Ken Sheppard

Architect, Herzog & de Meuron

Infrastructure | Assessing Risks & Trade-offs  |  Information Framing & Manipulation

Europe | UNITED KINGDOM

The design and construction administration of buildings inherently comes with a variety of risks that affect people throughout the lifecycle of the building. Consideration towards the constructability of a structure is essential to make sure the workers on the building site can perform their duty safely, without having to take any potentially hazardous risks. The choice of materials used throughout the building carries risks of a broad range, from structural integrity and fire resistance to the toxicity or health impacts certain materials may have on those who occupy it. Deconstructability is a growing topic in the industry, when one considers the urgent need for a shift towards a circular economy. Here the risk not only lies with the safety of the workers deconstructing the building, but also how certain materials would eventually be reused/recycled/disposed of. Attention must be paid to any harmful side effects these processes may have to their immediate or wider environment and communities. It could be said that the general public are not aware of the myriad of decisions one must make, before specifying a material to be used in an architectural project. This can sometimes be problematic when clients show preference for a certain approach during the design process. It is a common misconception that architects design and specify structural systems purely from an aesthetic point of view, when in fact there is a lot more at play. This confusion may initially lie with the stereotypical image of what an architect's job entails, but it is further exacerbated by the general public's lack of knowledge on materials that are and can be used in the construction industry - structural properties, fire resistance, carbon footprint etc. Plenty of information has been published on materials that are used in the construction industry. The problem lies with the myriad of sources this information comes from. The sources of information could be a random mix of academic papers, manufacturer's fact sheets, or governmental guidelines, to list a few. There is no central source of information to which one can refer to, in order to understand the risks and benefits of certain materials/ construction techniques. The responsibility to advise a client on this information lies with the architect, when undertaking a project. Nevertheless, it is unrealistic to expect the architect (or wider design team) to inform all known and unknown potential future stakeholders of a project about the implications of certain materials/techniques used for the construction of the building. One possible remedy for this inevitable lack of transparency would be an easily accessible central database for this type of information. However, it should be noted that in order to be successful, such a provision of information would have to be paired with an incentivised shift in the culture of the general public, towards the normalisation of taking a more active role and a greater interest in the built environment that goes beyond common nimbyism.

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