Regulations, but are often not set up in a way that makes them useful. Although the Soft Landings Framework calls for an energy metering strategy, the procurement guide goes a step further by spelling out what should be provided, in this case at the pre-handover stage. Each requirement is supported by explanatory text that gives the main contractor, in this instance, some background context and the reasons for the requirement.

 Some Soft Landings stages may have more than one worded requirement. Some optional requirements have also been provided, for instance in the aftercare stages where it may be important to spell out precisely who should be involved and for how long.

 For example, under the core requirements for main contractors appointing sub-contractors, contractors have the option of requiring a subcontractor to be retained to assist the client and other members of the project team during handover, and afterwards to monitor the building’s performance. Some sub-contractors may be required to be based on site full-time during the initial aftercare period to assist with end-user queries and to undertake fine-tuning of systems. This would not typically apply to a ductwork sub-contractor, but it would usually apply to a controls sub-contractor. More critically, it could apply to any contractor whose systems or components come with automatic controls, particularly those with bespoke communication protocols (seemly most of them) which can only be adjusted by the supplier after payment of a fat call-out fee. If you’re nodding at this point, you know how it is. The Soft Landings procurement guide now covers this issue, and many others like it.

 An opportunity has been taken to fill gaps in the Soft Landings Framework, published back in 2009 when practical experience was a bit thin on the ground. For example, the guide contains a generic design work stage which was not included in the Framework. The procurement guide also provides more detailed advice on principles of procurement and tendering, how to include Soft Landings in tender processes and interviews, and some advice on the best way to budget for Soft Landings.

 The timing of the guidance also coincided fortuitously with the publication of the 2013 RIBA Plan of Work, which gave BSRIA the opportunity to align Soft Landings stages against the new RIBA stages, and those published by the CIC. There’s also a public sector Soft Landings decision tree included to help government and local authority clients dovetail their procurement requirements with Soft Landings requirements.

 Building performance research is identifying many critical aspects of procurement where clients and the construction industry need to tighten up their respective acts. The commissioning manager is a critical role, and the earlier they can be appointed the better. The procurement guide offers some advice on how to do this, and what their role should be in Soft Landings.

 Soft Landings is not job in itself but a set of roles and responsibilities shared among the client and project team. However, on large jobs particularly a co-ordinator may be needed to make sure the administration is carried out. Paperwork – which could include updating operational risk registers in BIM models for example – needs to be done by someone. If this isn’t covered, Soft Landings might fail ‘for want of a nail’.

 BSRIA hopes that How to Procure Soft Landings – guidance for clients, consultants and contractors will provide all that clients and project teams need to put Soft Landings into operation.  It is a practical guide to accompany the Soft Landings Framework – still the industry bible on what Soft Landings is about, and why you should adopt it.

 With all this talk about the performance gap between design and building operation, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the act of procuring a building and constructing it is a team enterprise. No-one goes into the process with the intention of doing a bad job.  Events, like many things in life, can conspire against it. What Soft Landings tries to do is provide toeholds for everyone involved to do a better job in the face of budgetary, time and skills pressures.  How to Procure Soft Landings – guidance for clients, consultants and contractors provides a whole load more toeholds for everyone.

 BSRIA BG45/2013 How to Procure Soft Landings – guidance for clients, consultants and contractors is available from BSRIA bookshop.

Soft Landings – it’s not all about the cake!

A guest post by Stuart Thompson of Morgan Sindall

Soft Landings Workshop

Soft Landings Workshop

Following on from my previous post regarding the UEA low carbon project I’d like to share our progress with the inclusion of Soft Landings.

Last week our soft landings champions met for our fifth workshop, habitually in the cafe over some cake. Rod Bunn from BSRIA joined us this time to check that we were still on track, almost a year after he helped me to introduce the soft landings framework to our UEA project stakeholders. We are in Stage 2 of the framework and we are really getting a grasp of what it’s all about, Stage 2 focuses on design development, reviews similar projects and details how the building will work. Over the last two months we held some ‘reality checking’ workshops on various topics and have gathered some great feedback on our RIBA Stage D design. This will be used to shape the detail as we move into RIBA Stage E design.

During our soft landing gatherings, the champions are challenging ourselves with thoughts like:

  • are the BREEAM Outstanding & PHPP figures really relevant to our building users? How do we demonstrate their great value to the users?
  •  ensure that our soft landings champions are empowered, to ensure that they are accommodated by the wider project team
  • can we recognise and utilise people’s talents and abilities and identify the environment in which they function most effectively?
  • has the soft landings process captured all of the creative ideas from the wider project team? 

We are also looking to create a back-casting report on Post Occupancy Evaluation and occupancy satisfaction by the

Soft landings delivery plan

Soft landings delivery plan

next meeting. We glanced through a few examples of what the client would like to see. Thinking about this report now (that will be needed in say 2 years time), is an example of how the  progressive, forward-thinking approach of soft landings will provide benefit to the client at no additional cost.

Our soft landings meetings are productive, I look forward to these, and it’s not simply about the cake!

Have you included Soft Landings in any of your projects? What are the challenges and achievements you’ve faced?

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