Building Confidence: The Shergold-Weir Report and its Implications for Architects

The Shergold-Weir Report argues for better quality documentation and improved oversight. What do the recommendations mean for architects?

In mid-2017 the Building Ministers’ Forum (BMF) asked Professor Peter Shergold and Ms. Bronwyn Weir to undertake an assessment of the effectiveness of compliance and enforcement systems for the building and construction industry across Australia. The final report ‘Building Confidence’ was recently delivered to the BMF and is available for review here.

The stated goal of the report is to “enhance public trust through effective implementation of building and construction standards that protect the interests of those who own, work, live, or conduct their business in Australian buildings.” The report has a number of recommendations about the whole process of building and maintaining safe and well-constructed buildings, and has special significance in the wake of the Lacrosse and Grenfell Tower fires. It mainly deals with “commercial” rather than domestic scale buildings.

The report also has a number of observations and recommendations, which affect architects in our roles during design, construction and ongoing maintenance of buildings. If implemented it will change many aspects of the construction process, and in doing so it also presents a number of opportunities for architects to re-occupy areas of practice we have lost to other practitioners.

Building confidence and ensuring integrity

“The quality of buildings depends heavily on the competency and integrity of builders. There are many builders that have high standards of competency and integrity. However, the rates of disputes, alleged defects and reports of high levels of illegal phoenix activity are evidence that there are shortcomings in the performance of some builders. These need to be addressed.[p13]

Shergold and Weir are clear that there is insufficient supervision, auditing and expertise in the industry, and too many practitioners willing to take short cuts to save money and time. They also note that there are many conflicts of interest in the way compliance is achieved through private certifiers employed by the client or builder, and an unwillingness for certifiers or the approving authorities to enforce standards during construction. A number of recommendations address those conflicts by better documentation, registration of building practitioners, auditing of those practitioners, and inspections and checking during and after construction.

Registration of building practitioners

While there has been little progress on a true national scheme for registration of architects, our profession is often seen as a model for other building practitioners, where registration and licensing schemes vary widely between states and there is little appetite to harmonise systems or introduce mutual recognition across state borders. It also strongly endorses CPD (not yet a feature of all Architect’s Acts) and subcategories of registration for different building types – something which may be problematic for smaller architectural firms. It recommends strict controls on who can provide performance-based solutions under the NCC and when third-party certification of those solutions is required. Registered practitioners would also be required to have their work audited – so architects’ documentation for building rules consent could be audited by a third party. Building designers would also need to be registered – something which architects have long called for. It also calls for a consistent approach to the registration of builders, specialist subcontractors (especially fire contractors) and engineers.

Quality of documentation

There have been many reports over many years calling for better quality documentation by design professionals.  Shergold and Weir note:

“The adequacy of documentation prepared and approved as part of the building approvals process is often poor. The tendency for inadequate documentation to be prepared and accepted by building surveyors at the building approvals stage has increased, in part because of owners and developers endeavouring to minimise costs on documentation. This issue needs to be addressed as a matter of priority.

… Inadequate documentation can also result in hidden costs or allow builders to cut costs without owners being aware of it.

The integrity of documentation for future use is also compromised when the approval documents do not reflect the as-built building, or when they contain insufficient detail to properly inform building risk and maintenance requirements.” [p28]

Many of the problems noted are blamed on procurement methods, and in particular Design and Construct. The report notes often architects are not retained through the whole construction period.

“…architects and engineers have indicated that they may be engaged early in a project to prepare initial documentation but that their engagement then ends. Detailed construction documentation is prepared by others who may not possess the relevant skills. When products specified are substituted, architects, engineers and building surveyors may not be consulted.” [p31]

The report notes that the process for approving changes during construction is flawed, and that as-built documentation is either non-existent or of poor quality. It recommends that comprehensive digital manuals be required and that they should be stored centrally by government to allow access in the future by owners and maintainers of buildings.

Recommendation 16 of the report states that each jurisdiction should provide for a building compliance process that incorporates clear obligations for the approval of amended documentation by the appointed building surveyor throughout a project. It notes:

“Implementation of this recommendation will be challenging. It requires designers, building surveyors and builders to work to properly document design and construction specifications. This is the lynchpin of a best practice building approvals system and considerable effort will be required to effectively bring about systemic change in this area.” [p32]

Shergold and Weir envisage a very different system to that currently in place – but one that ensures the safety and amenity of the users of our buildings.

