Good design is about meeting the aspirations of the client, while conforming to regulations, technical standards and budget.
It is very important to listen to the client’s requirements, to fully understand the brief and respond appropriately. It’s key that designers understand clients’ aims for the project, how the buildings will be operated and if they will need to be adapted through their lifetime. This information will inform the level of design, guide any future proofing or flexibility provisions and highlight any particular sustainability and efficiency targets.
Communication is key so that the client and designers understand these aims and the technical or regulatory considerations, and agree how to manage the key decisions through the design, construction and putting to use of the buildings.
I believe that designs should be standardised where possible and that there are benefits to considering a modular approach for off-site assembly and testing prior to installation. A modular approach in the right application can offer considerable benefits by ensuring that the required quality is benchmarked in an approved prototype, which is then used as a template for the repeated elements. The working conditions in a factory environment should be managed to ensure improved safely, quality and speed.
The design approach as a whole needs to be analysed carefully from the outset so that a modular approach is applied where of benefit, and equally a bespoke approach is applied where unique solutions are required.
Energy efficiency is an intrinsic part of good design and is now a key interest of clients, not only because of the Government’s green initiatives, or because of aspirations on corporate social responsibility, but also because of an understanding that an efficient building will reduce energy and water costs and help the company bottom line.
With the improvement in metering and visibility of consumption, the results of an energy efficient approach are now tangible and measureable. There is a clear understanding that if a building is designed efficiently and operated well, it will cost less to run.
Energy efficiency is an area of rapid change, with new systems and techniques coming onto the market. One interesting are area is smart facades; implementing strategies to manage and reduce radiant and convective heat loads outside the building before they can reach the building interior. A high performing facade or double skin façade can have a significant impact on reducing the loads at source.
I am also interested in solar cooling systems which can translate the unwanted solar thermal energy into a cooling source; these have in the past been prohibitively expensive however are likely to become more mainstream as the technology reduces in costs.
The debate on renewable energy continues and I feel it is important to analyse each system against the building usage to assess the likely benefits on a bespoke basis; where the systems can add real cost efficient benefit in terms of reducing loads and bills, it makes sense that these are considered.
A key challenge for MEP design is to ensure that the MEP design considerations are considered and included an early stage in the building’s design.
We are therefore fortunate to be an MEP team within the multi-disciplinary GAJ office and as such participate in early design discussions and inform design requirements from the outset. The architectural, structural and MEP designs are intrinsically linked and should be progressed in a multi-disciplinary manner from the initial design stages to ensure a successful design.
Passive cooling load reduction, primary systems selection, plant space, primary routing and use of renewable energy systems are all considerations that need to be assessed early in the design, with appropriate provisions made. The architectural and MEP teams within also GAJ benefit from having worked together over many years, resulting in a good common understanding.
Another key MEP challenge is to ensure that sufficient time is allowed within construction programme to fully test, set to work and commission the buildings systems. This is a skilled and iterative process that requires sufficient time to be successful.
Bespoke MEP Services
The thing with MEP engineering systems is that each design is bespoke, no two buildings are the same. This is an interesting part of the job and it requires us to have a robust design methodology and gateway process to ensure that each design is completed in a methodical and accurate manner, with the flexibility to adapt to the particular project requirements.
Yes, a chilled water system is a chilled water system but the building function and primary cooling system will drive different solutions. A hotel may require cooling to large commercial kitchens and 24/7 operation, whereas a school will require operation primarily during school hours in the week, with facility to operate during out of hours events. These two very different requirements will drive different design solutions.
It is a case of assessing from the outset what is required, establishing a design basis and continuously testing this to ensure the assumptions at the outset still hold as the design progresses.
The importance of synergy
Good communications between the client and the design team is absolutely vital to good design and to the overall the success of a project. A good flow of information and a management of expectations means everyone is on the same page throughout the design and construction process.
Projects where this has been a success have a particular drive and energy, the client, designers and construction team take pride in a common goal.
On time and within budget
Being able to bring in a project on time and within budget is a daily challenge and it is important that we start from firm foundations and manage change carefully and communicate well throughout the lifetime of the project.
Easy to say but not easy to do; constant focused effort and awareness is required from the designers not only to design well and meet technical requirements, but also to continuously communicate, interact and respond appropriately to feedback.