Delivering buildings that deliver their design intent

Soft Landings, BIM, Cavendish Engineers
Delivering operational reliability and efficiency — Steve Allen.

Steve Allen from Cavendish Engineers gives an overview of the importance of Soft Landings and how the approach can be used to improve the overall client experience.

The task of the professional team in any construction project is to provide an efficient and reliable asset. Why is it, then, that often this is not achieved, and how do we measure performance? The professionals have proposed the Soft Landings approach as the solution to this problem — but is it? Soft Landings should be part of the process as a whole, with operator and maintenance resources as members of the team.

The industry has been well aware of Soft Landings for some time. It has been well documented. For example, the BSRIA guide sets out a good framework, and more recently there is TM54 from CIBSE. However, in my view, these principles have not been well supported by the industry.

So why bother with Soft Landings?

The ultimate aim of Soft Landings is to provide a smooth transition after practical completion and therefore give clients better value. When we operate a building the way it was designed to be, we reduce the likelihood of things going wrong and we contain its operational energy. Owners and tenants both benefit, as they get to experience a trouble-free and efficient environment.

Unfortunately there is often conflict between contractors and clients. Applying low- and zero-carbon technologies often seems an afterthought and frequently goes unmentioned in the employer’s requirements.

Ashley Bateson, who chaired the recent conference on ‘Contemporary and Soft Landings for hard-service providers’, commented: ‘Sustainability gets sacrificed in the recession. People who make capital-cost decisions don’t normally have to live or work in the building that they are procuring, and they may not be incentivised enough to think about end users.’

He then went on to give a good example of where forward planning such as Soft Landings can save both the client and end users not only time and money but achieve a better-controlled environment. ‘Project managers on a project agreed to cut out sub-meters in the school at the construction stage as a cost saving. The contractors felt they did their job well if it was on capital budget — they were not encouraged, nor were the designers, to have a conversation with the end user about the removal of the sub-meters, which resulted in the client then retro-fitting meters after the project was handed over, at a higher price than the original cost saving. It should be about more forward thinking and making the client aware that, if they can invest in energy saving and monitoring measures now, they could save twice the amount of money later on.’

As with most things, communication is key. Soft Landings is very much about forward planning and communication between all parties. Websites such as Carbon Buzz invite people to post their case studies of buildings post-occupancy. This allows others to see how they are faring in the industry. It will be this sharing of knowledge that will ensure that Soft Landings is incorporated into best practice.

It is also important that designers, contractors and clients are all on the same page. At the moment, there is a big knowledge gap between the client, the builder and the operator. Though BSRIA mentions the ‘after-care team’ in its Soft Landings framework, this idea doesn’t seem to be widely implemented.

The client vision of the scheme is quite often a Bentley while the contractor, due to financial constraints, wants a Ford. Clients may have limited knowledge, so the specification, depending on who is responsible for design, is more often than not over-engineered.

We do have the technology available to get really specific. By using technology such as BIM and computer simulation, we can get much closer to operational capacity and therefore really optimise energy efficiency.

Control systems are often written as an interpretation of building designers’ intentions. But frequently they are a work around because the BMS company , often employed by the MEP contractor, is so far down the communications chain from the building designer and quite often engineering to a price.

BIM is a fantastic tool and will be vital in the future, but statistics tell us that only 4% of the design engineering industry is currently using it. The main feature of BIM is that the design is handed over to the operator in real time through 3D modelling. The design can then be continually updated by the operator, with a 3D model providing a working updated tool.

Soft Landings, BIM, Cavendish Engineers
Operating a building the way it was designed to be operated reduces the likelihood of things going wrong and contains its operational energy.

Unfortunately it can be an expensive tool for smaller designers and contractors. It costs about £10 000 per person to implement BIM once you’ve accounted for training and software. For smaller practices, this can just be too large an investment. Some smaller councils wanted to use BIM but couldn’t justify the capital spend. This will need addressing if Government wants companies to reach Level 2 BIM by 2016.

Soft Landings is all about training and knowledge transfer, and this becomes a problem when the operating contractor is appointed at practical completion — often becoming the building’s finishing resource.

Incorporating operation and maintenance

Soft Landings will ensure that we deliver buildings in a better and more sustainable way than we have previously. More care needs to be given to the design stage. Designers need to be more forward thinking and consider how their design will affect a building’s operation and maintenance in years to come. For example, take the issue of safe access to equipment that needs maintaining; all too often isolation points are inaccessible.

As designers are at the forefront of making these decisions, should they be held more responsible for selecting the correct equipment and should they be held to task if they do not reach the operating costs target? Though most clients agree with this, I believe it should be a team effort between operators, designers and client. By providing benchmarks for both operators and designers, the client will ultimately benefit.

As time passes, modern buildings become more complex and intelligent and old-style operating technicians are no longer adequate. We need a new layer of tech-savvy technicians on the ground and these resources need to be found and trained in good time before practical completion.

The future of Soft Landings

I believe the future of Soft Landings depends on getting clients interested. Paul Dove, an operations manager for UBS and delegate to the conference, showed that Soft Landings can be achieved.

UBS has had a Soft Landings group running for nine months. With its new development at Broadgate due for completion in 2016, UBS knows how important it is that everyone is on board and understands the value of the approach. UBS sees Soft Landings as a ‘change management function’. In fact, the company has gone beyond the Government’s Soft Landings framework by getting all departments together before the design stage to get everybody involved.

I hope more clients will adopt this type of forward thinking. As the price of energy rises, units may well change from carbon to currency but the quest for 99.997% operational reliability and efficiency can only be met with a Soft Landings approach.

Steve Allen is managing director and chief engineer with Cavendish Engineers.

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