What does it mean for architects?

Architects must firstly take responsibility for, and publicly commit to, a better quality of documentation. The skill set for producing such documentation has reduced over the past generation, and the downward pressure on fees has seen it lost as a core business of many architectural firms. It is not seen as glamorous, award-winning or valued by clients, builders or end users. Endless reports on the value of good documentation go ignored, especially when fees and scope are negotiated. Footage of the Grenfell and Lacrosse fires should have awakened a new desire by architects to argue for good documentation, procurement and construction practice.

Our profession already has registration and a relatively good system for dealing with complaints from the public – but does it actually want to fight for a role as a leader in construction industry for integrity, competence and high levels of technical skill? Will we welcome the idea of auditing of our work and accepting criticism of poor documentation without blaming clients, builders and fees? These are moral, not just business choices, and lives depend on it.

Judging by past efforts to achieve any national improvement in the construction industry, the three tiers of our wonderful federated system of government will conspire to stuff it up. As architects, we owe it to the public to advocate for a better, safer and more trustworthy industry.  We need all architects to step up alongside us. You’d better start writing to politicians today if you want that vision for the future.

This article was first published on the Association of Consulting Architects Website

Renown Park Childrens Centre

  • Renown Park Children's Centre

    Photograph courtesy DECD

  • Renown Park Children's Centre

    Photograph courtesy DECD

  • Renown Park Children's Centre

    Photograph courtesy DECD

  • Renown Park Children's Centre

    Photograph courtesy DECD

Last week we received some lovely photos of the outdoor play space at the Renown Park Children’s Centre, completed last year for DECD. The plants are flourishing and it’s wonderful to see the children playing in the space. As the trees mature it will be even better, with more shade and variation in height across the landscape. We used predominately local native plants as well as some fruits and veggies and deciduous trees.

Presentation tools for BIM models

  • Independent Living Units - BIM vs Rendered image
  • Independent Living Units - Rendered image
  • Independent Living Units - Rendered image
  • Nazareth Catholic College - Caritas Building
  • Nazareth Catholic College - Caritas Building
  • Nazareth Catholic College - Caritas Building

Beautiful renders can really capture the atmosphere of a project and help show the client not only what their project will look like but also how the virtual space can become a useable one. But for many of our projects, spending hours on competition style rendering or the cost of outsourcing is just unrealistic.

In times past, smaller projects have been left with flat elevations and renders that can make it difficult to convey our true design intent to the client. It’s easy for us to imagine and trust in our vision for a building, but the process of client consultation can really benefit from the client sharing in this.

Over the past year we’ve found plug-in programs to be immensely useful for quick and easy render production. Creating convincing images and walk-throughs without the need to spend hours on settings, materials and editing, our plug-ins create rendered images in real-time using graphics from your BIM material library.

From fast white card models, to realistic rendering; this tool allows the client to gain a greater understanding of our designs – what they see is what they’ll actually get. The panoramas and whole model walk-throughs allow for a far more immersive experience and can be used to easily and accessibly bring VR into small projects.  It also means the rendered images are always easily updated as the BIM model changes.

News from Russell & Yelland

As we start 2018  we are thankful for the past year working on a number of interesting projects, and significant additions to the wider Russell & Yelland “family”.
Construction is about to commence on the new Caritas Building at Nazareth Catholic College, our third major project on the Flinders Park site. In October the Nautilus Centre was opened at Concordia College, which combines Science, Art, Maths and other STEM subjects in a new two-storey complex which has already won an Award of Excellence in the IESANZ SA/NT lighting awards. A number of our government STEM projects have now been completed and the remainder are in construction. We completed a number of school Master Plans, and are currently designing a range of new Aged Care projects for Whyalla Aged Care. St Josephs Boarding House in Pt Lincoln was completed within the tight deadlines ready for the new school year. A new music centre for Cabra College is scheduled to start construction in the new year, and we are undertaking a number of projects in regional hospitals. The new Galilee Administration building also won a commendation in the LEA SA Regional Awards.
We welcomed Scott Murdoch to our staff in March, and Jessica Weiland, who had worked with us whilst studying, to full-time employment in November. Vouch returned from maternity leave in January, and Lauren Knight started her maternity leave in May – she’s back one day a week now but 3-4 days a week next year.
Our yearly cooking event, “Vouch’s Kitchen”,  was supposed to be a housewarming for Stewart and Mia– except the host family was absent for the entire event, spending the evening in Casualty with a daughter suffering trampoline injuries. As well as regular Whyalla visits this year, Heather hosted the Parlour Instagram account for a week. Parlour is a group dedicated to gender equity in architecture, and our staff’s contribution was well received. Hariklia’s post on site etiquette was also chosen for a pop-up exhibition on women in architecture in Melbourne.Scott, Rhiana and Anthea got to throw their hats in the air when graduating from the University of Adelaide in April this year. The next big hurdle will be Registration as Architects in a few years time!

