What is ‘Soft Landings’ in the Built Environment?

What is Soft Landings?

  • What is Soft Landings?
  • Who should take part?
  • Can I modify the Framework to suit my project?
  • Who runs Soft Landings?
  • Who leads Soft Landings?
  • How much does the Soft Landings Framework cost?
  • How much will Soft Landings cost to implement?
  • How can clients budget for Soft Landings?

What is Soft Landings?

Soft Landings is a process for designers and constructors to improve the operational performance of buildings and provide valuable feedback to project teams.

Soft Landings also requires designers and constructors to remain involved with buildings beyond practical completion, to assist the client during the first months of operation and beyond, to help fine-tune and de-bug the systems, and ensure the occupiers understand how to control and best use their buildings.

Soft Landings provides a unified vehicle for engaging with outcomes throughout the process of briefing, design and delivery. It dovetails with energy performance certification, building logbooks, green leases, and corporate social responsibility.

In essence, Soft Landings involves:

  • Achieving greater clarity at the inception and briefing stages about client needs and required outcomes
  • Placing greater emphasis on building readiness, by designer and constructor having greater involvement during the pre-handover and commissioning stages
  • A resident Soft Landings team located on site during the users’ initial settling-in period
  • Remaining involved after occupation, during and beyond the defects liability period to resolve outstanding issues.

Soft Landings requires designers and constructors to spend more time on constructive dialogue with the client, and in setting expectations and performance targets on energy and end-user satisfaction. Soft Landings provides a unifying vehicle for feedback methods such as energy and occupant surveys and assessments such as Design Quality Indicators and BREEAM.

Budget needs to be set aside for the pre-handover and aftercare steps (see “How much does Soft Landings cost to implement?”. As buildings often evolve during design, the Soft Landings team can anticipate this and consider how to respond to the client’s calls for adaptations.

The continuing involvement by the client, design and building team during a three-year aftercare period will help the operators get the best out of the building. Everybody involved will benefit from the lessons learned from occupant satisfaction surveys and energy monitoring. The worksteps in Soft Landings enable operators and users to spend more time on understanding interfaces and systems before they occupy the building. The designers and key contractors are tuned to understand and support the end-users in the critical early period of occupation.

Who should take part?

Everyone in a project team, the client, and the client’s representatives. Soft Landings maps out roles and responsibilities for all key members of the project team.

It is important to include specialist sub-contractors, especially where they have a design responsibility and when their systems link to other parts of the building.

Controls sub-contractors are vital members of Soft Landings team, as their systems are responsible for making sure that the building and its engineering services operate in accordance with the design specification, and are manageable by the client’s facilities team after handover.

Designers of the controls systems should also stay engaged as part of the Soft Landings aftercare team, rather than pass their responsibilities wholly over to a snagging team who may not appreciate the finer points of the design intention.

Can I modify the Framework to suit my project?

Yes, in fact the Framework and its example worksheets are not designed to be applied without some tailoring to the local context, whether driven by a particular form of contract or by the type of building. While Soft Landings is a generic framework, a swimming pool will have a different set of Soft Landings requirements compared with those of a school, for example. The project team should identify these differences and requirements quite easily as they work through the worksheets.

The worksteps for all stages of the Soft Landings process need to be worked through in a workshop. Not all Soft Landings requirements will be able to be sorted at the outset, some will need to wait until other professionals are hired, some will need revisiting and revising as more information becomes available (particularly during detailed design). At the very least the project team should be able to identify additional duties required of key sub-contractors, and these requirements should be included in tender documents. However, the requirements should be carefully worded so that they do not appear onerous or too specific, which would go against the spirit of collaborative working and shared responsibility.

Who runs Soft Landings?

A project team runs its Soft Landings process, not any external body. It is not a tick-box assessment process, it is not a licensed process, and it is not a fixed product. The Soft Landings worksteps can (and should) be tailored to suit a project’s particular circumstances. Soft Landings works as a team endeavour.

