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· Robin Nicholson

Soft Landings Are More Radical Than I Thought

We all know that new buildings don’t work as we expect them to and good money is being spent investigating ‘the performance gap’; but we do have a solution.

Yesterday I went to a monthly CBx breakfast seminar at the UCL Energy Institute for what I thought would be a timely catch-up but which turned out to be a brilliant wake-up call.  ‘Mr Soft Landings’ Rod Bunn of BSRIA rattled through the story with some key do’s and don’t’s in how to define and then deliver the client’s desired outcomes.  However like other innovative tools such as the Design Quality Indicator, unless we are vigilant our industry will spare no effort in turning Soft Landings into a tick-box exercise, thereby destroying its value.

‘Soft Landings is the graduated handover of a new or refurbished building, where a period of professional aftercare by the project team is a client requirement – planned for and carried out from inception onwards – and lasting for up to three years post-completion.’

In discussion we agreed that although it does cost the client money to procure this additional service, it is much cheaper than the cost of operating an underperforming building for a hundred + years.  

Tamsin Tweddell (Max Fordham and Partners) and Alasdair Donn (Wilmott Dixon Construction) described the Soft Landing approach for Keynsham Town Hall, where the public sector client decided they wanted an office with an ‘A’-rated DEC (note: not an ‘A’-rated EPC). This  includes operational energy and forced the design team, the construction team and the client to work out where the energy risks lay at each stage of the process and who would manage them.

Rod had explained that it is difficult but just about possible to use soft landings in a D&B contract because soft landings demands effective collaboration.  I don’t quite know who is responsible for the industry getting itself into the current impossible situation where lawyers and project managers fruitlessly endeavour to satisfy clients’ risk aversion with customised contracts.  Having been the client for our own office with top engineers and an excellent contractor, the dysfunction of the controls defies belief.

And if you think Soft Landings will just go away, then the variant Government Soft Landings will be mandatory for public buildings from 2016 and it is said that a number of local authorities are insisting on it now.

Having been involved in the creation of soft landings through our Cambridge Maths building, I cannot wait for us to do a full soft landings project, starting on day one with client commitment and expectation and all round collaboration – what a delight that would be!  So we had better start by joining the Softlandings User Group.

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