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BSRIA Briefing 2009 review - Buildings fit for purposeNovember 2009

Buildings fit for purpose. But are they? All the old rules about building design are under pressure as we slip into a climate-challenged world. Speakers at the 2009 BSRIA Briefing considered the options.

"We need to reconstruct the way we are all remunerated, including some form of fee payment in the post-occupancy period." Paul Crilly, Reliance FM

The rules by which we measure the performance of buildings are changing. Fitness for purpose is no longer just about keeping out the wind and rain, and providing a civilised, secure and productive environment. The formerly rather leisurely pace of improvement, where the industry could afford to resist the more onerous proposals in Part L of the Building Regulations, has been replaced by a climate-induced legislative rollercoaster, heading inexorably towards zero-carbon buildings. Speakers at the 2009 BSRIA Briefing examined what fitness for purpose now means. Opinions came from a range of perspectives, from architect to engineer, from building analyst to social scientist. The facilities management angle was covered by Paul Crilly, chief executive of Reliance Facilities Management.

"We've all seen design led by facilities managers" he said; "it broadly translates into wipe-down facilities that can be easily cleaned. I think we need a different approach where we share opportunities and manage risks together." Crilly argued that end-user needs for adaptability, accessibility and maintainability can lead to irritability when the project teams fail to deliver or manage a client's expectations adequately. "When customers are put in partitions that don't match the points of ventilation supply and extract, it's a challenge for us to explain why the comfort conditions are not what they should be," he said.

"I'm interested in understanding behaviour as a design tool, taking outcomes as design inputs." Craig White, White Design

While procurement processes driven by the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) aim to guarantee fitness for purpose over the long term, Crilly argued that the process must be collaborative and not driven by value engineering that is diametrically opposed to fitness-for-purpose objectives. "We have got to get smart about managing risks," he continued, "and we have to do that by sharing the stakeholders' values." Architect Craig White also believes that the industry itself needs to ask whether it is fit for purpose. "Are the systems we use to go about our business- the supply chains with which we are involved - able to deliver sustainable outcomes?" he asked.

"We put sustainability labels on things that are not truly sustainable. They are just slightly better than they used to be." Ant Wilson, AECOM

"As an industry we are very good on technical outputs (we've been selling that one for years) but then we handover to the client after 12 months and hope we don't hear from them again. That's not a fit-for-purpose process, and I think we are over-promising and under-delivering." For Craig White the industry's behaviour is a key issue. "We will need to develop new types of business that are fit-for-purpose", he argued. "As a designer I have to own the carbon dioxide emissions from the building if I am to be serious about reducing it. That means linking our fees to the performance of the completed building. "Now, either that is the worse thing you've ever heard of, or it's a business opportunity. But there are huge opportunities here, and the objective is to find our way to 2050 without having to apologise to our children."

"Unmanageable complexity is the bane of users and facilities managers' lives, they hate it." Adrian Leaman, Arup

Paul Crilly agreed with that. "We need to reconstruct the way we are all remunerated, including some form of fee payment in the post-occupancy period," he said. AECOM's Ant Wilson wondered whether it was possible to deliver sustainable solutions when sustainability labels are put on things that are not truly sustainable. "They're just slightly better than they used to be," he said. "Buildings need to be performance machines," he added. "It's about designing them properly, building them properly and over time occupying them properly." Wilson predicted that forthcoming editions of Part L will require buildings to have a commissioning plan as part of approvals. "The fixed building services will require to be commissioned by testing and adjusting as necessary to ensure no more fuel or power is used than is reasonable."

"Unmanageable complexity is the bane of users and facilities managers' lives," he said. "They hate it." Leaman said that design intentions are often poorly communicated. "Architects say they do this, but they don't. They say things are obvious when they're not - they're nearly obvious." BSRIA's Roderic Bunn argued that current systems of procurement are no longer fit for purpose." Innovations in procurement, like the PFI, have been motivated by time and cost factors - not the operational performance of the built asset", he said. "I believe the whole process, from project inception through design, commissioning and handover, needs to be completely redefined, particularly so with respect to professional duties -where they begin and where they end" said Bunn.

"The whole procurement process...needs to be redefined. Particularly so with respect to professional duties." Roderic Bunn, BSRIA

Bunn argued that the project budget has to be constructed in the full knowledge that buildings are not finished at handover, with additional money set aside for more extensive post-handover professional duties. "Practical completion should no longer be the main hurdle to vault to get paid," he said. "Payments should occur at the end of aftercare stages, with additional payments possibly related to performance against key performance indicators, such as energy use and occupant satisfaction."

Please find links below to download speakers' presentations.


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