BSRIA and the Usable Buildings Trust will work together to support the construction industry and its clients to apply Soft Landings, and develop the process and procedures in the light of operational experience. Some form of training and competency accreditation may be worthwhile in future, but this will surface over time.

Who leads Soft Landings?

Soft Landings needs strong client championing, as without that it is unlikely that Soft Landings will be a natural process for a project team. Soft Landings will work best when it is an explicit client requirement, and where the Framework has been adopted at a project’s very inception.

Soft Landings will need a champion who stays with the project throughout. This will be vital for procurement processes where key members of the team may come and go at key stages (such as in design and build), and where key contractors may only join the project team much later and when much of the design may have been finalised. The champion will need to consider how Soft Landings duties need to be worded in a particular contractor’s terms of appointment.

The role of the Project Manager is key. Project managers are primarily hired for their abilities to manage time and cost. A client wishing to adopt Soft Landings needs to give very careful thought as to the type of person they appoint to lead their project, and ensure the project manager’s terms of reference are written with Soft Landings as the guiding principle.

Facilities management expertise needs to be involved in the early stages. It may require good skills in facilitation to get the best out of the facilities team during the briefing stages, as designers and premises managers can approach issues from very different perspectives. Engaging facilities managers also helps with the management of expectations, and will help the professional team to identify the degree of FM training and familiarisation that will be needed post-handover.

How much does the Soft Landings Framework cost?

Source Framework, freely available to all who wish to adopt it. Hard copies of the Framework can be purchased from the BSRIA website , but versions in PDF can be freely downloaded from both the BSRIA website and other institutions and bodies representing construction industry professionals.

How much will Soft Landings cost to implement?

Soft Landings only requires small extra funding. It is designed to run alongside any procurement process without creating duplication.
The costs for the early stages – from project inception to pre-handover – should involve little extra cost, well within the margin of competitive bids. There is some extra work during the three-year aftercare period, but the costs are modest in relation to the value added to the client’s building, in relation to the cost of potential re-work, and the potential cost of high fuel bills from poorly finished-off and poorly controlled building services.

Some elements of Soft Landings, such as group facilitation in the briefing stages, reality checking of design decisions, and the energy and occupant surveys are best carried out by an independent organisation using industry-standard methodologies. The costs of this external input will be modest.

The amount of time spent on aftercare will tail off as the results of the surveys help the building’s facilities team deliver a sustained high level of environmental and business performance.

How can clients budget for Soft Landings?

Clients may need to set some kind of budget for Soft Landings before they have a project team together to run through the detailed costs. A nominal budget could reasonably be 0.1% of the total contract budget. This should not be fixed – on smaller contracts the percentage might be slightly higher, on very large projects, slightly lower.

Clients should not ask construction firms to price their Soft Landings input individually during the tendering stage. Soft Landings doesn’t work like that. It has to be a project team exercise once the architect, engineers and main contractor are appointed. In the early stages of procurement clients should merely be looking for commitment from tenderers, plus some statement of capability (based on the Framework’s requirements) and willingness to work collaboratively and share information. The next stage, once the project team has been appointed, is to bring everyone together, decide roles and responsibilities, and put hours and expenses to the agreed activities. That has to be done in the round, and is best facilitated by someone with the right skills, and external to the project team.

If enough effort is put into the inception, briefing and design development phases, the actual costs of interventions during a three-year aftercare period may be significantly lower than budgeted. The client can opt to claw back the remaining budget, invest in capital items that improve the building further, or use the underspend to reward the project team for getting the building to match the design intention, however this is expressed. (Energy targets would be one measure, occupant satisfaction another.)

Note that many costs assumed necessary for the initial stages might be zero, as they involve actions that require minimal extra work by the project team. Even in the post-handover stages of Soft Landings, which does involve additional paid duties, the costs may be lower if the professional team do not charge-out their time at full labour rate. They will be benefitting from the exercise as well, after all.

The only fixed additional costs are energy and occupant surveys, carried out at the start (to influence the briefing process and design) and during the aftercare stages as part of Building Performance Evaluation.

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