An Architect/ DM's response on how Architects and Property Developers can work better together.
Written by: Timothy Anderson RIBA-Click to connect with Tim on Linkedin
I was recently challenged by Adewole Ademolake’s unfiltered and practically focussed article “How Architects and Property Developers can work better together”. Though this is a potentially divisive topic and my views do not entirely align with Adewole, I was drawn in by the desire for results and the clear call to action. By not hiding behind opinions and vague rhetoric about teamwork and collaboration he gave the article substance. However, he also exposed himself to (and to his credit invited) critique. This professional vulnerability is how you create a solutions focussed community/team and it is definitely a conversation I’d like to be a part of as it will only lead to personal and professional improvements. Hence, as a professional curtain picker (Architect) and Development Manager here is my contribution (further challenge welcome).
Options are good and Architects will inevitably draw them all day (to the detriment of their fee). However, this process can be frustrating for all parties and is notoriously inefficient. Design is an engaging and exciting process but if the Architect is set loose on a blank canvas before you have taken time to establish a Project Charter you can’t complain that you had imagined a Michelangelo but are being presented with a Mondrian. Fundamentally, the output is only as good as the quality of data that has been input and Development Managers need to develop and own the Project Charter, in which they set out the project scope, key objectives and stakeholder responsibilities. Naturally, the charter will evolve and there will be an oscillation between opportunities created through design and decisions made by the client. However, in order to keep teams aligned and accountability intact, it is important that a strict change control process captures this evolution.
The PMBOK refers to this document as the “Project Charter”, I believe Prince 2 describe it as the “Project Brief” and the RIBA plan of work calls it “Strategic Definition: Stage 0”.
As Adewole suggested, the traditional model that every building is a prototype doesn't
work and has major cost issues (see. Cast Consultancies report “Modernise or Die”). However, I would strongly argue that we need diversity in all things (physically and socially) and there are elements of projects which need to be more than just functional. The value-added through art/creativity can be difficult to measure but it should be budgeted for (secondary benefits include enhanced sales price, market differentiator, retained value . . .) The increase in digital fabrication and systemised design will improve the economics of bespoke elements as will increasing the collaboration between common pipelines (see the government's recent publication “The Construction Playbook”).
Architects should expect to be challenged on the justification for these ‘creative’ elements and should engage much earlier with the commercial aspects of these innovations. There are practices who proactively engage with the supply chain and good, intelligent, unique design doesn’t have to be expensive. My recommendation to the Design Manager is not to dismiss the opportunity but to challenge the definition/justification.
For the best efficiencies, I would champion standardisation. However, critical to this is the scale in which you standardise. Do so at the house type or flat scale and you risk monotony. Develop componentised platforms that increase commonality of parts and you will find the right balance. This can be as simple as standardising door widths (nominal capital cost uplift; potential saving if the supplier shares the production efficiencies; reduced installation errors; reduced maintenance burden as single type for the building). Use the 80/20 rule, spend 20% of the time and effort standardising 80% of the design that gives you the biggest wins with the least restrictions. Don’t overly constrain the project and burn 80% your capital trying to standardise the last 20%. I believe that there is a place for all categories of MMC including volumetric however, I would suggest that components and sub-assemblies can be more universally adopted (see also the work being undertaken by the Construction Innovation Hub as well as their collaboration with Bryden Wood on their ‘Platforms’ report).
“The Construction Playbook” : https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-construction-playbook ).
MMC category definitions: http://www.cast-consultancy.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/MMC-I-Pad-base_GOVUK-FINAL_SECURE.pdf
Construction Innovation Hub: https://constructioninnovationhub.org.uk/manufacturing/
PDF vs Excel
Rather than AutoCad and excel, I would push Revit (or other BIM app) and Power BI for more intuitive exploration of design data or explore the wider opportunities presented by BIM 360. Most Architects are now BIM literate and though BIM is often thought of as a 3D model, it is fundamentally a database and the live data can be exported in almost any data format. Be careful though, exporting information risks breaking the chain of custody and this process needs to be carefully managed.
The EIR (Employers Information Requirements) and BEP (BIM Execution Plan) should map the workflow from the Revit et al. database to the QS’s software package. If excel is to be used, I would encourage the QS to use Power Query within excel to pull data from the unedited Revit export so that this can be quickly updated with a new export. Ideally, this export should be held and linked from the CDE (common data environment) so that the 'golden thread' is maintained and the QS spreadsheet refreshes with the new data published by the architect as part of their scheduled data drop automatically.
