July 16 2020
30 Years of Collaboration
My name is Mark Goddard. I am a Principal at Entuitive, responsible for running the London and Edinburgh offices. My role covers technical, commercial, and business development activities across the UK but is primarily focused on the London office.
Today I want to talk to you about how the role of collaboration in the UK construction industry has evolved over the last 30 years. From my vantage point, collaboration is stronger now than ever before and I wanted to share why that is, as well as some examples of how we at Entuitive collaborate with each other and our clients to help build a better world.
The Early Days
I started my career in 1985 based near Victoria, which was the home for many UK engineering practices that started out in post-war London. I remember very clearly during my initial few weeks as a consultant going to the offices of a London quantity surveyor to pick up a copy of the bill of quantities for a new office development. Each member of our team got a full printed copy prior to the project going to tender. Only the structural engineer and the architect received a copy, no other consultant had a significant involvement.
Although as a young graduate engineer I did not attend too many meetings, it was clear from discussions in the office that very little contractor input was received prior to tender, and that contractors were expected to build what was tendered with little further input. Towards the end of the eighties, with fast-track construction becoming popular, I joined a contractor specialising in design & build contracts and immediately noticed an increase in collaboration between the in-house design and on-site contracting teams.
Following the 1990/91 recession, the industry developed beyond recognition. The availability of new affordable technology had a significant impact on the design and detailing processes, which greatly increased the number of specialisms within the sector. This, coupled with fundamental and ongoing changes to building regulations and planning legislation, created a substantial number of additional services and roles deemed necessary to get a project through planning and constructed on site. These included flood risk, contamination, biodiversity, heritage, air quality, noise, basement impact assessment, CDM, fire, and sustainability to name just a few.
Just recently, I sat in on a design team Zoom meeting for a small residential scheme. I counted thirteen different consultants on the call who all had an input on the planning process.
For larger schemes, the number of consultants and specialists would be far higher and could cover anything from façade maintenance to commuting bats and relocation of slow worms.
Furthermore, with building design and construction being broken down to ever more specialist sub-contractor packages, the need to liaise and collaborate with a significant number of designers has also increased.
Communication is key to great collaboration and must be effective to allow the project to develop as successfully as possible. So, what does great collaboration look like?
Collaboration the Entuitive Way
I joined Entuitive just over a year ago and every day I am inspired by our desire, as One Company, to be creative, collaborative, and advanced. In fact, our One Company culture drives us to build mutually supportive relationships with each other and with our clients, as we strive toward our shared purpose of building great buildings and creating a better world.
At Entuitive we believe in uncompromising performance, and we know that it is always within our ability and desire to go that extra mile for our clients. In fact, we measure our own success by our ability to achieve success for our clients. This means working collaboratively with them to understand their unique needs and address any concerns they may have while working collaboratively with the larger project team.
I have felt encouraged to develop with clients, design partners, and contractors a framework that allows creative ideas and lateral thinking to be considered throughout the entire project lifecycle. Great collaboration requires different parts of the team working closely together in an environment of trust and common purpose, where we’re focused at all times on achieving the best possible outcomes for the client. It depends on understanding each other’s issues and concerns, taking down barriers, admitting mistakes, and working without fear to find the best solution.
Since joining Entuitive my understanding and approach to collaboration on current projects has been greatly enhanced.
When I think of some recent examples of excellent collaboration, two UK projects spring to mind. Both showcased our desire to collaborate extensively and to go that extra mile for our clients, ultimately enhancing the future success of both projects.
Whitelock Leeds Student Accommodation
The Whitelock Leeds Student Accommodation is a new seven-storey, 411-bed student accommodation with a total building area of 12,000 m². Facilities will feature a range of communal areas, including a central hub, gym, cinema, laundry room, roof terrace with a garden, and extensive secure bicycle storage. To the north and rear of the development the site is bounded by Sheepscar Beck.
The successful development of this project hinged on keeping in place a key surface water sewer that crosses the site at a critical point and connects to the Beck. Because of very tight site constraints, it would have been incredibly difficult to divert this sewer around the site. Due to the agreed massing of the buildings, it was also not possible to re-align the buildings to prevent building over the sewer. The initial reaction from the water authority was that the sewer must be diverted and that building over it was not an option.
A diversion would be a very complex construction due to the presence of an electrical substation on the path of a diversion and a sloping site that would mean deep excavations. Any diversion route would also create a system that would be harder to maintain and clean, so it was in neither party’s interests.
