Explainers

Soft landings: it’s never too early to start thinking about handover

19 May 2021

Soft landings are back in the news following the recent launch of best practice guidance for local authorities (https://www.bimplus.co.uk/news/soft-landings-guidance-local-authorities-published/). Here, Rider Levett Bucknall (RLB) senior project manager Chekaila McCollins (pictured above) details the key steps towards successful building handovers.

There is a general consensus within the construction industry that an information gap exists between the design and construction stage and the operation of a building. There are unfortunately many examples of poor building performance issues presented during the operation stage being a result of a disparity between the design and in-use operation of a building.

In an effort to improve the quality and operational performance of new buildings, a Soft Landings Framework was launched more than ten years ago by the Building Services Research Information Association (BSRIA): it details the activities and checks to be undertaken during the lifecycle of a project to achieve improved building performance. Based on the BSRIA Soft Landings Framework, a Government Soft Landings policy was developed to improve the value offered by centrally funded construction projects and in 2012 the Cabinet Office announced that by 2016 the Government Soft Landings (GSL) policy would be mandated alongside BIM.

The appointment of a soft landings champion from the client and contractor is a great way to encourage a collaborative approach.– Chekaila McCollins, Rider Levett Bucknall

Start as you mean to go on

We have all the right tools at our disposal: we just have to make sure we use them at the right stage. The principles of soft landings serve to aid the smooth transition between the construction and operation of a building. However, to promote optimal building performance, the soft landings strategy needs to be considered from the inception of a project, not just at the point of handover. 

Application of the principles of soft landings in practice should commence at project initiation stage and run throughout the RIBA stages through to construction and in use. The client’s brief relating to the building performance and maintenance requirements should be clearly captured at the start of a project.

During the design stage, a structured approach should be employed to set success criteria to evaluate the performance of a building. Post Occupancy Evaluation (PoE) data has identified the benefits of early end user engagement in this process. Based on PoE feedback and comparable data, a strategy should be developed for commissioning, building operator training, facilities management and data collection. The appointment of a soft landings champion from the client and contractor organisations is also a great way to encourage a collaborative approach between stakeholders.

Building handover and aftercare

Needless to say, a robust building readiness programme is crucial to the success of the handover process and to support the optimal performance of the building. Pre-handover, the building operators should be properly trained in the operation and maintenance of all aspects of the building.

The extent of initial aftercare provided by the contractor will depend on the specific project. During this period, the contractor’s aftercare team will have the opportunity to fine-tune systems and equipment and provide additional training to building operators if required.

Locating an aftercare team on site for a period following practical completion is a simple way to increase efficiency.– Chekaila McCollins, Rider Levett Bucknall

Locating an aftercare team on site for a period following practical completion is a simple way to increase the efficiency in which building performance issues are resolved.

When the building is up and running, there is a need to obtain relevant operational data to evaluate the performance of a building against the design requirements and to provide valuable feedback to improve performance. By creating a continual feedback loop, a well-executed soft landings strategy will drive innovation and provide data for future projects.

Building better schools

As the on-going maintenance and operational costs for public sector new build and major refurbishment buildings can often exceed the initial capital cost, the Department for Education (DfE) has adopted a soft landings strategy specifically for capital project management. At RLB, we have been supporting the DfE for a number of years, utilising BIM and the Soft Landings strategy to help deliver education sector capital projects.

We know how crucial the need is for a smooth settling in period to enable the school to focus on the delivery of education. Central and local government-led education builds continue to challenge the industry to provide a better end-user experience, as a recent SEN primary school project has demonstrated.

Design workshops were run by the contractor during the RIBA Plan of Work Technical Design stage to establish, record and agree the end-user’s maintenance, servicing and operational efficiency requirements.

Prior to starting on site, a comprehensive training plan was developed with the end-user’s facilities management team. Early engagement not only facilitated a smooth transition between construction and occupation, it also helped to foster a collaborative working relationship between the end-user and the aftercare team prior to the handover stage.

As the adoption of soft landings grows, it is clear that those projects that focus on how the building will operate at the design stage will be the ones that close the knowledge gap and eliminate poor performance issues.