CPD articles

CPD: The concept of Soft Landings

5 April 2013

• What Soft Landings is
• Why it’s needed
• How to go about implementing it

Click here to be taken to the online CPD test paper for the April 2013 issue

A phased handover of buildings to iron out problems after a completion will be mandatory on all government contracts from 2016. James Warne explains the concept of Soft Landings.

Based on first impressions, if offered a choice of “soft landings” compared to “crash landings” or “splash landings”, the instinctive answer would be for the easier sounding term. With regard to handing buildings over to end users, who would choose anything other than a soft landing?

However, despite the best of intentions, many developments are handed over that are poorly performing, underwhelming, dissatisfying and dogged by teething problems and a legacy of maintenance and life-cycle issues. While the industry has adopted a number of methods for “zero defect” handovers or “snag free” delivery, even when fully implemented these are only plasters on a wound: prevention is always better than the cure.

Now the industry has joined together, facilitated through the Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA), to develop a structured methodology that will help create a project culture that will provide a smoother handing over process together with implementing better building performance. This body of work is what makes up BSRIA’s Soft Landings.

The government has developed its own version, which will be mandatory on all contracts from 2016 – but more of that later. A number of non-government and publicly funded projects are already trialling this methodology.

What is Soft Landings?

Soft Landings is a process for a graduated handover of a new or refurbished building, where a period of professional aftercare by the project team is a client requirement, planned for and carried out from project inception onwards, and for up to three years post-completion”.

Soft Landings places the focus of building performance at the heart of the design, construction and operational stages of the project. Born as an idea on how a more defined structure can help to obtain the best performance from a building through an integrated design/construct/operate approach, the development of the scheme is intended to be an open-sourced framework for all parties of a project to sign up to.

For a “traditional” project, this clearly extends beyond the normal scope of consultants and constructors. First, with the early engagement between design and construction team, to allow the buildability advice and improvements in procurement; and second, in the extension of the project beyond Practical Completion and Defects Liability periods, with Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) and Building Performance assessment.

The challenge in today’s market is not only to deliver more affordable buildings in an economic sense, but in a social and environmental sense. We have to deliver against an increasingly tough “triple bottom line”. Failure to deliver will at best mean those unable to perform being removed from the market, while those who can succeed will prosper and flourish.  At worst the industry will fail to meet the challenges faced by rising populations, climate change, peak oil and resource depletion and fail to create an affordable building stock for future generations.

Newly completed Campsmount Academy in Doncaster is one of a number of new schools trialling Soft Landings.

This message, together with the need for change, has been reiterated in a number of forms, including the Low Carbon Construction Innovation & Growth Team’s “Final Report”, and the government’s response to the report. This, in turn, has led the government into adopting a number of progressive processes on future projects.

The result is the adoption of a Government Soft Landings (GSL) scheme being mandatory by 2016 in line with BIM and coinciding with progression in energy targets towards zero carbon construction on all government-funded projects, both new build and refurbishment.

While the current skills and processes and those offered in 2016 will undoubtedly not be hugely dissimilar (as it is only realistically one or two project lifecycles away), the essence is a greater accountability for building performance both in terms of environmental performance (energy, water and waste) and the performance relating to functionality and people.

By tying in the BIM agenda and clearly setting out predictions of possible outcomes within BIM data drops, a far greater accountability and therefore transparency on what has been included within the design will need to be offered.

The added value perceived by the government is clearly set out in its hypothesis for the adoption of Government Soft Landings, namely: “Government as a client can derive significant improvement in cost, value and carbon performance through the use of Government Soft Landings.”

Building performance refers to the aspects that cover many professions and aspects, from energy, water and waste, to productive and stress-free environments. The emphasis of building performance is left for the project to determine, not measure against some arbitrary scale.

Over the past 15 years there has been a growing trend in technology being seen as the solution to the issues mentioned above. Plus, with the growing pressures on onsite renewable energy through planning and energy targets, a whole mix of technology has been applied in often innovative and creative ways – the downside to this is that sometimes these great ideas don’t work as well as they should do on paper, but you only know that by going back some time after and having a look.

