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Soft Landings Conference 2016: Practical Solutions for Real-World Projects - highlights all of industry should get involvedAugust 2016

Roderic Bunn, manager of the Soft Landings process at BSRIA

At the recent BSRIA Soft Landings Conference 2016: practical solutions for real-world projects delegates felt that people are ‘cracking on with’ and embracing Soft Landings and that it is getting traction in the ‘corridors of power’. There is clearly Soft Landings evidence in recent projects which is ‘fantastic news’.

Since Soft Landings is about leadership for the construction industry, people and stakeholder engagement – another salvo from the conference was: ‘if you are not involved in it – you should be’!

Other key messages were that: Soft Landings – when applied correctly – should be cost neutral; it is only as good as the people who deliver it; early stakeholder engagement is crucial; as is engagement with all levels of staff; staff changes should be taken into account; and you must see any project from the client’s perspective.

Forward planning and preparation are key – especially for the formal handover; and flexibility and visualisation will help. Changing office work patterns and occupant density play a part. Last – but not least – “collaborative working is king”.

Gary Clark, Sustainability Director, Wilkinson Eyre & Chair of BSRIA Soft Landings Network explained how the BSRIA-led Soft Landings Network had been going for seven years. The group has met 21 times and produced eight guidance documents. The group has influenced Government Soft Landings (GSL). Gary said: “The fruits of the Soft Landings labour were evident.”

Fergus Rolfe, University of East Anglia gave a client perspective on Soft Landings and spoke about the Enterprise Centre which is located at the gateway to the University of East Anglia, Norwich. Construction started in January 2014 and was completed in June 2015. It is passivhaus certified and rated BREEAM outstanding.

But Fergus explained that the commercial and academic world don’t always work together.

In most Soft Landings projects as much natural material is used as possible but there must be a “balance between aspiration and reality”. He said: “Now the industry is ‘we’ before this it was ‘us and them’!” He added that “the process is only as good as the people who manage and deliver it” and that what is needed is “a thriving building with a soft centre”.

Key lessons learned: prepare for staff changes. To plan for and deliver a formal handover.

Mike Chater, Senior Architect, Hampshire County Council gave his client perspective on Soft Landings and explained that strong links at all levels were rudimentary – for joined up working. He explained how it was fundamental to close the performance gap. And that in the beginning you had to ask: “what do you expect”?

Mike had worked very closely with Reading Borough Council – specifically on a Soft Landings project for St John’s Primary School – which was a 1970’s building with lots of satellite buildings. “The west side was grubby – with no natural ventilation and really grim spaces. There were window restrictions – they were not opening enough.”

The brief was aligned to the business case and the ongoing life of the asset. It represented the collaborative approach between client and architect. Mike said: “Good governance is essential – as is asking pertinent questions. Improvements can be made which will make financial savings and give good energy consumption. But in the end – it is easier to close down inefficient buildings.”

After the work, the school is now “BREEAM excellent with passivhaus light and hit its air tightness target. Overall – productivity went up. It was a fantastic exercise to do!”. Sometimes – making such improvements is just like “that jumper that you don’t want to get rid of”.

Lessons learned: Not to become a “talking shop”; client and the local authority must get people engaged more – earlier on; collaborative handover planning and more attention needed for the aftercare process. And dealing mainly with schools can be “stressful and traumatic”. But “saving time to have a happy client” is indispensable.

Mike added some cautionary comments: “I am surprised that we are not further down the Soft Landings road: somewhere the message is not getting through. We are not hitting the target audience. It is clearly the elephant in the room!”

He pointed out that architects make up less than 10 per cent of BSRIA’s Soft Landings Network – not to say that architects have the monopoly – they are generalists at heart – “but as an industry we need to reach to architects. If we don’t – getting there we’ll have a hard landing!”.

Mike suggested a national database of common issues to “combat the silo thinking” and ended with some fitting industry quotes: “in theory, theory and practice are the same, in practice they aren’t”; “I’ve seen many low-carbon designs, but hardly any low-carbon buildings”.

Edward Riby, AWE, presented a Government Soft Landings Workshop and explained that GSL recommends use of BIM – but it isn’t critical. GSL looks at capital and cost finances whereas BSRIA does not. Business performance requirements are key. And the design must meet the capability design: this is the “golden thread” to the core capability.

