10 October 2019

Considerations for developing complex buildings with complex performance needs

Specifiers have to achieve the correct balance of thermal performance, acoustic performance, fire performance, wind resistance, durability, and structural stability.

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Designing the building envelope fabric for a complex building tends to result in equally complex solutions. Specifiers have to achieve the correct balance of thermal performance, acoustic performance, fire performance, wind resistance, durability, and structural stability.

When the project reaches the construction stage, the design and specification need to be translated into reality by the contractor so the building performs as intended. Once in use, the building should not require excessive upkeep and maintenance in order to retain its designed performance - and the building owner should benefit from an appropriate and meaningful guarantee.

How is risk managed when designing building envelope solutions? The responsibility for developing an appropriate specification might fall to just one person in the design team. That’s one person who has to decide that a particular combination of components is the right solution.

For this reason, when exposed to uncertainty, risk aversion is becoming more prevalent. That’s also being driven by insurers, who are attempting to guard against future liability issues by demanding a level of performance from a building that is excessive for what is actually required.

Designers and specifiers may not feel able to challenge that approach, as they don’t want to take on any more risk either. Justifying a ‘worse’ performance spec in one area of design - even though other performance considerations make a product or component more suitable - is often a tricky argument to make.

Can component manufacturers help to manage risk?

Specifiers often seek approval from the manufacturers of the components they have specified. The aim is to have something in writing from each saying that the design incorporates their respective products used in the correct way.

Taking everything in isolation in this way still involves an inherent level of risk, despite the best attempts to avoid it. There is a responsibility on the design team to provide each manufacturer with the right information for them to offer an opinion on in the first place. Asking for a comment on one design detail, for example, could mask an issue elsewhere that they can’t see.

And ultimate responsibility still rests on the design team to decide that everything works together to deliver the correct performance criteria.

How do we accept an appropriate level of risk?

Being risk averse or adopting a silo mentality is a vicious cycle, made worse by the fact that passing off risk from one party to another only serves to compromise the end result. If we want quality buildings, we have to go through a detailed process that promotes quality and requires acceptance of an appropriate level of risk.

Dame Judith Hackitt’s report, Building a Safer Future, sets out systemic failings in the construction industry as a whole. The attitude of “we’ve always done it that way” has contributed to what the report describes as a ‘race to the bottom’ culture. Challenging the avoidance of risk is something the whole construction industry needs to embrace.

Reform is backed by the likes of the British Board of Agrément (BBA) and Local Authority Building Control (LABC). And there is a substantial consultation document currently out for comment, where the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government are seeking the views of industry on changing the way Building Regulations work to meet Dame Judith’s recommendations.

Taking wider responsibility

One of the key recommendations of Building a Safer Future is to adopt a systems approach to building. That means using proven solutions where components are tested together to demonstrate their performance. As well as being part of a reputable supply chain, good quality system components are also responsibly sourced, reducing risk by designing resiliency into our built environment.

Another advantage of a high-quality system solution is the availability of design and construction support to give reassurance to specifiers and contractors alike. And a guarantee issued at the end of the process gives building owners the confidence that their building envelope solution will perform for decades.

Tata Steel offer system solutions backed by their Platinum® Plus guarantee, which offers all of the advantages above and more. Start creating specifications for building envelope solutions using the new online specification tool or speak to a member of the Tata Steel technical team with any questions about Platinum® Plus backed systems.

For further information