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Soft Landings

Soft Landings will recognise and overcome problems beyond building handover
Soft Landings is the BSRIA-led process designed to assist the construction industry and its clients deliver better buildings.

Soft Landings helps to solve the performance gap between design intentions and operational outcomes. This performance gap can emerge at any stage in a project:

  • at inception and briefing, where ambitions and requirements are set but may not be informed by experience and feedback from other projects
  • at design, where specific performance targets are set and regulatory compliance achieved, but those targets are neither re-visited nor reality-checked during detailed design
  • during construction, where budget shortfalls may compromise the best of intentions, and variations are made to the building and its technical systems that change how the building will be used
  • during handover, when commissioning and end-user training may be rushed or abandoned to meet deadlines
  • during initial occupation, where not enough support is available to occupants and the managers to ensure the building is set up for the long-term.

Max Fordham has championed Soft Landings on the Keynsham Regeneration Project (click image to zoom)
Soft Landings provides a step-by-step process for clients and their project teams to follow in order to avoid these pitfalls and deliver a better-performing product. It aims to create virtuous circles for all. No matter whether your project is attempting to achieve exemplary environmental standards, or is a simple extension or retrofit of an existing building, the Soft Landings culture can be applied to ensure outcomes match the client’s intentions.

BSRIA’s stated mission is “making buildings better”. Sometimes the industry likes to call them “green” buildings or “intelligent” buildings. This usually equates to a design intention, not the as-built reality. The reality is that irrespective of what label is used to define a building, what matters is how it performs in use, in energy terms and in business terms.

The Soft Landings process is designed to give clients and their project teams a process to follow that will lead to a better chance of success. It is a change of culture as much as it is a change of process. Everyone involved has to share the ambition, and share roles and responsibilities, to make buildings tread more lightly on the earth and provide the right internal environment to foster occupant wellbeing and productivity.

Soft Landings: the process

In simple terms Soft Landings requires clients to appoint designers and constructors to stay involved with their new building beyond practical completion and into the critical initial period of occupation. This will assist building managers during the first months of operation, help fine-tune and de-bug the systems, and ensure the occupiers understand how to control and best use what they have been given. This is followed by a longer, less intensive period of aftercare lasting for up to three years, to monitor energy use and occupant satisfaction, and to check on the operation of systems that might need seasonal fine-tuning. At the end of three years the building’s steady performance can be fairly judged against the targets set at design, and any discrepancies accounted for.

This extended duty of care requires Soft Landings to be considered at the outset, and embedded in all client requirements and design deliberations. It also needs to be adopted by the builder so that good intentions are not unnecessarily sacrificed for reasons of cost or time.

The Soft Landings five-stage process describes how this should be done:

Stage 1: Inception and briefing

The time for constructive dialogue between the client, the designers and the potential constructors about intentions, performance requirements and stakeholder expectations. Embedding specific Soft Landings activities in the client’s requirements and tender documentation, and setting aside budget for aftercare and post-occupancy evaluation. Effort should be made to get key specialist advice earlier than would be the norm - controls specialists, commissioning engineers, facilities managers; key subcontractors - catering, ICT, lighting, and controls integrators; nomination of Soft Landings Champions to drive the process forward; and reviewing past experience to inform design.

Stage 2: Design development and review

Brings the entire project team together to review insights from comparable projects and detail how the building will work from the point of view of the manager and individual user. Agreeing the energy strategy – and the metering and monitoring strategy – and the approach to commissioning, and ensuring they are regular items for discussion and covered in relevant tenders. Review the proposed systems for usability and maintainability, and reality-check as systems turn into actual installed products

Stage 3: Pre-handover

Graduated handover enables operators to spend more time on understanding interfaces and systems before occupation. Revisit the outputs from earlier reality-checking decisions and ensure the suggested actions are in place. Ensure the BMS is set up the way the client intended – energy data reconciliation and data storage, and the energy monitoring software. Also ensure the metering is working properly and will deliver real insights into energy use.

Stage 4: Initial aftercare

The project team to be resident on site for between six and eight weeks to spot emerging problems and issues. Go walkabout regularly and chat to people, find out how systems are operating and whether they meet occupants’ expectations and actual requirements.  Adjust where necessary and report back. Help the asset managers understand what they’ve inherited. Measure and monitor – but don’t rush to judgement.

Stage 5: Years 1 - 3 extended after care and POE

The period of longer-term, less intensive monitoring and support. Involves a series of aftercare review meetings – monthly to begin with, but could quickly become quarterly. Ensure that the energy monitoring is set up and working well. Conduct systematic post-occupancy evaluation no sooner than 12 months post-handover, repeated at 12 month intervals and culminating in a final project review at month 36.

Download free Soft Landings guides including the Soft Landings Framework, and the Soft Landings Core Principles for more detailed information.