13 January 2017

The term soft landings refers to a strategy designed to make an easy transition from the construction to occupation phases of a project with the overriding aim of realising optimal operational performance.

It's all about narrowing the performance gap between design intent and operational outcomes that can emerge at any stage in a construction project.

Why is a soft landings strategy needed?

It is widely acknowledged that post-construction buildings often do not perform as well as they could when entering operation. In bringing together the construction and operation elements of a project a soft landings strategy aims to improve outcomes by ensuring the transition is carefully considered throughout the development of a project.

When should a soft landings strategy be considered?

Ideally a client and project funders should commit to soft landings strategy from the very start of a project. Such early consideration ensures that the strategy is properly recognised in appointment agreements and other relevant documents and requirements are properly budgeted for. Being clear from the outset what information is required for commissioning, facilities management and to meet requirements of Building Information Modelling (BIM) can only serve to make project delivery a smoother affair for all concerned and should result in better project outcomes.

Who should lead a soft landings project?

Nominating an individual to serve as a soft landings champion on a project can be incredibly useful to ensure that appropriate issues are properly considered. A range of parties are likely to have roles to play when it comes to effectively delivering soft landings. These will vary from project to project and from stage to stage. Designers and client advisors will be involved at the start when it comes to selecting the main contractor and specialists who will determine a building's in-use performance (asset managers, commissioning engineers, controls supplier and the like).

Ideally a client and project funders should commit to soft landings strategy from the very start of a project.

Is there a framework for a soft landings strategy?

The Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA) and the Usable Buildings Trust (UBT) collaborated to produce the Soft Landings Framework in 2009. The framework was further updated in 2014 to align with the project stages of the RIBA 2013 Plan of Work and is supported by a range of guidance documents providing more detail.

The Soft Landings Framework serves as a methodology, available for anyone to use and tailor to suit the particular circumstances of an individual project. Though easily customised the framework has a set of 12 non-negotiable core principles (noted in BG38/2014) that should be retained.

The framework helps project teams to deliver buildings that achieve their energy and environmental performance ambitions, while also focusing more on meeting the needs of occupants and includes five key stages - inception and briefing, design development and review, pre-handover, initial aftercare and post-occupancy evaluation.

Soft landings and Government Soft Landings

Government Soft Landings (GSL) was identified in the Government Construction Strategy of May 2011 and brought together as a formal GSL policy. GSL applies only to central government procurement (and not other public bodies such as local authorities, though increasingly it is being cited as a requirement in tender documents so it is worth checking exactly what is expected to be delivered).

GSL is essentially a set of facilities management-driven requirements for a well-performing building, detailing a set of activities and tasks that should be undertaken on delivery of a project. These are defined and managed by a GSL client sponsor and a project GSL champion.

The FM/Soft Landings task groups and others have helped contribute to this development can be overseen by a number of users and other stakeholders.

How can I ensure that soft landings are considered from the start?

Appointing a dedicated soft landings champion will ensure an organisation's soft landings initiative is properly driven and that questions relating to soft landings are kept very much in mind throughout the lifespan of a project.

How much does it cost to adopt a Soft Landings approach?

Can you afford not to adopt a soft landings approach? Energy use in poorly delivered buildings can be far higher than original estimates with knock-on effects for productivity and staff wellbeing. Apportioning budget at the start of the process is a good idea but don't be tempted to cost out all items in the Soft Landings Framework at tender stage when you don't actually know what the client wants and can afford.  A commitment from tenderers to engage with a soft landings approach may be the most you can hope for at the initial stages of a project.

What to read next...

What does 'Government Soft Landings' mean?
Rob Manning explores GSL - part of the jigsaw of providing cost-effective services that meet public need.