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Soft Landings Conference 2018: Soft Landings - a culture for all projects - findingsAugust 2018

Michelle Agha-Hossein Sustainable building consultant

BSRIA recently staged its third flagship Soft Landings Conference 2018: Soft Landings – a culture for all projects – on Friday 15th June at RICS in London. Soft Landings is a project for all “shapes and sizes of building and business” – and this was emphasised throughout the event. The key message was that continual reality checking resulted in successful Soft Landings projects.

Executive Summary

To flesh this out – the running commentary of the day was that Soft Landings is working well, saving businesses money, being energy efficient and creating “happy staff” who are able to work better and faster thus achieving a high level of elements and factors of the wellbeing agenda. Speakers presented statistics to support this.

The Soft Landings communiqué that it “is a building delivery approach which runs through the project, from inception to completion and beyond, to ensure all decisions made during the project are based on improving operational performance of the building and meeting the client's expectations” was echoed throughout the day. With a growing number of recent case studies to corroborate this.

The “step-by-step process” for clients and their project teams to follow in order to achieve “design intent” and avoid pitfalls and deliver a better performing product was also exampled. Along with integrating quality controls and fine tuning.

More collaboration between different disciplines within the construction industry is required was a comment that resonated during the day. The word needs to be got out faster and wider. But Soft Landings is evolving and getting better known in the industry – year on year since the framework was first published in 2009.

Indeed: BSRIA is raising the Soft Landings profile within industry with a series of training courses, network meetings and publications. To support this – BSRIA’s Dr Michelle Agha-Hossein said that there was an updated Soft Landings Framework – BG 54/2018 Soft Landings Framework 2018 with six phases for buildings.

BSRIA CEO, Julia Evans, said that we need to do better by Soft Landings with collaborative working which will deliver superior buildings and projects. There has been much advancement with all the effective case studies being shared today (and more) and the work of the Soft Landings User Group – but a “huge culture change” was still needed with “tenacious application to push forward” and challenged industry to make the difference.

Soft Landings solutions

The striking and significant Soft Landings solution was for “continual reality checking”. Both Carol Lelliott, Partner, Nicholas Hare Architects and Nick Neill, BAM Design, said that this was the way forward with their respective presentations on David Attenborough Building at Cambridge University and Atlantic Square, Glasgow and King’s Cross station.

Carol said that this ongoing and fundamental process helps by way of focus groups and “cross-fertilisation” of such groups. This activity is crucial for success when Soft Landings often goes “under the radar”. Nick repeated the benefits of having “reality checking” workshops.

The David Attenborough Building was, according to Carol, a “cheerful” case study which incorporated conservation and biodiversity. The interiors were “dingy” but they were determined to save this building as a benchmark project and focus on its energy.

She explained that by applying reality checking a 38 per cent reduction in gas usage and a 34 per cent reduction in electricity was recorded in the first year.

Job satisfaction was achieved with the impact of the new building hence hitting the all-important wellbeing agenda with these student quotes:

  • “The spirit of the place is fantastic – more than we could have hoped for.”
  • “Overall it's a great place to work – light, spacious, full of energy!”
  • “People share ideas at an earlier stage during a corridor or common room chat and that this is very beneficial.”

While Nick reinforced this concept stating that both Atlantic Square, Glasgow and King’s Cross station were “exemplars” in the Soft Landings procurement process. With different tenants on different floors the success criteria was to have continuous engagement with the same FM team and this was achieved through continuous reality checking.

By ensuring Soft Landings isn’t a “bolt on” or after thought it ensures it isn’t a “buzz word” like BIM level 2.

Another Soft Landings solution highlighted was using step by step guides for process and procedures work. David Stephens & Ben Stubbs, UCL, stated that because “people can only remember three or four things” such step by step guides were crucial. Indeed: Soft Landings helped UCL to embed sustainability in their construction programmes.

A salient salvo was that improved wellbeing created by Soft Landings was that students achieve between five and 14 per cent higher test scores and “learn” 20 – 26 per cent faster.

A third Soft Landings resolution was the application of quality controls and fine tuning with testing off site and on site and rigorous commissioning. Alasdair Donn, Willmott Dixon, supported this case: the George Davis Centre and Maurice Shock building at the University of Leicester “met the project brief and mandated use of Soft Landings” with the latter “exampling existing building performance”. Reducing carbon and energy consumption was crucial and in this respect – the airtightness standard was met along with thermal comfort.

Cautionary word

Notwithstanding the Soft Landings successes – a cautionary word was offered that could be the reason Soft Landings isn’t advancing as fast as it should, could or would: industry’s inability to take risk. Michael Chater, Hampshire County Council & James Warne, Boom Collective, looked at learning through error: “making mistakes is a good thing” and industry is losing this knack. Grenfell Tower was a recent example of learning from mistakes: we must avoid error in construction. And industry must ensure there is never a repeat.

They explained that the aeronautics (and aviation) industry already has a lot of processes in place to investigate issues, capture lessons learnt and execute them. This had become a legal duty to airlines. The same cannot be said for the construction industry.

Another admonitory warning was that “getting more for less and cheapest isn’t always the best” and “it’s a race to the bottom” adding “our industry spares no expense to get something on the cheap! Construction sites are notorious for cost and time”.

  • The next Soft Landings network meeting is on Wednesday 17th October.

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