Soft Landings

Soft Landings1) is a form of graduated handover for new and refurbished buildings, where the project team is contracted to watch over the building, support the occupant and to fine-tune the building’s systems, for up to three years post-completion. It was referenced by (PDF doc) UK government in September 2012.

Soft Landings starts by raising awareness of performance in use in the early stages of briefing and feasibility, helps to set realistic targets, and assigns responsibilities. It then assists the management of expectations through design, construction and commissioning, and into initial operation, with particular attention to detail in the weeks immediately before and after handover.

Extended aftercare, with monitoring, performance reviews and feedback helps occupants to make better use of their buildings, while clients, designers, builders and managers gain a better understanding of what to do next time. Soft Landings can run alongside any procurement process, potentially in any country. It also provides a natural route for post-occupancy evaluation (POE) and feedback, and is complimentary to BIM.

Soft Landings is a process based around 12 core principles, introduced through activities during five stages throughout the procurement process:

  1. Inception and briefing (RIBA Stage B)
  2. Design development (RIBA Stage C)
  3. Pre-handover (RIBA Stage K)
  4. Aftercare - initial period (RIBA Stage L)
  5. Aftercare – extended period years 1 to 3 (RIBA Stage L)

At each of these stages there are a number of specified activities to support the Soft Landings principles, to be carried out by various members of the project team.

Another important part of the process is regular reality checking, or ‘pitstopping’. At key points throughout the project, innovative or ‘risky’ aspects of the design are discussed and tested within the project team, as well as end users. This constantly checks that the original design intent is still being as the project develops, reducing errors and reworking on site, and hence costs.

At the end of 2012, the UK Government mandated the use of Soft Landings (called Government Soft Landings, GSL on UK Government projects) by 2016, and it will run alongside the roll-out of BIM. Although the GSL process generally follows the Soft Landings methodology described by the Usable Buildings Trust (UBT) and BSRIA, it differs in one very significant way – the use of metrics to demonstrate compliance with the stated project outcomes.

The link with a Soft landings process – or GSL in the case of the UK Government – may initially seem a tenuous one, but the data gathered during the operational phase of an asset can be very important in helping to shape project needs through effective employer’s information requirements (EIRs see PAS 1192-2:2013). It is vital that the way the asset is used and maintained is considered during the briefing and design process – ‘start at the end to inform the start’ is a phrase that gets spoken a lot in construction these days and is a very apt one in this context.