 

We seem to have been inundated with babies this year! Lauren and David’s daughter Tessa was born in June; Lindsay and Dan’s Miranda in September; Craig and Pippa’s son Reuben and Will and Kimberley’s son Hugh in September! In addition Alistair and John became grandfathers again.

Michelle took on a huge workload this year as we rolled out new practice management systems. She is dreaming about the new caravan and the chance to visit the Kimberleys mid next year.

As is usual, we have made a donation to the Australian Refugee Association in lieu of sending cards.
Our office will be closed from noon on Friday 22nd  December and will reopen on Monday  8th  January. You can text or call John Held on 0417 840 337 during the break if required.

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The State of Virtual Reality in Architectural Practice – 2017 Part One – Where we are

At Russell and Yelland we have been working with Virtual Reality for a year now. We would like to share some of our experiences and lessons from this journey which we see as the early days of VR.

The term Virtual Reality is an oxymoron; it is the combination of unreal ‘virtual’ and real ‘reality’. Virtual in this context is the computer simulation of what our senses perceive to be the world around us: that is, Reality. From its beginning VR hardware has looked like a bulky, cumbersome set of goggles.    While the technology is evolving it’s appearance has not changed much.

VR is not a new thing but recently there has been renewed interest and big name technology companies are jumping on board.

There are two key factors which recently arrived and made Virtual Reality accessible for architectural firms such as Russell and Yelland. We already had the first piece of the puzzle, the virtual 3D model, because this is part of our regular architectural design workflow.

The recent innovations which have been able to plug into our architectural practice are;

  1. VR hardware, now accessible, user friendly and at a level of quality able to provide an immersive experience.
  2. Real-time rendering software, aka a ‘gaming engine’ that runs in our regular design environment.

A life-like experience where one can move around the environment requires a powerful computer to perform the real-time graphics processing to update the view corresponding to every movement the user makes. The hardware providing the best experience right now is a ‘head tracking virtual reality headset’; the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are the two products which have created the recent VR sensation. These headsets both launched consumer products in 2016. Both plug into a desktop computer and require additional sensors placed around the user to translate real world movement into the virtual environment. The VR hardware acts as both the screen and the input (keyboard/mouse), movements of the users head are translated to input commands for the virtual environment.

The virtual environment must respond instantaneously to the actions of the viewer to create a convincing reality. Without the recent development of graphics technology and ‘gaming engines’ we would have to wait hours for CAD software to render a single realistic image. While not a super realistic representation, what the gaming engines lack in detail they make up for with speed. Real-time speed. Using our regular design software we are now able to plug-in a gaming engine and see our digital models in a life-like view while; moving through them, working on a design or trying different options.

The graphic output required to present an immersive VR experience is beyond anything we require regular video to provide and it all comes down to the frame rate. Typically a video can look seamless at 24 frames per second but when you introduce head tracking (the ability for the viewpoint of the scene to move in relation to the users movements) the frame rate demand skyrockets. A typical video feed at 24 frames per second, strobes as you turn your head, leaving gaps of darkness in the path of your glance. This is referred to as ‘latency’, not only does latency disrupt the immersion of the scene it is also a cause of motion sickness. The output recommended for a realistic experience with a motion tracking VR headset is 90 frames per second (FPS) and that is per eye, as there is a unique image sent to each eye. Comparing that to the movie industry standard of 24, a quality VR experience is asking the PC to output a total of 180 FPS which is 7.5 times more images than a movie presents its viewers with. Even The Hobbit movie which created fanfare with its “High Frame Rate” of 48 FPS is not even a third of this frequency. With that perspective it is not surprising you need a very powerful PC to produce this graphic output.

