Soft Landings Conference 2017: delivering value through soft landings

Soft Landings is a process that helps to produce a building that delivers the operational goals that were set for it at the inception of the design and delivery project. To paraphrase, it helps make the building “do what it says on the tin”.

It is “the golden thread” that needs to run throughout the building design and delivery process. This was one of the key messages at the recent BSRIA Soft Landings Conference 2017: delivering value through Soft Landings. Other lessons were the need for: constant collaboration and communication; sharing goals and early engagement; transparency and flexibility and keeping “things simple and measurable”. And to learn from successes as well as failures.

BSRIA CEO Julia Evans opened the conference and tasked the industry with making use of Soft Landings. It delivers a “broad agenda”, partly a “green one” that considered the performance gap along with wellbeing within buildings, and also more social objectives such IAQ (indoor air quality) and making buildings better places to work. Soft Landings is increasing its reach, featuring on some “big deal” projects and being underpinned by research and case studies. As an industry we should have the ambition to make better performing buildings: but as everyone would agree it is easier to say than do – there are still some “dark avenues” to negotiate.

Keynote speaker Peter Clegg MA (Cantab) MenvD, RIBA, gave a presentation entitled: The Virtuous Circle: Learning from Past Projects and explained that Soft Landings helps to create a “virtuous circle”. He illustrated the value of good design, showing how robust design allows for an increase in occupancy rates without seeing a decrease in morale and motivation. Indeed: although there was over occupancy: “not many people were complaining about being in a busy building”. Peter advocated that ‘short term pain versus long term gain’ was the thinking behind this. Indeed: there was a psychological shift in way people are looking at buildings.

Heelis, New HQ for the National Trust 2005 (timbering and pyramids): Peter explained that challenges needed to be conquered included local control of communal roof vents causing problems and darker areas of the building impacting staff emotionally due to perceived daylighting levels. Peter said that the “forgiveness factor” helps to create psychological comfort for staff where noise and acoustics were an issue to be addressed. It was worth noting that the building is in use for 16 hours a day – a high percentage of the 24 hour day. .

Woodland Trust HQ 2010: following up to check and address performance issues proved its worth. While desk lamps reduced unnecessary lighting use; immersion heaters were left on permanently; and faulty valves causing uncontrolled heating. Peter said: “it is amazing what you can do with a little bit of aftercare after a year”.

The investor’s angle on buildings was offered by Jane Wakiwaka, Sustainability Manager, The Crown Estate, who said that flexibility is key. Jane asked: “how do you make the West End relevant today? And how does a building owner make a product relevant to you?”. The Crown Estate has adopted Soft Landings and integrated it into their complete building project delivery process. They have “front ended” the process, recognising the operational cost and occupier satisfaction benefits of having their handover and management teams involved earlier in the process.

Jane explained that you must capture key feedback instantly when customer has moved into a building to learn lessons for the future building product. She asked: “how are people going to change? And what does the future office look like? Where are staff going to work and shop? What is it that staff really want?”. In new buildings staff want green and outside spaces with terraces, atriums and communal spaces. Temperature and humidity count.

Reoccurring experiences and challenges should be acted on especially when a high level of lessons have been learned from surveyed occupiers. Another important factor was how the facility manager felt when the customers moved in.

An interesting “financial perspective” was also explored with alternative procurement methods presented by Kevin Thomas, Managing Director, Integrated Project Initiatives Ltd, who explained Integrated Project Insurance, a “wrapper” insurance that covered the whole supply chain, whose companies work together in a virtual company – an Alliance. This type of insurance helps to avoid a “blame chain” as all companies are working under the same umbrella to the same objectives and there is no potential to make contractual claims against each other. Success (or failure) in terms of profitability (or loss) affects the alliance as a whole.

This financial instrument can sit alongside Soft Landings and is from the same stable of collaborative working and shared objectives. It is reasonably new to the UK industry but projects are showing good results. Kevin stressed the importance of good project objectives, stating: “that the requirements that we want rather than the solutions we’re looking for are key” and: “don’t start until you know your needs”.

Kevin concluded by giving a quote from Einstein: “you cannot solve a problem from the consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew”.

To illuminate the work of Soft Landings thus far, a case study was provided by Dr Stephen Holmes, Head of Capital Development Projects at MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB), who shared his experiences of Soft Landings in the delivery of the new LMB building. The MRC is a prestigious research institute in Cambridge with a 60 year history. The building took seven years to complete from starting the formal design process. He said: “filling a building with people will flush out any problems not seen when it’s empty!”. Stephen stressed that in any construction project there should always be common goals. A robust project structure is key along with close liaison with stakeholders who will operate and use the buildings, and the building of strong relationships.

While Kevin Couling, Regional Director, AECOM, presented another case study on Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford. Kevin explained that the building has automated natural ventilation with daytime solar blinds – with occupant override and summer night-time cooling. Plus low energy lighting and controls. It has a green roof and rainwater harvesting and has the largest single pane of double-glazing in Europe with a full double-skin façade and “lots of accolades: it’s round(ish) with the largest piece of double glazing ever used! Fitting out a round building is unusual and presents unique challenges but a learning curve!”.

Kevin said that targets were set for this project; design reviews were lead by the university’s sustainable buildings philosophy (SBP); development of an energy and carbon budget; assessment of in-use energy during design; open communication; significant early involvement of a SBP lead (in essence a Soft Landings Champion); focused workshops; post-occupancy evaluation; and building optimisation.

An important part of Soft Landings is the relationship between the handover process and commissioning and this perspective was given by Daniel Davies, Commissioning Manager, Cardiff Commissioning Ltd, who started by saying: “we can all make something very complicated. From our view it is best to simplify commissioning so all parties can engage in the process. This for us has been the key link into the BSRIA Soft Landings approach”.

He added that: “if you can’t explain it simply then you don’t understand it enough”. And went on to say that “a handover should not be an arm-wrestle! It shouldn’t be a black art!”. And: “that you must revisit the building afterwards! People are a brilliant measure of the building’s use!”.

These findings applied to the Living Systems Institute, Exeter and The Spark, Southampton Solent University – the latter having a “wow factor” and “buzz and vibe”.

Daniel finished by saying: “This is not an off the shelf solution for every project, there will be times when you can’t make everyone happy. Just do your best in each situation as it arises.”

BSRIA’s Technical Director, Lynne Ceeney and Soft Landings Operational Lead, Dr Michelle Agha Hossein, wrapped up the conference: Michelle explained the next phases of work – improving the Soft Landings Framework by expanding guidance on phase 2 and the probable creation of a Soft Landings digital tool being created by BSRIA in response to client requests. Training courses are also being updated.

All attendees were invited to join the Soft Landings Network, which meets four times a year to support SL users. It is supported by an Experienced Practitioner Group who also help shape guidance for Soft Landings.

Lynne asked the audience what their wish list for support on Soft Landings might comprise: responses included some form of accreditation for projects using Soft Landings properly would be welcomed. The audience also asked whether further guidance could be provided for sub-metering. There was also interest in having general case studies: especially those that show how cost savings in the latter parts of a project delivered using Soft Landings related to possibly increased front end costs.

BSRIA appreciated the suggestions, and support of the audience, and invited delegates to “watch this space” as we continue to develop resources, support and training to help get the benefits of Soft Landings into more construction projects.