For this reason a great deal of the Soft Landings emphasis has been focused on the energy performance, the engineering systems and the little box of BEMS that some feel is clouded in a black art. But Soft Landings is not just about BEMS and building services, if anything it is the interfaces with everything else that create the issues, (for instance take a naturally ventilated classroom — if it doesn’t work, in many people’s minds it’s an engineering issue, but there’s no engineer specifying the blinds, window openers, actuators, locks, doors, louvres, etc. Similarly the M&E trade contractor doesn’t procure or install any of these systems. But when the commissioning fails, it’s the building services that get held responsible).

The issues Soft Landings is seeking to avoid could just as easily be focused on a fire strategy, catering strategies or the security strategy. In each case the building services definitely plays a role, but is not exclusively responsible. It is this split in responsibilities that Soft Landings tries to join up.

Soft Landings needs to be implemented from the start at the highest levels of the project by all parties. The more this is watered down, the less impact the process will have on the outcome.

The sooner it’s instilled into the project culture the greater the buy-in to the process the project will experience.

Soft Landings does have to be enshrined in a contract. BSRIA is about to release the Soft Landings Procurement Guide to help clients, consultants and contractors understand how to specify Soft Landings and how to ensure it is integrated into the various responsibilities.

Working with Soft Landings in practice

So what, in practice, gets done differently on a project with Soft Landings? Well, for many people there isn’t one “eureka” statement in Soft Landings that people cling on to and say “if only I’d thought of that”. It’s a good practice process that allows an accountable series of steps to help deliver a better product.

The Soft Landings Framework has been drawn together through BSRIA and uses its links to the many aspects of the construction industry including consultants, contractors, clients, FM and commissioning specialists, and organisations such as the Usable Building Trust, experts in Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE). So the framework is grounded in industry good practice, not some well-intentioned third party.

The BSRIA led Soft Landings User Group has worked hard to develop something meaningful and inline with what the industry needs, right now.

The Quarantine building at Kew Gardens in west London is trialling Soft Landings

To help instill a consistency in the objective of adopting a Soft Landings Framework, a set of 12 core principles
has been developed, which can be summarised as follows:

1 Adopt the entire process

2 Provide leadership

3 Set roles and responsibilities

4 Ensure continuity

5 Commit to aftercare

6 Share risk and responsibility

7 Use feedback to inform design

8 Focus on operational outcomes

9 Involve the building managers

10 Involve the end users

11 Set performance objectives

12 Communicate and inform

For more detail on these core principles, how to interpret them and guidance on how to apply them on projects, refer to BSRIA’s website www.bsria.co.uk/download/soft-landings-core-principles.pdf.

By signing up to the Soft Landings Framework, a project is effectively signing up to these core principles, wishing to proactively implement them throughout the life of the project, from initial design brief through to demolition and recycling. A company or team that says they follow Soft Landing principles are essentially saying they will apply these principles to the aspects of their work. However, there is much more to the framework than simply signing up to 12 principles.

The application of these principles needs to be appropriately applied with the right level of buy-in from all those involved. From the early embracing of the principles, drawing through a “Golden Thread”, which is from the outset right through to completion, is key to the framework’s success.

To help understand the timing, the development project lifecycle has been broken down into five key stages:

Stage 1: Inception and Briefing. To understand the lessons learnt from other schemes, relay the key aspects that building performance can be measured by and to communicate what will be deemed a success for the project when in operation.

Stage 2: Design Development & Construction. To support the design as it develops, provide a basis for reality checking and assist in the construction stages in communicating key values.

Stage 3: Pre-handover. Prepare for building readiness.

Stage 4: Initial aftercare. Offer support and aftercare in the initial settling in period for building users.

Stage 5: Years 1-3 extended aftercare and POE. Provide monitoring, review of performance and feedback.

By James Warne, founding partner of Boom Collective, which specialises in sustainable environmental engineering design and management. james.warne@boomcollective.eu


The key points of Government Soft Landings

The real difference between GSL and BSRIA Soft Landings is that GSL has focused on the integration of BSRIA SL principles into a BIM work stream, as it becomes adopted as a mandatory process in 2016.