Such a setup is not very portable, though we did take the whole kit to Brompton Primary School for a media event (as pictured), it is not something you would want to assemble every meeting. At a minimum it required; 5 power outlets, the desktop PC, the PC monitor, two independent sensors plugged in and on tripods and the headset link box. We also set up a projector so the students not wearing the headset could see what was happening in the virtual environment.

With all of the setup, bulk and cables between everything including from the users headset to the PC we have still found the experience and comprehension of a design to be unequalled by any other presentation method. There have also been a spectrum of ways we can share these experiences with varying dependence on technology.

Stay tuned for part two to hear what else we have been up to!

Concordia Nautilus Centre wins IESANZ SA/NT lighting Award of Excellence

  • Concordia Nautilus Centre
  • Concordia Nautilus Centre - upper breakout zone
  • Concordia Nautilus Centre
  • Concordia Nautilus Centre - stairwell
  • Concordia Nautilus Centre

This project recently won an IESANZ SA/NT lighting Award of Excellence.

The judges stated:
“It was evident from the street as soon as we arrived at the site that this was going to be something special. An excellent example of project coordination between all design partners – architect, interior designer, engineer, lighting designer and client. The integration of architecture and lighting is exceptional. The attention to detail by all involved (including the electrical contractor is first-rate. All involved in this project should be commended on an excellent result.”

Project Architects: Emily Chalk & Craig Buckberry, Russell & Yelland
Lighting Designers: Robert Bartosik & Anthony Davidson, Secon Consulting Engineers

Galilee Catholic School Administration Centre receives Award

  • Galilee Catholic School Administration Building
  • Galilee Catholic School Staff Room
  • Galilee Catholic School Reception Area
  • Galilee Catholic School Reception Area

The new Administration Building at Galilee Catholic School at Aldinga received a Commendation in the recent inaugural Learning Environments Australasia SA Regional Awards.

The Building includes reception, staff, parish and community facilities.

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Buildings that contribute to a longer life

As architects we interpret the brief into a built form for our clients.

What we miss sometimes is how our buildings interface with their surroundings and community. The idea of the perfect home in suburbia does not necessarily provide opportunities for social interaction and congregation, as they may be far from businesses, public spaces and services.

This interesting short talk is food for thought on how social interaction and life style contributes to people’s longevity in life.

This talk sparked my interest on how we, as designers, can help to contribute to people’s social life through our buildings.

I am particularly keen to see how in our current aged care projects we can better provide social interaction to reduce the feeling of loneliness for residents.

How can we activate shared spaces?

How can we make spaces more inclusive?

How can we encourage social interaction?

How can our design make people happier?

These are just a few of the questions we need to consider and incorporate in our work.

John Held Awarded Presidents Medal

At this years South Australian Institute of Architects Awards, Director of Russell and Yelland Architects John Held was awarded the 2017 Sir James Irwin President’s Medal.
The Sir James Irwin President’s Medal is the highest accolade offered by the Australian Institute of Architects within South Australia.
When delivering the award current SA chapter president Mario Dreosti’s noted John’s contribution to industry “which has demonstrated core professional values of innovation in technologies, collaboration in our thinking, and in a willingness to lead and deliver vast amounts of voluntary contribution to the benefit of our whole industry”
The Sir James Irwin President’s Medal is awarded each year to a member or industry collaborative considered by the President to have made a significant contribution to architecture. It was established in 1992 through the generosity of the Irwin family in memory and in recognition of the services to architecture of Sir James Irwin. Previous recipients include Francesco Bonato, John Morhphett AM, OBE, LFRAI, John Schenk LFRAIA, Susan Phillips and Michael Pilkington.
A copy of the full citation can be found here

Step up, don’t step back…

Is stepping up to the small stuff also the path to improving the profession’s wider role in society?

In recent weeks I’ve heard some horror stories of projects going wrong. I don’t know all the details (and thankfully they are not our own projects) but there seems to be a common thread in many of them of architects simply not stepping up.

At the same time I’ve been reading about the architect’s role in society. Indy Johar, for example, states that for architects to have relevance “we must realign to focus  on all citizens and all their needs; not the construction and real estate industry  who are only a means for making our environment”.  He talks about both social and spatial justice to allow all citizens to flourish.

How are these connected? Is it because, in both cases, architects don’t step up?

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