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Sat 27 Dec 2008 04:00 AM

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It's all in the mix

Collaboration between client, architect, facilities manager, developer and engineer is key to sustainability, says Kerry Galbraith, head of the structural department at KEO.

Collaboration between client, architect, facilities manager, developer and engineer is key to sustainability, says Kerry Galbraith, head of the structural department at KEO.Do you think that architects design with engineering challenges in mind? Is it often a challenge to realise an architect's vision?

It depends on what the architect's brief is. In this environment, in the Gulf region, we are finding a lot of developers want to have landmark buildings created to define their project, and in doing so, they are allowing architects free range to get creative and push the limits of what has conventionally been done.

In pushing architectural boundaries they have to stretch things from an engineering point of view as well.

Architects will have a basic understanding of the actual structural parameters, the different MEP systems and the vertical transportation systems, so it kind of allows them to have an idea of how it all fits together and how it is going to work when they are conjuring up their images and concepts.

Do you think that engineers are involved early enough in the design process?

I think that generally, the architects that we deal with that are doing these landmark buildings are ones who have a lot of experience and have been through these pressures before.

They realise the value of not only having the structural engineers on the project from the early stages, but other team members such as the vertical transportation and other technical guys.

With regards to these projects, it is definitely architecturally driven, however the architects will bring along a team of people to execute these designs.

Do you think that a greater collaboration between architect, developer, facilities managers and engineer would result in a smoother process and a better finished product?

I do. You want to have the team in place very early on in the process. If you get all the players in early on; the architects, the developers, the engineers, the client and the facilities manager around a table at the beginning of the design process, then you can get the dialogue going.

We find that in the Gulf, the developer often doesn't have the end user in mind, or if it's an office building, they might not have the leasing agent in mind.

It would be good to have a facilities manager on board early on, so that architects and engineers are more informed about what is going to happen to the building once it is occupied.

From an engineering point of view, you can actually talk to the contractor and say actually, OK, Mr Contractor, how are you going to build this, and what can we do to help speed up your construction and procurement process.

We can also ask, Mr Facilities Manager, who their parking management company will be and how they are planning to lease this building. So then we can incorporate these aspects into the design early on.

This collaboration must really be valuable to the client...

It really is beneficial to the client, to have a facilities manager of a leasing agent on board early on because it helps the design team put together the appropriate operations manuals and arrangements that coincide with what the client's requirements are. Do you feel that unrealistic timelines are placed on projects in this region?

There have been in the past. We have been involved in projects where our mandate really is to get the thing built as quickly as we can! But I think it is up to us, as design professionals, not to agree to something that is going to compromise quality and function.

We do get squeezed, and it's not just here, it is globally. The design consultants are always squeezed to get things done as soon as possible.

So it's up to the engineers not to accept brief with an unrealistic a deadline?

We just wouldn't take on a project that has too tight a deadline, because in doing that, we would fail. We would not be able to produce a quality project and we would provide a disservice to the client and the rest of the team.

What we are finding is that, in this fast-paced market, we need to do advanced packages.

For example, the structure of the building is the first to be built, so we will go ahead with our structural design and put together foundation packages so that they can start building as soon as possible.

We won't wait until we have completed a full design; we will break it up into pieces based on the actual sequence of work on site and long lead items, so that we can stage the procurement and construction based on need, and work our design around that.

So, from an engineering point of view, there are programmes in place to make sure that the timeline is adhered to...

There is a lot of coordination that is needed upfront to ensure all the bits and pieces are in place structurally to accommodate the architecture and MEP, but we are finding that it is quite common that projects in this region are conducted in stages. With regards to sustainable, green structures, to what extent is it the engineer's responsibility to make sure that the building complies with green standards?

At the moment it is up to the developer to define the green standards that they want to set for their project.

The different municipalities in the Emirates are actually involved in putting some mandates in place so that you have to design for a minimum rating. That hasn't quite come into being yet, but I think the consensus is that it is going to happen probably in January or February of next year.

As far as sustainability goes, it really is a team effort. The architect will specify what kind of glass and exterior systems are put in place. They will look at how various façade systems that is sustainable in terms of the lifecycle of the building, but then the MEP people need to come onboard and actually put the machinery in place that is going to follow that lead.

Its not just about design with sustainable buildings, you are also asking how the building is going to function for the end user. To make sure that the initial sustainable intent of the building is maintained when the end user comes on board.

Also, during construction, the contractor has to follow the direction in the design document to again keep to the sustainable philosophy of the building.

What is the engineer's role in maintaining the sustainable intent of a building?

It is a collaborative thing between the architects, the engineers, the facilities managers and, importantly, between the actual clients, because the client is going to define how the end user acts within the building.It is not one person. The architect may lead the actual process, but everyone else needs to be signed into it to make it work.

In terms of materials, do you think that architects choose materials that are suitable for the region?

If you are doing a standard 30-storey residential or office building, then you are going to be trying to get a lot of the materials from this region because the actual supply is here and it will be a little bit cheaper.

But if you want to create an iconic, landmark building, even though I don't like to use the word iconic, you are going to be looking out of the box, you are going to be looking further a field and getting marble out of Italy or specialist glass work that you can't get from this region, but from a structural perspective its all pretty simple if it comes from this area.

In a region where the average lifecycle of a building hovers around 30 years, do you think that earlier involvement from the engineers could extend lifecycles?

The engineering can extend the lifecycle of the building, but it has to be defined early on. The design code that we work to at the moment is actually a 50 year lifespan. This is probably going to be changing now, as the region changes along with the financial state of the world.

A couple of years ago, we were finding in Doha, just for a fairly conventional 20 to 30 storey office block, the building was being paid for in 10 to 20 years time. That is a very, very short time, so in instances like that, there is no incentive for the developer to extend a lifecycle of a building.

We are involved in a project now, where the owner is looking at a hundred year lifespan for certain critical life safety elements of the building. To do that you have to use more loads, and it really changes the design.

It is better to make that decision right at the beginning of the design process rather than half way through.

With the slow down of the economy there are a lot more buildings on the market, and developers are going to start thinking about their buildings a bit more than just how to get them up as quick as possible.

What do you find particularly challenging as an engineer in the region?

What is most challenging is that every day is a little different. Six months ago the price of steel and reinforcing was very high and now it is half of that price.

Also, six months ago we were struggling to find good, qualified people to design and construct these buildings, but now, with the slowdown of other economies, I am seeing a lot more CVs come past my desk.

So the really challenging thing is to keep track of what the market is doing. To take into account this changing market when approaching your design.

As an engineer in the region, if you could give any advice you wanted to architects and developers, what would it be?

Decisions need to be made when they need to be made. To the developers, I think they should think about what they want and what the building needs to be, and put together the team early to execute that design.

Don't wait to engage a particular consultant or a contractor or a facilities manager, or a leasing agent early on. Just get them on and get the collaboration going from the start.

Get the dialogue going and define what is needed in terms of green designs and green building; the level of sustainability you want in your building.

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