We appealed to YW to reconsider and this also got a rejection notice. Undeterred, we spoke to the person considering the application and he agreed to review the arrangement again. Sketches were updated and issued and sent eventually to the YW planning team.
Their response was again a preference for a diversion, but with an offer of a meeting to discuss the project. This gave us the opportunity we were waiting for, as we knew that if we could explain the nature of the development and how constrained the site is, then we could show how we would be helping to maintain the existing pipe. We attended the meeting with the architect who explained the background and the architectural advantage to having a cut-through in the building, setting out the technical case for maintaining the pipe.
The meeting was positive, and shortly afterwards we received confirmation that YW would be happy to build over the sewer.
NW London Residential/Hotel Development
This project involves the design and construction of a new hotel or residential development on Finchley Road in London. The scheme is at pre-planning and the client has yet to decide which option he wishes to progress. The building will be four to five storeys in height, supported on a first-floor transfer structure. To fully maximise the site the structure needs to cantilever a significant distance over the LU Metropolitan line and an adjacent Thames water sewer. The tube line and sewer run parallel to our site and the top of the tunnel is only 1,500 mm below ground level.
An original scheme had been developed adopting reinforced concrete walls that cantilevered from a piled raft over the tunnel structure. This solution created a very closed off layout at ground floor level and was not conducive to hotel operations. Entuitive were brought in to advise on structural options that could open up the ground floor area and make it suitable for a hotel reception and bar area.
The scheme had several site constraints, particularly at the boundaries. Internally, the stair and core layout were positioned to maximise room layouts at the upper levels. With the core established, the columns at ground floor level could be positioned. Working closely with the client and the architect we were able to develop a system of steel-braced frames that created an incredible internal space whilst keeping anticipated deflections within limits. This was an iterative process that tried to maximise column centres but also limit deflections of the transfer structure.
The client and architect appreciated that this was an engineering-led exercise and were willing to accept significant elements of structure. However, they also appreciated the interesting structural arrangement created and the opportunities this provided.
In developing our proposals, we worked with our heavy structures and construction engineering teams to develop a steel frame solution that is both highly efficient and more easily constructed on site than the original reinforced concrete solution.
I believe that our ability to collaborate and go that little bit further has provided the client with a better solution that will greatly benefit the scheme.
During these difficult and unprecedented times Entuitive has taken a leading role in reaching out to our fellow professionals to understand what they are going through and how they are coping.
Across all regions we hosted several round table meetings with discussions that covered a broad spectrum of industry-related issues, including market reaction, project status, financial concerns, planning and resource management, market intelligence, immediate concerns, future concerns, future opportunities, and improving our industry.
This was a fascinating exercise as it allowed us to discuss and assess the processes that a range of consultants were putting in place to cope with these very difficult times. It confirmed the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the UK construction sector and the common goal of working hard to look after both our clients and staff.
We believe that this is a new level of collaboration that is changing the nature of the industry for the better, with the aim to step out of the pandemic better than before and come together to share thoughts and best practices more often on a move forward basis.
Going forward one of the key areas that will continue to require great collaboration as an industry is carbon reduction and the need to achieve zero carbon emission targets by 2050.
Entuitive is an active participant in The UK Structural Engineers Declare initiative. The aim is for engineering companies to recognise the important role they play individually and collectively in working towards significant carbon reductions whilst sharing knowledge, data, and lessons learned for the benefit of all.
In line with the declaration, “we are committing to strengthen our working practices to create structural engineering outcomes that have a more positive impact on the world around us.” As structural and building envelope engineers, we recognise the significant role we play in reducing the whole life carbon, and particularly the embodied carbon, of the buildings and structures we design.
At Entuitive, we are using carbon accounting software as well as developing tools to help our teams measure embodied carbon at multiple stages of a project quickly and efficiently. Using this data, and working collaboratively with other design disciplines, we can make meaningful design decisions with a lower carbon impact while helping our clients achieve their own financial and environmental goals.
Already there is significant collaboration between engineers, with several companies releasing and publishing material and data that could give them a market advantage but deemed more important to share for the benefit of all.
This ongoing approach to collaborate and share information will be the defining factor that will drive through the necessary changes required in the built environment and elsewhere to create a more sustainable future.
Other modes of collaboration popular at Entuitive are Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) and Integrated Design Delivery (IDP). My colleagues in North America recently wrote a piece on these two relatively new project delivery methods, and I think both represent a much stronger collaborative future across all project disciplines. You can read that article here.
Mark Goddard is a Principal at Entuitive based in London, UK. Reach out to him here to discuss this article further.