Sometimes the commissioning strategy should be changed especially since “only half the buildings are occupied”. Energy performance changes when new tenants come in. He said: “Some strategies are based on an assumption that never come to fruition. It is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.”

A key lesson learnt is to produce a more flexible design. “Front end procurement” helps. And “functionality and effectiveness are key”. Historically, there have been problems with stakeholder engagement.

Early engagement with all relevant staff is a must: Cleaners should always be involved in any discussions and consulted with early on – they play a pivotal role in building functionality and need to know how to operate a building quickly and efficiently. HR departments should also be involved.

Changing work patterns must be noted: There is the issue of hot desking and working from home – up to 60 per cent of a workforce does this. The “more dense” a building is – the more pressure is put on the system.

Ian Holmes, AWE, also presented and said: “The first thing you should do is capture the capability and pick the brains of the client more which takes courage from project managers and a mindset change. A process must be followed and stuck to. Dealing with egos – is a skill and an art. Higher up the picking order – things get more political.”

He added: “GSL is starting to be fine-tuned. But BSRIA is ahead of it. GSL is, however, just another buzzword. Systems engineering and BIM – are just a tool to deliver GSL, namely another integration tool. As an industry, we need to ask why everyone is doing what they are doing? And always looking back? Is aftercare the enemy of Soft Landings. The construction industry needs to create ‘virtuous circles’. Finally, what happens when the handover runs out of date?”

Tamsin Tweddell, Max Fordham gave the feedback from the Procurement Planning Workshop: Soft Landings should be written into the brief – but it doesn’t always come through. The role between procurement and building performance outcomes is elemental. Satisfaction and comfort are key. A “dos and don’ts top tips” should be written in advance.

There is no trend or difference between public and private projects. People matter and continuity matters as do building performance outcomes. It was asked: how can we improve this? And what of continuity? Finally – how you can build an environmental performance target into a plan?

Mike Chater rounded-up the feedback from the Stakeholder Engagement Workshop stating that how you engage with people was a key finding akin to “happy families”. It is necessary that teams are motivated this way to ensure both energy and financial savings will be made and professionalism and quality improved. Then you have “something you can sell”. A “mapping exercise” helps. The industry is starting to look at intervention focused round the client – “super clients”.

A question was posed on how the brief changes throughout the project and how you have to manage expectations. Continuity, capability and motivation are key. Soft Landings “is about people”.

Roderic Bunn, manager of the Soft Landings process at BSRIA presented on Setting and Measuring Outcomes Workshop – some thoughts on understanding and managing expectations by explaining that you must get occupants’ expectations upfront to see the project from their perspective. And determine what they want and what they need. Then manage those expectations well – throughout the project and beyond.

Occupants will force systems to operate the way they want to get comfortable. This leads to friction between occupants, building managers and the snagging team. Sometimes there is a breakdown of trust and in worst cases – understanding and trust evaporates – then system vandalism can occur.

You must identify and categorise your end users: general permanent adult occupiers; management and maintainers; people with overall legal and management responsibility; specialist users; visitors or transient users.

A task set within the workshop highlighted that by using photographs and visualising any Soft Landings project in advance – this helped streamline problems. Rod closed by saying that one should always set targets: “be aspirational! Be real! But have achievable targets”.

Dr Caroline Paradise, Head of Design Research, Atkins spoke about measuring user satisfaction – health and wellbeing and discussed the issue of absenteeism and presenteeism in an office – which is ambiguous how we define and measure it. Caroline said you should “always measure what you value – don’t just value what you measure”. When asked if accommodating staff or the state of the building were more important to occupants – Caroline replied that “in general people considered the relationship with fellow employees to be more important than the building environment”.

Alasdair Donn, Willmott Dixon Construction Ltd outlined the feedback from the Improving Handover Workshop by saying that there were some central themes – the power of energy management is vital; “measure things and measure them well”; and always brainstorm!

Stephen Ward, AECOM sketched the feedback from the Post-Occupancy Evaluation Workshop: KPIs need to be “smart”. A “finger pointing culture” should be avoided: no blame is best. Who is responsible for what must be established early on.

Roderic Bunn wrapped up the conference: “Culture and process are the basic parts of the process; indeed Soft Landings is 80 per cent culture and 20 per cent process.”

Soft Landings Level 1 course: Tuesday 13th September @ Bracknell;

to book: Soft Landings Level 1

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