Never before has the need for cross-discipline collaboration been more urgent – not only as great minds get together to find ways to combat the virulent and aggressive Covid-19 pandemic, but also as we strive to find Net Zero solutions for our built environment.
Since joining SPECIFIC in 2013, I have been championing the need for cross-discipline working – something I could really see the benefits of, being an Architect working in an engineering department. One of my former modules discussed early collaboration between the whole project delivery team as one way to help reduce the carbon we use in the built environment. If the whole team work together collaboratively right from a project outset, there is more chance the building delivered will operate as designed, thereby using less energy and emitting less carbon.
The importance of cross-discipline collaboration has cropped up several times this week. Firstly, when working with a Fire Engineer on a joint presentation about Net Zero solutions for the built environment and their implications for fire safety. Gaining insight from different disciplines encourages us to stop and think about the wider implications of our work. Working with the Fire Engineer, for example, made me realise that it is very easy for us to push forward with Net Zero solutions with the best intentions, promoting ideas that could potentially reduce carbon in buildings, without properly considering the implications these have on overall building safety. For instance, I have for some time had reservations about the drive for off-site construction, about pushing forward with sometimes immature products or systems. Just from my own experience on our Active Buildings, there are issues I’ve noticed with their construction, that have been confirmed through thermography testing, which highlighted areas of thermal bridging mainly around junctions – which not only works against what we are striving to achieve with Active Buildings, but also, if heat can get through gaps in building fabric, then so could potentially fire and/or smoke. This needs further investigation through some collaborative research projects – something I have been discussing with my supervisor at Cardiff Metropolitan University, Dr John Littlewood, who has significant experience in this area.
Being a member of the Building Regulations Advisory Committee (BRAC) for the UK offers an opportunity to broaden my thinking around my work, gaining a different perspective on new technologies and other Net Zero solutions. Even “greening” on or around buildings can present a fire hazard if not properly thought out.
It also struck me that my interactions with built environment professionals, either through BRAC, professional bodies such as Construction Excellence Wales (CEW), the Royal Society of Architects in Wales (RSAW) and, more recently, the Chartered Association for Building Engineers (CABE), as well as my cross-discipline CPD seminars, have benefits to SPECIFIC as an organisation, in that they enable me to bring issues identified by others back to the team, so that we can concentrate efforts on resolving them. Being aware of the potential risks associated with Net Zero solutions is the first step to combatting the issues and ensuring we deliver safe, low carbon buildings.
The message of cross-discipline collaboration was further emphasised later in the week when, on Thursday, I attended a Webinar entitled “Why the industry must collaborate to achieve 100% net carbon zero”, where the presenters all spoke about the importance of cross-discipline collaboration, whilst emphasising that we cannot wait for a perfect solution that all groups agree with, before acting to reduce carbon from buildings. To quote Sarah Ratcliffe, CEO of the Better Buildings Partnership, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good”, which she said to stress that we need to act now and, while we should aim for consistency across disciplines, we should not let it stop action. Keith Clarke, Chair of the Active Building Centre, also stated that we cannot wait for perfection, but should act now and offer Net Zero solutions to clients now. This aligns with our philosophy at SPECIFIC – we do not claim that our demonstrator buildings are perfect, but they act to show the intent and the capabilities of technologies available at the time of designing and constructing each demonstrator. We use our demonstrators to learn by doing, adopting the “fail fast, learn quickly” methodology and evolving our work as the technologies improve.
And I finished off the week by attending a free online course run by University of West England (UWE) – an Introduction to Zero Carbon Buildings, which was aimed at all disciplines and talked about the role everyone in the industry has to play in achieving Net Zero.
The overarching message is that while collaboration and integrated project delivery teams have always been needed, there is now a new imperative – the need to drive down carbon, the need to embed carbon as a primary driver and a primary design parameter in all building projects.