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BSRIA hosts Soft Landings 2017 conference

Soft Landings is a process which helps produce a building that delivers the operational goals set for it at the inception of the design and delivery project. It helps make the building “do what it says on the tin” and is “the golden thread” that needs to run throughout the building design and delivery process. 

This was one of the key messages at the recent BSRIA Soft Landings Conference 2017: delivering value through Soft Landings.

Other areas addressed included the need for constant collaboration and communication; sharing goals and early engagement; transparency and flexibility; learning from both failures and successes; and keeping things “simple and measurable”.

BSRIA chief executive, Julia Evans, opened the conference and tasked the industry with making use of Soft Landings. It delivers a broad agenda and partly green agenda that has considered the performance gap along with well-being within buildings, as well as more social objectives such as indoor air quality (IAQ) and making buildings better places to work.

Soft Landings is increasing its reach, featuring on some “big deal” projects and being underpinned by research and case studies. Ms Evans commented that the industry should have the ambition to make better performing buildings. However, this is easier said than done and there are still some “dark avenues” to negotiate.

Keynote speaker Peter Clegg MA (Cantab) MenvD, RIBA, gave a presentation entitled 'The virtuous circle: learning from fast projects' and explained that Soft Landings helps to create a “virtuous circle”. He illustrated the value of good design, showing how this allows for an increase in occupancy rates without seeing a decrease in morale and motivation. Mr Clegg stated: “Not many people were complaining about being in a busy building.” He also added that there has been a psychological shift in way people are looking at buildings.

Regarding Heelis, the new headquarters for the National Trust 2005, Mr Clegg explained that the challenges which needed to be met included local control of communal roof vents and darker areas of the building which were impacting staff emotionally due to perceived daylight levels. It was worth noting that the building is in use for 16 hours a day – a high percentage of the 24 hour day. .

Mr Clegg also commented on the Woodland Trust headquarters 2010, explaining that following up to check and address performance issues proved its worth. While desk lamps reduced unnecessary lighting use, immersion heaters were left on permanently and faulty valves causing uncontrolled heating. He concluded: “It is amazing what you can do with a little bit of aftercare after a year.”

The investor’s angle on buildings was offered by Jane Wakiwaka, sustainability manager at The Crown Estate, who argued that flexibility is key. Ms Wakiwaka asked: 'How do you make the West End relevant today? And how does a building owner make a product relevant to you?” The Crown Estate has adopted Soft Landings and integrated it into their complete building project delivery process. They have front-ended the process, recognising the operational cost and occupier satisfaction benefits of having their hand-over and management teams involved earlier in the process.

Ms Wakiwaka explained that you must capture key feedback instantly when customer has moved into a building to learn lessons for the future building product. She queried: “How are people going to change? And what does the future office look like? Where are staff going to work and shop? What is it that staff really want?” In new buildings, staff want green and outside spaces with terraces, atriums and communal spaces. Temperature and humidity are also significant. 

An interesting financial perspective was also explored with alternative procurement methods presented by Kevin Thomas, managing director at Integrated Project Initiatives, who explained integrated project insurance, a “wrapper” insurance that covered the whole supply chain, where companies work together in a virtual company or alliance. This type of insurance helps to avoid a “blame chain” as all companies are working under the same umbrella to the same objectives, and there is no potential to make contractual claims against each other. Success (or failure) in terms of profitability (or loss) affects the alliance as a whole.

This financial instrument can sit alongside Soft Landings and is from the same stable of collaborative working and shared objectives. It is reasonably new to the UK industry but projects are showing good results. Mr Thomas stressed the importance of good project objective and stated: “The requirements that we want rather than the solutions we're looking for are key. Don't start until you know your needs.'

To illuminate the work of Soft Landings thus far, a case study was provided by Dr Stephen Holmes, head of capital development projects at MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB), who shared his experiences of Soft Landings in the delivery of the new LMB building. The MRC is a prestigious research institute in Cambridge with a 60 year history. The building took seven years to complete from starting the formal design process.

Dr Holmes stated: “Filling a building with people will flush out any problems not seen when it's empty!” He stressed that in any construction project there should always be common goals and that robust project structure is key, as is close liaison with stakeholders who will operate and use the buildings, and the building of strong relationships.

An important part of Soft Landings is the relationship between the hand-over process and commissioning and this perspective was given by Daniel Davies, commissioning manager at Cardiff Commissioning, who said: “From our view it is best to simplify commissioning so all parties can engage in the process. This for us has been the key link into the BSRIA Soft Landings approach.”

BSRIA’s technical director, Lynne Ceeney and Soft Landings operational lead, Dr Michelle Agha Hossein, wrapped up the conference. Dr Agha Hossein explained the next phases of work, which will entail improving the Soft Landings framework by expanding guidance on phase two, and the probable creation of a Soft Landings digital tool by BSRIA in response to client requests. Training courses are also being updated.

All attendees were invited to join the Soft Landings network, which meets four times a year to support users. It is supported by an experienced practitioner group who also help shape guidance for Soft Landings.

Ms Ceeney asked the audience what their wish list for support on Soft Landings might comprise. Responses included requests for some form of accreditation for projects using Soft Landings properly. The audience also asked whether further guidance could be provided for sub-metering. There was additional interest in general case studies, especially those showing how cost savings in the latter stages of a project delivered using Soft Landings related to possibly increased front-end costs.

BSRIA appreciated the suggestions and support of the audience, and invited delegates to “watch this space” as it continues to develop resources, support and training to help deliver the benefits of Soft Landings to more construction projects.

10 August 2017

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