The main points are:

• GSL will be used to reduce cost and improve performance of asset delivery and operation.

• All departments will appoint a GSL Champion to manage the GSL “Golden Thread” on all projects.

• All departments will actively manage aftercare during early operations, supported by the design and construction team.

• Post Operational Evaluation will be used as a collaborative tool to measure and optimise asset performance and embed lessons learnt.

• BIM will be progressively used as a data management tool to assist the briefing process.

The route to delivering higher performance in buildings, thereby getting better value on investment within the construction industry, starts with government projects stating their vision and engagement with their FM and operational teams. The returns will be in closing the performance gap that has led to dissatisfaction from all parties, from design, construction, FM and operation. Consequently, the large hidden costs involved in rectification and chasing for “customer satisfaction” can be avoided.

So the Soft Landings scheme is being wielded as a value-for-money offer, it does make promises for reduced cost, but at the same time is putting pressure on design and construction teams to change the “traditional” approach to one with progressive interdisciplinary thinking, more integration between design/construction/operation and greater accountability of design predictions on performance. How can this all be balanced as economically sustainably? How can more be done for even less?

Like many other industries facing the same conundrum, the answer may lie in looking at the question differently. It is not just what is the cost of Soft Landings and where does it reduce cost within any given cost plan? The question should also be about prevention rather than cure and how Soft Landings is going to eliminate the risk of unforeseen cost, much angst and possible litigation.

The GSL programme has been driven through the BIM work stream, so its looking to BIM as part of the data gathering tool kit.

Soft Landings has within its core a “golden thread” of data that travels from the inception into operation of a building. At each stage this Golden Thread picks up more and more information to hopefully be useful to the end user. Incorrectly managed and this data could be totally over whelming, but by working through the Soft Landings process and engaging with the building operators or experienced FM teams, that information could be streamlined and tailored to suit the project from the start.

It is this aspect that the GSL is emphasising.

The BSRIA Soft Landings Framework looks into many other aspects of “how” to obtain better performance of buildings, it doesn’t dictate that the BIM realm is the only conduit for the Golden Thread and it doesn’t try to propose working methodology for BIM, because of its open source of information, it has been adapted by GSL to fit in better with the BIM work streams government projects are committed to.

Click here to be taken to the online CPD test paper for the April 2013 issue



Some in the industry may recall working in this Soft Landings (SL) way when we set up 'Strategic Partnering' Latham and Egan etc, and successful Constructing Excellence Demonstration Projects (1999). Client Design Guides and Briefs that set out such requirement alongside contracts were extremely helpful and some organisations endeavoured to inject this level of accountability into our work, encouraged by the likes of Alan Crane (current President of the CIOB).
SL is about greater accountability for buildings' performance both environmentally and functionally for people. SL aligns well with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) which is about greater accountability for corporate performance including projects, across the same issues, but GRI has an added interest in maximising the financial well being of an organisation. GRI has detailed methodologies which are simple when you know how but that is for another day….
Corporate Sustainability Reporting using the GRI which is a recommended methodology for the new GHG Emissions (Directors Report) Regulations 2013) Standard generates similar outcomes. There is a version of the standard especially for construction and property. As a standard GRI is used by large and small organisations all over the world, it is used by many of the UK peer leaders from Berkeley Group to British Land, AMEC to LOCOG Olympic Games 2012 etc, these companies benefit enormously from using it. Systematic approaches that drive up standards are essential; they work well as forward looking corporate commitments.
There is no doubt there are issues across our work in the built environment and simple solutions that can be embedded in corporate culture can help.
Soft Landings, Partnering and GRI have the culture of the organisation at their heart because it is integrating the people that makes the real difference to change, and transformation.
The mainstreaming of corporate sustainability reporting, which includes, SME's, clients, designers, governments, building owners etc means the writing is on the wall for better engagement of all the stakeholders involved cradle to cradle . This is good for profit, people, and planet, the outcome we all need for a long term resilient industry that serves itself and society better.


Kye Gbangbola, 10 April 2013

Very informative

john jenkins, 12 April 2013

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