Building a Transition

  • Building Design Expert
  • 3 years ago

“How on earth did they do that?” – “Brute force and ignorance!!” was a favourite response of my father. Less PC perhaps today than was in his, but, if you want to take a really close look, it doesn’t amount to much more. After all, whether we want to install a 50 tonne monolith at Stonehenge, or there is a crazily tight opening in which to install a piece of equipment; the design and engineering are generally of no concern or interest to the ‘muscle bots’ charged with completing the task.

As it stands, there is no doubt that we will always need a large helping of Braun, post brain, as part of the building construction process, simply to get the job done. The volume house builders seem, as ever, oh so slow to catch on, but the industry, and industry efficiencies are undergoing a radicalisation, a sea change some might say. Off-Site construction, largely the factory panelisation of buildings into on-site assembly kits carries the promise of greater construction accuracy, a higher quality product, and much faster on site construction programmes. It’s also “old news”, but then again not to those that can influence it the most!! Our love affair with building blocks therefore continues.

But off-site panelisation carries no guarantees as a process on its own. There remains a huge requirement for quality control, in order to control the production and its installation. At the time of writing I am aware of a project on site utilising a Structural Insulated Panel System (SIPS), the manufacture of which has not been managed particularly well, and has been compounded by noticeably poor workmanship on site.

The lesson learned is that off-site construction doesn’t automatically provide greater construction quality, it simply has the ability to. It still requires the implicit skills of a qualified and experienced tradesman, but perhaps a different tradesman (one who understands the implicit requirements), one who understands the greater associated engineering sub-text, in order to achieve the desired outcome, which needs to be very clear. In other words, through project experience, it has become quite clear that a ‘horse for courses’ approach remains essential, and that not just any joiner will do – no matter how many decades they have served in the industry.

Recent experience provided an installation by fitters that would use a blunt axe where you might ordinarily expect a sharp chisel. The consequences are an adequately performing job with a finish not ‘to die for’, but one that looks like somebody died doing; metaphorically speaking of course!!!

So there are those, still, that do; and those that don’t. Off-site construction has not changed that. It also cannot change a flawed manufacturing system that produces modular components that arrive on site and do not fit together. The process of butchering a SIP, or set of SIPs that do not fit the job, post delivery to site, negates the ‘Off-site’ ethos in the extreme.

Even for the most qualified, the most experienced and the most skilled of tradesmen, there is a transition that must be built. A transition that spans between the traditional teaching, and the tradesman’s class of the ‘twenty tens’ will have a building process all it’s own.