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Sat 14 Nov 2009 04:00 AM

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The invisible man…

If residential building designers consider the place and developers consider some of the processes, why do the people get ignored? Alan Millin, MSc. CEng FIHEEM, says it could all be different if FMs were consulted at the start of the design process.

If residential building designers consider the place and developers consider some of the processes, why do the people get ignored? Alan Millin, MSc. CEng FIHEEM, says it could all be different if FMs were consulted at the start of the design process.

In an earlier article we looked at definitions of facilities management. While there are several definitions around, there seems to be a consensus that FM relates to the integration of people, processes and places.

Designers of buildings may consider the place and the developers might consider some of the processes. But why do the people get ignored?

Consider an apartment building in Dubai, handed over by a major developer in 2009. The building has six floors and on each floor there are multiple spacious janitor rooms. Also on each floor is an electrical room for the DEWA electricity meters and a separate room for the water meters.

No problem so far, the meters can be read without inconveniencing the individual residents; the designers have done a good job, or so it seems. Inside the apartments it's a different story though. The kitchen cupboards look fine. The tenant opens them up one-by-one thinking that they have lots of storage space, but they are soon disappointed.

In one of the double-door cupboards they find a gas meter. The meter is so big that all the shelves have had to be removed from the cupboard so that the gas meter can be strategically positioned to ensure that there is no useful storage space left in the cupboard.

The gas pipe-work seems to be something of an afterthought too. Bright yellow piping is routed from the meter, through a hole made in the cupboard and terminated where the gas cooker will be located. The pipe-work installation does not exactly ooze quality. No problem though, the installation team has stuck some ill-matching sections of trunking around the pipe to complete what even the most benevolent of us might call an eyesore.

Did the designers forget that a gas network was being installed throughout the whole development? Did they forget that gas meters would have to be installed somewhere? Did they forget that owners and tenants like to be able to put things in their cupboards? The janitor is, of course, laughing at everyone now. He has more space on each floor than he needs; no cupboards and no gas meters to clutter his room. Indeed, there is nothing at all in the janitor rooms.

On to the apartment lighting. Enter one apartment and the kitchen is immediately to the left of the front door. It's an open plan design with kitchen cupboards and worktops defining the limits of the living room. Entry to the kitchen is near the front door. To turn the kitchen lights on though, the occupant has to pass from the front door, past the kitchen entrance, enter the living room area, turn left and cross the full width of the living room to use light switches which are actually in the living room.

There is another option. The occupant can enter the kitchen, walk to the far corner, lean over the kitchen worktops, reach around a column and tap blindly around until he hits a light switch. Depending on how tall the occupant is he might have to sit on the worktops to complete this mission. To make life really interesting the electrical switch for the gas valve is next to the kitchen light switches in the living room.

Is it possible that the designers have never operated a light switch on entering a room? Could it be that our designer's own kitchen is something he walks past on the way in and out of his study, while someone else operates the technical side of things such as cooking, operating lights or reading the gas meter behind the scenes?

Speaking of lights, in these eco-conscious times perhaps an alternative to the old incandescent lamps may have been considered here too.

So what's wrong? Clearly facilities management was not considered in this development. If it had been, the FM team would have made many comments on the design, supported by several recommendations.

Of course, the project design team will have reviewed the design but theirs was apparently just a technical review. Facilities management is so much more than this. Facilities managers see things from a functional perspective as well as a technical one. If the designers and developers of the apartments I describe here had consulted with professional FMs the outcome could have been so much different.

Residents would be able to turn their kitchen lights on and off from a sensible point. Windows could also be cleaned without literally risking life and limb. Moreover, light bulbs could be changed without having to buy or borrow extra large stepladders or paying someone else to do the job.

In a perfect world, gas meter locations could be included in the design, allowing sensible use of cupboard space. Pipe-work would be installed discreetly to minimise the shock/horror effect on the owners.

By including FM in the design process the developer could have gained satisfied owners/tenants and a reputation for quality.

By excluding FM the developer has instead earned a lot of dissatisfied customers and a reputation for poor design and low quality finishing. Not the sort of reputation they expected when the designs were first approved I'm sure.

Things would have been so different if they had not forgotten about the people...

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