How does the certainty offered by platform construction benefit architects and specifiers?
By adopting construction platforms as the basis for building design, architects and specifiers can benefit from knowing that the selected components will deliver their expected performance.
Instead of devoting excess time and energy to ensuring that design intent and fundamental compliance is achieved on site, more focus can be given to the aspects of architecture that might get lost in the course of following traditional procurement routes.
Using construction platforms means architects and specifiers collaborate much more closely with manufacturers. The manufacturer assumes the bulk of the responsibility for design, performance and warranty. What reaches site, therefore, is more likely to be what was designed.
Architects and specifiers can therefore use construction platforms to help promote a wider shift towards sustainability, efficient construction and better on-site safety.
Do construction platforms give architects and specifiers less freedom?
The government has invested significantly in helping the construction sector to develop platform approaches to design for manufacture and assembly (P-DfMA).
The overall aim is to develop solutions that need fewer resources and save on material use , and can combat skills and labour shortages by having fewer people on site while also increasing productivity and making sites safer.
As is being demonstrated on projects such as Seismic, developing a highly standardised, high-quality ‘kit of parts’ actually allows for high levels of customisation, rather than placing restrictions on design freedom. Indeed, P-DfMA is not a solution just for commercial buildings – it can be put to use across all building types .
Rather than forcing designers to work in standardised ways, P-DfMA is more about creating standard methods of assembly, which can help to reduce health and safety risks on site. Buildings therefore become more straightforward, efficient and economical to construct, while achieving the architect’s vision and helping them to meet their CDM obligations.
Using platform construction to change how architects and specifiers work
The ultimate success of construction platforms will be when multiple manufacturers offer interoperable parts that can be used with one standardised frame. Designers and specifiers then benefit from certainty in two distinct ways.
First, they know in advance that what they’re designing simply works. The platform has been designed with assembly in mind. For example, there is no need to draw up a schedule for hundreds of windows, some of which may get to site and then not fit because the openings weren’t constructed correctly.
Second, they also know that products will always be available. This is where the interoperability comes in. Imagine that ‘product A’ is named in the specification, but becomes unavailable for some reason. Product B, offering the same performance, can be used in the knowledge that it will interact with the structure in exactly the same way.
All of this frees up the design team’s time, allowing them to concentrate on the less-easily quantified aspect of architecture: how people will interact with the building and surrounding spaces, how buildings will interact with neighbouring buildings, and so on. There is less distraction from the place-making aspect of buildings.
Using platform construction to make procurement less time consuming
A lot of distraction comes at the procurement stage of construction projects, where architects and specifiers find themselves having to field enquiries about products substitutions. Even when seeking to introduce ‘equivalent’ products, cost engineering typically causes the overall specification to be downgraded.
The end result is that the building designed and specified is not the one that is built, and architects therefore have little certainty that their vision will be realised or that the project’s goals will be met.
When manufacturers are providing warrantied design and performance, finding equivalent and cheaper approaches becomes more onerous and, crucially, less attractive. Rather than seeing value only in cost price, there is a greater appreciation for the value offered across the building’s whole life – including the use stage, and the end-of-life stage.
Using platform construction to design and build for tomorrow
The interoperability of parts has benefits further down the line, where something can be easily repaired or replaced thanks to components being available as part of the platform. Again, it doesn’t matter if the original manufacturer is no longer involved. There is simply certainty that a product will be available.
Common platforms also improve the circularity of building systems and components. A system that is more easily assembled is also likely to be capable of being disassembled, meaning components can be used on new projects without having to use raw materials manufacturing everything from scratch.
Such an approach is consistent with the construction industry’s role in helping to achieve net zero carbon, while minimising the risk of unwanted and unintended consequences . By engaging with manufacturers of emerging construction platforms, architects and specifiers can put themselves at the forefront of what can arguably be described as a new type of architecture.
Tata Steel is involved in several initiatives, including the Seismic platform , aimed at proving the concept of construction platforms and applying them across different sectors. To keep up to date on our activity in modular construction, sign up to our newsletter.