Mandatory post occupancy evaluations on government projects demand clear strategy on performance and handover

Handed over using the principles of Soft Landings, Wilkinson Eyre's John Madejski Academy.
Handed over using the principles of Soft Landings, Wilkinson Eyre's John Madejski Academy. · Credit: James Brittain

The first of April 2016 marked the start of a quiet revolution in public sector procurement. On that date Building Information Management (BIM) became mandatory for all public funded buildings over 2000m2. What many may have missed is the mandatory requirement for all public buildings to carry out government Soft Landings and post occupancy evaluation requirements. These led to the inclusion of Stage 6 Handover and Stage 7 In Use in the RIBA Plan of Work, and the requirement for the creation of a handover strategy from Stages 1 to 7.

Paul Morrell, in his role as chief construction advisor, requested that BIM should not just be a piece of software, but rather a process for better buildings and outcomes. Such a process should bring together design and facility management and include key performance indicators (KPI) – reality checking of design proposals to ensure a smooth graduated handover to the user. Government Soft Landings is the resulting methodology that was developed by the Cabinet Office over a number of years to achieve its overall aim of reducing running and capital costs by up to 20%, and to assist in reducing energy and carbon emissions more consistently. 

Stretched performance targets and reality checking play an important role. There needs to be a commitment by both client and design team to agree key performance targets at the outset

Government Soft Landings (GSL) essentially requires project teams to set project relevant KPIs, track these through design and then verify if they have been met in operation. The suggested core KPIs include energy use, occupant satisfaction, capital and running costs, and a range of functionality metrics suited the building type and activity (for example density in offices). To manage this process the project team is encouraged to appoint Soft Landings champions on the client, design, and contractor teams. These champions can be members of the project team or an independent building performance consultant, such as the sustainability consultant or BREEAM advisor.

How?

One method of achieving GSL is research consultancy BSRIA’s soft landings methodology which offers a range of tried and tested strategies. Thinking about key work stages can help create buildings better suited to their intended occupants and to whole life operation.

Creating an open collaborative culture within the project team is essential. This partnering spirit is the key to better outcomes but is difficult to maintain throughout the life of the project. 

Particular emphasis is placed on early user and facilities management (FM) involvement in the project design. This is difficult for speculative office buildings, but many sectors such as higher education are involving their FM, building managers and users earlier in the process, and learning from their own estate. For sole practitioners working on houses where the client is also user and building manager, one could argue this is more straightforward.

Stretched performance targets and reality checking play an important role. There needs to be a commitment by both client and design team to agree key performance targets at the outset. These should be benchmarked with similar, previously completed, buildings, ideally on the client’s estate, or other suitable sector benchmarks. The targets should be stretched to be slightly better than previous buildings outcomes. The core metrics are operational energy use and occupant satisfaction. 

Post occupancy paper CIBSE TM 54, in combination with dynamic energy modelling tools, can be used by the service engineer to set and track the operational energy use of many building types. It is important that the service engineer scope includes TM54 at early stage 2.

Although we have no method to track occupant satisfaction, BSRIA SL suggests reality checking early design proposals with user representatives to iron out functionality and user operational issues. Research is being carried out which suggests that the speed of environmental control response is one metric to ensure good occupant satisfaction.

 

  • Inside the atrium of the John Madejski Academy.
    Inside the atrium of the John Madejski Academy. · Credit: James Brittain
  • Rooftop chimney's at the John Madejski Academy.
    Rooftop chimney's at the John Madejski Academy. · Credit: James Brittain

There is a move in a number of practices and the RIBA sustainable futures group to promote the use critical building impacts (operational carbon emissions, embodied carbon emissions, water use, construction waste, transport, biodiversity), are measurable and can be managed easily within existing procurement methods.

Handover and initial aftercare

Soft Landings research indicates that the three month period prior to practical completion and the three months after are critical to the successful handover of a building.

The commissioning phase is typically compressed in response to other project delays, which often leads to complaints and corrective action post-completion. This can be disruptive and expensive, so a soft landings core principle is to protect the commissioning period. 

In addition to typical handover actions of the architect – such as operation and maintenance review and as-built drawings – there are a number of additional activities outlined in Soft Landings (SL) Stage 3 which focus on wider operational issues. Training users in the use of their new building is essential.

Once the building has reached practical completion SL Stage 4, initial aftercare activities are suggested. Maintaining the architect’s presence in the completed building once a week for first three months is important, though may be difficult due to fee constraints and the pressure of new project commitments. One way is to combine it with dealing with snagging close out and any defects. Many SL case studies have highlighted the positive client feedback of this continuing presence and a proactive approach to dealing with post completion problems.

 

Post occupancy evaluation and long term aftercare

There is a lack of consensus in the construction industry about the meaning of post occupancy evaluation and how it should be carried out, leading to a perception that it is complicated and carries significant additional costs. 

BSRIA SL uses the CIBSE TM 22 method for energy and the Arup BUS survey for occupant satisfaction. The benefits of this twin approach are that it focusses on key performance issues, is cost effective (£5,000-15,000 depending on the size of building), and perhaps most importantly allows comparison with over 1,000 existing building datasets. This approach to POE can be performed over the first year of operation, but ideally should be carried out after the end of the 12 months defect period as outlined in SL Stage 5.

For a more detailed evaluation, three years of monitoring and fine tuning adjustment of buildings systems is required. The increased costs of these larger studies (£30,000 plus) are invariably covered by significant reductions in running costs. Indeed many public sector departments such as the Ministry of Justice already insist on a longer three-year defect liability period and enhanced post occupancy evaluation would sit alongside it perfectly.

There is a lack of consensus in the construction industry about the meaning of post occupancy evaluation and how it should be carried out, leading to a perception that it is complicated and carries significant additional costs

In conclusion, RIBA Stages 6 and 7 are vital for architects to understand their buildings better and to deliver continual improvement. As an industry we have been reluctant for many reasons to carry out rigorous post occupancy evaluation since the early days of the old part M. 

Mandating post occupancy evaluation is therefore welcome. Local government is increasingly expected to follow central government and the education sector by requesting it and Soft Landings for future projects. A recent example of this approach has been the Keynsham Town Hall in Somerset. This has delivered an A-rated DEC building of high quality within conventional budgets and time constraints using an exemplary collaborative process between the client, design team (AHR architects and Max Fordham) and contractor Wilmott Dixon.

Wilkinson Eyre has used the principles of soft landings for many years, in particular on education buildings such as Schools for the Future projects at John Madejski Academy in Bristol. The architect will integrate M4i KPIs in its sustainable design process and Stage 0-1 briefing documents for future projects.

As a profession we have to demonstrate leadership in Plan of Work Stages 6 and 7 to strengthen our role as design team leaders and to deliver buildings that not only meet client and user expectations but also reduce operational energy use and carbon emissions by 80%. Without this leadership it will be increasingly challenging for the UK to fulfil its COP 21 global commitment to limit global temperature rises below 1.5° C. 

Gary Clark is head of sustainability Wilkinson Eyre Architects and a member of the RIBA Sustainable Futures Group

For information on the RIBA's Briefing and Evaluation Toolkit see architecture.com