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Nice design – but does it work? Find help with the RIBA Plan for Use Guide

Words:
Jess Hrivnak

Better designs consider how the building will be used, right from the start of the process. How does RIBA’s Plan for Use Guide fit into the Plan of Work?

People collaborating around the National Automotive Innovation Centre in Coventry, designed by Cullinan Studio.
People collaborating around the National Automotive Innovation Centre in Coventry, designed by Cullinan Studio. Credit: Hufton+Crow

Lent is traditionally a time for reflection and preparation, so it is fitting that the (Covid-delayed) Plan for Use Guide makes its appearance now. 

The RIBA guide is the profession’s interpretation of the Soft Landings Framework produced by the Usable Buildings Trust and BSRIA. Plan for Use focusses on the actions that are needed to prepare for the end goal: namely, what needs to be planned and implemented at each of the RIBA Plan of Work 2020.    stages to deliver high performing, efficient and comfortable buildings. It concentrates on learning lessons and feedback loops and has three basic components: setting realistic and measurable targets; completing Plan for Use activities; and measuring and evaluating building performance and feedback.

The document provides guidance and encouragement for architects to plan buildings that are successful in use. Plan for Use aims to inspire a more outcome-based approach to design, an approach embedded in the Plan of Work as a project strategy.   

Learning from the past

The brainchild of a group of experts, led by Gary Clark and the RIBA Sustainable Futures Group, the guide was written by Mike Chater and joins documents such as the RIBA Sustainable Outcomes Guide to give architects the essential tools to meet the challenges of our times. 

Notoriously bad at learning from past mistakes, the profession has not traditionally sought out, analysed or evaluated building performance shortcomings to improve successive design projects. In general, reflection and critical learning is something the construction industry as a whole shies away from, mostly for fear of reputational damage or litigation. However, if we are to tackle the climate crisis, inequalities in housing provision, fuel poverty, the accumulating waste burden on our planet and the like, it is vital that we plan for and undertake this reflective and critical learning on the efficacy, functionality and success of our buildings (our ‘products’) under the strain of occupation. 

Cultural shift

With the publication of the Plan for Use Guide and the accompanying case studies, the RIBA is taking a lead on this cultural shift towards designing for measurable outcomes in favour of both people and planet. The goal of the tool is to strengthen the learning within the profession and reinforce the architect’s role in raising awareness of building performance in use. Overtime, the RIBA expects attitudes towards Plan for Use within the profession to become second ­nature, and that this way of thinking will become embedded in everyday practice across all projects at every stage and every scale. The guide outlines what light-touch post ­occupancy ­evaluation looks like, and its role in what the RIBA believes should become architects’ standard scope of services. 

However, Plan for Use is not just a tool for improving handover: to obtain greatest benefit, it needs to be applied in all eight stages of the Plan of Work. Of course, the benefits will be maximised if it is adopted right from the outset at Stage 0 or 1. However, the ability to do this will depend on project procurement route, and an architect may join the project only at a later work stage. Nevertheless, adopting Plan for Use will still be valuable and undertaking the activities outlined in the guidance for the relevant RIBA work stage will help to produce better building outcomes for everyone. 

While the guide is directed primarily at architects, it is intended to also assist clients and other building professionals. It outlines how to apply Plan for Use on different forms of contract, and also includes case study examples to illustrate the practical application in a range of projects, sectors and typologies.

We hope that together with the RIBA Plan for Work 2020 and the RIBA Sustainable Outcomes Guide, the Plan for Use enables more Practices to sign up and meet the ambitious targets of the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge and deliver projects that have the wellbeing of our communities, our planet and future generations at heart. 


Plan for Use Guide is available here as a free download 

Jess Hrivnak is a sustainable development adviser, practice, at the RIBA

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