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Roderic Bunn

The RIBA Plan of Work 2013 puts more emphasis on post occupancy activities than has previously been recognised. How does Soft Landings fit? Roderic Bunn explains

There’s a new phrase doing the rounds. Sessions at Ecobuild were full of it. The Green Construction Board is funding work into it. The Zero Carbon Hub has been given £380,000 by Eric Pickles to research it.

It’s The Performance Gap. For those of us close to the subject, there’s a certain weary black comedy about this. There’s nothing new about the gap between how buildings are designed to perform and how they actually do. The PROBE building performance studies identified the problem in the mid-1990s. The Carbon Trust’s Low Carbon Building Performance Programme of 2006 found the same. Despite funding a team of consultants to support the application of low and zero carbon technologies, the Trust was shocked to find that the benefits were often insignificant.

In 2011, the Technology Strategy Board started an £8m, four-year research programme to evaluate the performance of new domestic and non-domestic buildings. And guess what, it’s finding similar things. So-called sustainable domestic dwellings, with their heat pumps, solar panels and mechanical ventilation, are catching the same disease: unmanageable complexity coupled with poor finishing off, inadequate commissioning, and utterly baffling control systems. The result is  high energy consumption and alienated householders.



The RIBA Plan of Work 2013 will be launched on 21 May, available in three formats from
> A free overview publication
> A guide to using the RIBA Plan of Work 2013 available from the RIBA Bookshop 
> A free customisable online version to fit specific project or practice needs.



Responsible aftercare
The solution lies in the way we procure buildings, in the contracts we use, in the way we work together, and, most importantly, in the way we manage the supply chain, and take custody of building performance. Unless that involves extending the project team’s responsibilities beyond practical completion, we will continue to deliver buildings that are only low energy on paper, not in practice. This is where BSRIA’s  Soft Landings comes in. Essentially, Soft Landings requires a project team to use a graduated handover that extends through and beyond practical completion into a period of professional aftercare. The framework defines better commissioning and handover routines, handholding of the occupants as they move in, fine-tuning alongside and beyond the defects period, and periodic post-occupancy evaluation to check how the building is performing against its targets. In other words, the project team doesn’t disband and disappear with a cheque in its pocket at handover. Instead it takes responsibility for the performance of a building up to three years post completion. Most simply put, it finishes things off properly.

Plan of Work
So will the RIBA Plan of Work 2013 support Soft Landings? On the surface, there’s no reason why not. The process itself, devised by an architect, was structured against the 2008 Plan of Work. In any case stage M – even in the 1980s – always had sections for post-occupancy support. The 2008 edition changed this to sections L1 to L3. The question now is whether RIBA intends to enforce these aftercare elements in a new section simply called ‘In-use’.

Early signs for the 2013 edition were good. The Green Overlay, developed by architect Bill Gething, was heavily inspired by Soft Landings. PoW 2013 has strong support for post-occupancy evaluation (POE). Soft Landings is referenced in supporting documentation that emphasises the continuous cycle of improvement that Soft Landings advocates.

But POE is really end-of-pipe validation. What’s needed is far more emphasis on building performance evaluation at a project’s inception. Architects need to embrace a culture of learning from experience, and use the outputs from structured building investigations to inform their design concepts. 

Structured successes
Early Soft Landings adopters are showing how this can be done in a systematic and structured way with tours of existing estates for large clients, interrogating what doesn’t work and capturing actions at BIM gateway reviews.

This should be simple, as BIM and Soft Landings are complementary processes – which is just as well, because from 2016 the government will mandate BIM with a version called Government Soft Landings (GSL) for central government clients.

Soft Landings is the best chance we have of identifying the underlying causes of performance gaps and closing them down before they become insuperable problems. But how will we know that Soft Landings is closing the performance gap? In my view, its success might lie less with exemplary certification and more with the way the professions measure success. So, let’s have Building of the Year awards based on evidence from post-occupancy reviews, and architects’ websites reporting the results of their professional aftercare. 


Roderic Bunn is manager of BSRIA Soft Landings. He is an evaluator for the TSB’s Building Performance Evaluation and Innovative Refurbishment research programmes. Contact him at Free Soft Landings downloads are at


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