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Soft Landings: airborneOctober 2014

Roderic Bunn, manager of the Soft Landings process at BSRIA

If one had to define what problem Soft Landings was an answer to, one could do worse than say “the difference between ambition and reality”. At the start of most projects there is no shortage of motivation, no limit to enthusiasm, no barriers to imagination. Clients have boundless ambitions, prospective occupiers have great expectations, and designers have grand designs. No-one sets out to do a bad job.

Reality, though, tends to be a bit of a let-down. The tougher the performance targets the greater the risks. The greater the risks, the more attention there has to be on managing them. In the cash-strapped, time-limited, rapid-design and even more rapid-build world, mistakes are made, assumptions are not revisited, and commissioning is rushed. Handover ends up perfunctory. Hidden complexities come as standard, increasingly so in sub-contract packages like motorised windows or renewable energy systems. The demands on asset managers increase with every innovation and tighter carbon targets. Twenty years of post-occupancy studies, from the PROBE project in 1995 through to the work by the Carbon Trust and currently the building performance evaluation work funded by the Technology Strategy Board, testify to the problems of underperforming buildings.

Max Fordham has championed Soft Landings on the Keynsham Regeneration Project

Which is why BSRIA is putting so much effort into developing the Soft Landings way of doing things. It’s a slow-burn process, not least because UK construction industry has so many ingrained, deeply contractual and institutionalised ways of doing things. But in the last twelve months things have moved on perceptibly. More private sector clients are including Soft Landings in their employers’ requirements; sometimes well, sometimes with more than a few begged questions – but at least it’s in them. The public sector is also waking up to the need for change. Central Government will be mandating its version of Soft Landings (Government Soft Landings, or GSL for short) alongside building information modelling (BIM) from 2016.

Where central government leads, local government tends to follow. More and more local authority tenders are requiring Soft Landings (and, increasingly, Government Soft Landings). Admittedly such requirements are not always well-informed, well-expressed, nor contain enough detail for tenderers to respond appropriately, but clients’ intentions are clear: “we want buildings that work in reality, not just in a computer model, and we want a greater level of professional care, both before and after handover.” It’s up to the construction industry to respond, and in that they can turn to the guidance on Soft Landings published by BSRIA, whether it be BG54/2013 The Soft Landings Framework and its supporting document BG38 Soft Landings Core Principles, or the practical guidance in BG45 How to Procure Soft Landings (download Soft Landings guides).

But it’s not just BSRIA that’s been leading with guidance, training and public exhortation. BSRIA runs the Soft Landings User Group, with a membership of more than 25 organisations professionally committed to Soft Landings. The members of that User Group do much of the public speaking on Soft Landings, they contribute hugely to the documentation, and they learn from each other how to apply Soft Landings in practice. The benefit to the Soft Landings movement has been immense. Members also benefit commercially in terms of market awareness, as clients begin to discriminate between those who say they do Soft Landings, and those who actually do it.

So what of the immediate future? Much remains to be done, particularly in providing training for Soft Landings champions and in developing skills in building performance evaluation. BSRIA’s successful Soft Landings Level 1 training course will be supplemented by new levels, particularly covering tools of building performance feedback and ways to reality-check designs. As some confusion exists between Government Soft Landings and BSRIA Soft Landings, a task group headed by Ashley Bateson of consultant Hoare Lea (members of BSRIA and the User Group) will be authoring a bridging document to explain the differences and commonalities.

We also know more effort is needed to support Soft Landings at a regional and provincial level. Again, the Soft Landings User Group is showing the lead here, with Stephen Beadle of contractor FES planning to host a Soft Landings User Group in Scotland. More than anything we need case studies to demonstrate the benefits of Soft Landings. In the coming year BSRIA and the User Group will be collaborating to generate those case studies.

Soft Landings has, as it were, taken a long time to pick up speed down the runway, but with some justification BSRIA can claim the process is well and truly airborne. This may be a mixed metaphor, but all Soft Landings are preceded by safe and well-prepared take-offs. You can’t really have one without the other. Soft Landings may be largely about graduated handover and professional aftercare, but absolute commitment to the process by both clients and project teams has to be in place from the very start for it to work well. That means BSRIA and the User Group engaging with clients and client bodies to explain the Soft Landings process. If you are that client, then we’re keen to hear from you.

Contact BSRIA Soft Landings Manager on or phone on 01344 465516.

Soft Landings Level 1
Course focuses on a project delivery process that places greater emphasis on performance-in-use.