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11 cooks stood around a pot – at least they didn’t spoil the broth

Hurley Palmer Flatt are true advocates of bringing the different expertise of a project team together at the beginning of a project, to inform the design process. As part of this we have developed the Advanced Building Design, which combines our long-standing engineering excellence with the most advanced optimisation tools and techniques.

We look at buildings holistically and use state-of-the-art building physics tools combined with an in-depth understanding of the built environment to optimise design, be it in terms of energy performance, well-being or spatial integration of building services.

We know that through various conversations with our clients and colleagues that it is not only us that would prefer a fully integrated approach towards projects, so we put together a round table to discuss the issues involved with the early stages of construction planning.

There, the complexity of whatever task ahead is never to be understated, with each team naturally wanting to state their case and solve their problems first. In doing so, the feasibility stage has become more intense than ever, and this team is looking to find a solution to that.

‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’ is all well and good, but when your pot of stew is a plan for a multi-story building or a stadium, you’re going to need more than one chef in the room.
That’s why this diverse group sat together last week, to allow senior figures in each discipline to provide as much of a plan as possible to help the earliest stages of planning production become less intense. Hurley Palmer Flatt’s Director, Adrian Gray, chaired the meeting as the group tried to navigate the tightrope between each discipline’s needs and the issues which arrive further down the line as a result.

Associate Director, Gustavo Brunelli, began the discussion by speaking of the need for better communication between teams, which would become the major theme of the meeting. There is a clear need to spend less time resolving issues between teams so that they can each focus on their own matters – something which can only be achieved through proper communication at an early level. Addressing a problem in a clear way which presents them as not just one team’s responsibility, but that of the project and group as a whole, was another message taken from the table.

Shireen Hamdan, Senior Principle at Populous, pointed out that in the Middle East there is a very different way of dealing with the issue at hand, which is a single point of failure. This is cut throat and effective, but what this seems to do is push the different groups away from each other, forcing them to focus on their own problems to solve and then coming back together once it has been cracked. Each cog in the big machine is doing their role perfectly, but what it doesn’t encourage is unity beyond specific disciplines.

When a project is successful the teams communicate seamlessly, and often return to work together again where possible afterwards. The question was asked if this was the case with this set up for blame. The answer: no. This isn’t the case with the single point of failure system, as each division is focused solely on their own discipline so as to ensure they won’t bear the brunt of the blame.

Instead, the group called on each other to not just sympathise, but empathise with each other. By going beyond the blinkered vision and working outside of their single requirement will result in a more collaborative group. More experienced teams who are able to see the tasks of their colleagues as their own, albeit in a different discipline to them, are the ones who should be at the forefront of the feasibility stage.

But it’s all well and good saying that better communication will result in better efficiency, but how do you actually achieve that? The solution was a popular one, send them on an away day together.

People who get along and understand each other will communicate better with one another eight days a week. Send them to the pub, make them see each other the next day, let them reminisce about who has the worst dad dancing, and the channel of communication is open from there on out.

Beyond that, the structure of the meetings was an area which was agreed upon. The very beginning stages should have minimal people involved. Rob Partridge, Design Director at AKT II, stressed the importance of not having too many people around the table at this crucial stage – to achieve a collegiate cluster as opposed to a traditional claustrophobic reporting session. Here, a few key senior members can talk freely and begin to map out a plan. They must ask themselves, why am I here? and come not with just with solutions, but an understanding of what the problems are before beginning solving them. There is no use digging around in the weeds from the beginning, you must first look at the entire story on a macro level.

Technology has come so far in elevating the way we interact with each stage of design, but this shouldn’t stop us from being able to sit down with the most rudimentary of tools and start from the beginning. Mark Tynan, Architect at Make Architects, was keen to involve sketching out ideas in their most simple forms and building from there. In a space where ideas are able to flow, and the communication channels have been opened with everyone contributing freely, this is the best way to conceptualise those complex ideas and bring to life the plans that each group has been developing from the brief. Only then it can move forward.

Markets, briefs, and a wealth of other things will change from the initial stages, and the groups must adapt as a result. But where the beginning stages are done correctly, these challenges can be overcome more easily.

There is no blueprint for a solution to the intensity of the feasibility stage of construction, but there were conclusions to be drawn. Communication is key. Getting to know the team and ensuring that barriers are broken means that this can come to the forefront each time. The structure of the meetings, too, must be considered. Spending a longer time at the beginning of the process, with only the key, senior members of each division, can lead to the right people making the right decisions.

Whilst there will always be disagreements in who should be in charge and at what point certain teams should enter the process, this round table brought about clear points of progress for calming the intensity of the earliest stages of construction.

The group consisted of Shireen Hamdan, Senior Principle at Populous; James O’Byrne, Director at Hurley Palmer Flatt; James Clark, Partner at Core Five; Mark Tynan, Architect at Make Architects; Gustavo Brunelli, Associate Director at Hurley Palmer Flatt; Jos Borthwick, Senior Design Development Manager at Lendlease; Adrian Gray, Director at Hurley Palmer Flatt; Gary Stoakes, Partner at Jackson Coles; Phil Haddleton, Investment and Asset Management Team at Grafton Advisors, Rob Partridge, Design Director at AKT II; and Gareth Rodwell, Divisional Director at Hurley Palmer Flatt.