Clients can't be ambiguous about how engaged they want to be, particularly post Grenfell. Appointments need to be explicit and responsibilities clearly defined. The RIBA's Design Responsibility Matrix is a good start as it links directly to the NBS’s illustrated guidance on LOD (Level of Detail) and LOI (Level of Information).
The RIBA's design responsibility matrix (DRM) can be downloaded via this link: https://www.architecture.com/knowledge-and-resources/resources-landing-page/riba-plan-of-work
It is an excel file, the table on the tab titled DRMIE has hyperlinks that take you to the NBS website where there is information on the Level of Detail (LOD - generally refers to the extent of modelling) and Level of Information (LOI - the data to be recorded against the object). You can use the table to assign the responsibility to the correct consultant and then be explicit about what information is needed at what stage (your FM team should be able to advise on the LOI requirements). If you can populate this in advance of any appointments you can include it in their contracts and hold them accountable for providing the information you need to the level you require it at the time it is needed.
Planning Design to Technical Design
An Architect will apply all their experience to a concept design but unless the client front-loads fees (client risk) then it is not possible to front load the technical design. Clients with repeat products should seek to develop a 'pattern book' of technical details that they can engage their supply chain in. This can then be used to brief designers. The payback of this investment would be recovered by the wider portfolio of projects.
As Adewole has highlighted to me in a further discussion, front-loading fees is an active policy employed by established developers, particularly those retaining the asset or publicly funded bodies looking for more security around the design. I’d also have to agree that this doesn’t guarantee a better end result and is often undermined by the assignment of risk, design/survey warranties, novation agreements post contractor appointment. This would be a good topic for a wider discussion as I would benefit from others views on what has/hasn’t worked.
There are always a huge amount of moving parts at the planning stage; the engineer may not have decided between steel or concrete; the environmental engineer may object and the system changes; last-minute planning changes; responding to value engineering; layering in M&E requirements (plant room doubles in size); client changes their mind about something. If there isn't a regimented design freeze and a period planned in for final coordination and review before planning, then inevitably things will get over-looked. That being said, architects are creatives and they will continue to tinker rather than focusing on coordination. I have found that agile methods (sprints) are better to focus the team at this stage and shorter focused sessions on key building packages/client checklists can improve things.
I do recognise the value of ratios in cost modelling and inevitably use them in practice. There are also inefficiencies in this approach, for example, adding a step in the plan to reduce the footprint of a room can add additional corners that need to be joined and finished; complicates the thermal envelope; makes impossible the vapour barrier; increases the length of ducting etc. Simplicity is frequently more economical. However, if your contractor is also pricing based on sqm rates without a detailed measure of joints etc. This simplicity won’t deliver the financial saving (it will still lead to increased building performance).
The increase in standardisation and the adoption of manufacturing methodologies mean that you should eventually be able to make decisions on real costs rather than assumed rules. It is not there yet, but it has to be the way forward.
The proportion of glazing is a complex matter and is significantly affected by the orientation, surrounding development, shading etc. Passivhaus uses solar gain to significantly reduce energy bills (significantly reducing OPEX costs) and measures the risk of overheating. Early assessments of concepts can help give site specific constraints to a designer but it is a collaborative effort and someone needs to pay these fees.
Passivhaus is a certification scheme that is focused specifically on a building's energy performance and does not address sustainability as a whole. It assesses the known science behind fabric heat loss and solar gain. Correctly orientated and sized glazing can reduce energy bills by capturing and retaining heat from the sun though too much glazing can lead to overheating or increased heat loss if the orientation does not create a positive energy balance. The passivhaus method and associated software will analyse the size and orientation of the glazing and will give you the overall metrics on heating, cooling and energy demands. Passivhaus do certify products that prove they can meet the performance requirements. These are typically triple glazed and are nominally more expensive (margins are no longer as significant as they used to be). However the saving on your energy bills should offset this. Unfortunately, for a capital investment/sales model it may not increase the sales value as the benefits are not as widely understood by the market.
For me, the biggest constraint is often the false economies in procurement/tendering. Large housebuilders make difficult sites work because they have vertically integrated the entire process including large parts of the supply chain. The Architect rarely knows who the contractor will be and often may not even know who the developer will be if the intention is for the land to be flipped post planning. Furthermore, the architect can specify a product but ultimately may have very little control over whether or not it is used. There are some interesting ideals in the government's construction playbook (mentioned earlier) which could increase the opportunities for early partnerships between client, designer, contractor.
From my experience, everyone wants to be more collaborative and to do a better job. I think it is the Development Managers strategic role to unlock ways to do so that still delivers value for money.