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Soft Landings - How Do We Measure Up?

On the day of the EU referendum, I attended an excellent conference about 'Soft Landings' organised by BSRIA.

We all recognise the need to evaluate our buildings to assess how well they perform, yet as an industry we are way behind on this front.  Inspired by a recent lunchtime talk from Flora Samuel of Reading University about architectural research, I attended a conference organised by BSRIA (Building Services Research and Information Association) about ‘Soft Landings’ to find out more about how to make this happen in a relevant and fee-efficient way.

Engaging Stakeholders

Architype and Hampshire County Council Architects led a morning session that focussed on how to engage stakeholders in procuring Soft Landings. 

Mike Chater of Hampshire County Council during the morning session about Stakeholder Engagement

In groups of about 12 people, we were given cards representing each different stakeholder such as ‘end user’, ‘clerk of works’, ‘architect’, etc…These were then categorised by what the group considered to be their top priorities and concerns, considering the themes of ‘money’, ‘time’, ‘professionalism’ and ‘climate change’.

In the second half of the session we organised the stakeholder cards according to the RIBA Plan of Work and the points at which they are usually appointed/involved in projects.  We then had to re-route these to where the group considered they need to be in order to facilitate Soft Landings more effectively.  It became evident that the earliest stages of briefing require expansion to incorporate the engagement of more stakeholders early on, to set more accurate briefs and enable the Soft Landings process.

The session was complemented by an inspiring talk from Architype about their recently completed Enterprise Centre at UEA – a Passivhaus and BREEAM Outstanding timber frame building that is also a Soft Landings Stage 1, 2 and 3 project, currently undergoing its first year of professional Aftercare.  Perhaps most encouragingly of all, the team managed to agree specific fees for undertaking the Soft Landings work at the project outset, which can be difficult to sell to clients.

Measuring Outcomes

Roderick Bunn ran an energetic workshop on how to set and measure outcomes to get the most out of Post Occupancy Evaluation, and had us all on our feet trying out a ‘Rich Pics’ exercise.  Within the space of 10 minutes five groups of strangers had analysed photographs of different buildings post-occupancy and diagnosed symptoms, causes and possible remedies for resolving the various problem scenarios.  In my group we were given a photograph of a well day-lit space that still had all the lights switched on, with a very confusing set of controls.  One of the members of our group commented that she sets out requirements for photographs of fittings and their switches on shop drawings to avoid this problem. 

This afternoon session proved the efficiency of working in groups talking around photos as a quick and fun way to problem solve.

Breathing Life Into Buildings

‘…the brief changes throughout the project and also changes after it’s finished.’ – Tamsin Tweddell, Max Fordham

The key is to  understand occupants’ needs from the project outset through rigorous briefing and consultation in order to set the objectives to measure against accurately.  The brief should be regularly reviewed throughout the build and beyond as part of an ongoing journey with the client and team.  It may be that a building is so successful that the original brief for its use changes after initial occupancy and adaptations need to be evaluated and accommodated to ensure best performance and fit for purpose at that point in time. 

Soft Landings offers a framework for buildings to be better tailored to their end users and clients needs, rather than the industry status quo which, as Bill Bordass puts it, is conventionally simply about procuring the building, rather than ‘breathing life into it’.

It was inspiring to see such commitment from representatives across the full spectrum of our industry to the Soft Landings principles of collaboration and knowledge sharing.  I came away convinced that we (both at Cullinan Studio and architects in general) need to work harder to incorporate Soft Landings into our construction practice and research.

We look forward to using some of the techniques reviewed at the BSRIA conference when undertaking a post occupancy study with Trevor Keeling, of BuroHappold Engineering, at our recently completed Holy Cross Primary School project, later this year. 

Holy Cross Primary School will take part in a post occupancy study by Cullinan Studio and BuroHappold

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