Moving towards a product-orientated approach

HTA IS A PRACTICE OF AROUND 200 ARCHITECTS, PLANNERS, SUSTAINABILITY SPECIALISTS AND RESEARCHERS, WITH A FOCUS ON CREATING GREAT RESIDENTIAL PLACES AND A 50-YEAR TRACK RECORD IN THE DESIGN AND DELIVERY OF BETTER HOUSING. SUSTAINABLE FUTURES PARTNER, RORY BERGIN SHARES A DESIGNER'S PERSPECTIVE AND CALLS FOR MORE INVOLVEMENT FROM LIGHT STEEL FRAME MANUFACTURERS TO SUPPORT PUBLICLY AVAILABLE SPECIFICATION (PAS) FOR LARGE SCALE PREFABRICATION.

We have a long history of working with steel, both full volumetric systems and light gauge steel (LGS) panels. Even traditionally realised buildings tend to have LGS internal walls and partitions, although many of those are not prefabricated due to the difficulty of concrete framing to maintain tight tolerances. An area where we see progress is the ability of framing companies to bring fabrication systems to site and to prefabricate LGS wall panels on-site or close to site which can be fitted as fill walls.

The sooner our projects can have an external envelope, the sooner follow-on trades can get to work on servicing and finishes. Many of our medium-rise buildings have been constructed fully in LGS panels where the issues of interaction with traditional construction are lessened. Contractor clients find that having a single sub-contractor deliver the entire structure and all the internal partitions under a single contract simplifies their procurement and speeds up the delivery of the project. In some cases, where the insulation is included in the LGS system, it brings added benefits in terms of delivering a high-performance envelope. Projects such as student accommodation, hotels and build-to-rent all derive a lot of benefit from faster construction as the project finances depend on the building being delivered on time. A saving on the programme also means savings on borrowing costs, and earlier rental returns which helps to pay back the initial investment.

The dimensional accuracy of steel framed construction also means that it is easier to integrate with other prefabricated systems such as bathroom pods and prefabricated utility cupboards or prefabricated risers. The tight tolerances used in the manufacturing process for all of these means it is easier to co-ordinate them with a steel framed system than with a traditional RC frame. As the appetite for this approach grows in the industry, we will see more integration and co-operation between LGS manufacturers and other manufacturers to supply more joined-up solutions, by supplying wall panels pre-wired, with windows in the external wall, and cores and risers integrated into the structure.

The issues around design and construction quality highlighted by the Grenfell tragedy demonstrated that we cannot continue to function the way we have been, avoiding risk and responsibility and passing it down the food chain to the lowest subcontractor. Manufacturers need to take responsibility for their products, and to work with other manufacturers to develop shared systems that can be relied upon and which come with certification and warranties. We see the industry moving towards a more product-oriented approach where there is agreement among the industry that we need more certainty of performance in exchange for less flexibility in products. As designers, we want to be able to deliver buildings which can be relied upon to perform in the way they were intended. We see the path to that is to be found by working more closely with manufacturers.

As part of our approach we aim to create a PAS for large scale prefabrication. We will work with BSI to create it and to do it we need the support of the industry. BSI will manage the process as usual, and we will provide the technical team behind it, but we need support from industry to make it happen. We think that the LGS sector will benefit greatly from the confidence that a PAS brings, and we would like to hear from any of you that would like to contribute your time and expertise.

For more information visit: www.hta.co.uk

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