Shortly after establishing its office in the UK’s capital, BSBG London was engaged as the lead consultant on a large scale hotel renovation project in W1. The group’s high-end studios have gained an international reputation as a provider of comprehensive lead consultancy solutions. These solutions incorporate executive architecture and structural engineering, and are founded on the successful delivery of some of the most prestigious and complex projects across the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
To learn more about BSBG’s unique approach to the lead consultant role in London, the BSBG Blog Team sat down with group Partners Kevin Harper and Andrew Bereza to learn more about how this multi-disciplinary solution has been refined, and the impact it can have on the London market. “Great lead consultancy is about achieving the design brief, improving efficiency both through the design and construction phases, and co-ordinating the disciplines properly,” Andrew says as we sit down, and so this is where we begin…
BSBG Blog: How is BSBG equipped to take on the large-scale projects we see in the group portfolio, and deliver on them?
Kevin: “It’s all about taking the lead, setting the example, working to implement and outline the standards you expect from all those working on the project. From the design architects (whether external or internal) to the sub-consultants, it’s our job to make sure they’re meeting the requirements of the project. We’re effectively the project custodian. It starts with design, as we go through the concept to ascertain whether it meets the brief from a co-ordination perspective. We are responsible for making sure they’re meeting the deadlines as agreed.”
Andrew: “It’s also about attitude, taking ownership, and driving the project forward. We’ve witnessed lead consultants being engaged with an understanding that their role is just to produce architectural drawings. That’s not only what a lead consultant does. Yes, a lead consultant will most likely be an architect, but architecture is just one component of the co-ordinated information. The lead consultant ensures that the architecture, the structure and the MEP is co-ordinated, and that the design produces the best result for the client.”
BSBG Blog: Can you give us an example of a scenario you might face as a lead consultant in terms of providing a specific result for the client that moves beyond just delivering the concept drawings?
Andrew: “The client might say: ‘We want a residential building that achieves an efficiency of 85% so we can get maximum value from the project, and we need you to do the most cost-effective, co-ordinated engineering design on the façade, structure and MEP that reduces the overall build cost.’ The lead consultant has quite a challenging set of parameters there, and sometimes there may be a misalignment between the design aspirations and the budget. It’s about managing and maximising the available budget so the client can see they are getting value; the structure is efficient, the MEP is efficient, but as well as that, the building has a great aesthetic and optimal use of space.”
BSBG Blog: The role is obviously all encompassing, can you break it down for us to explain the intricacies that come under the lead consultant umbrella?
Kevin: “We can break down the lead consultant role into design and construction supervision. There are two roles the lead consultant can play; one is the technical overseeing role, which takes the same concept through to post-contract where we have the responsibility of managing the consultants and ensuring they are meeting the requirements of the design. The other is on the contract administration and supervision once the project has moved to the construction stage, and this is something we do on the majority of the projects we’re involved in.”
Andrew: “The lead consultant in both these phases is best thought of as a facilitator. In the design stage we will be working on behalf of the concept teams, whether that’s from within our own design studio or an external design house, to marry their work with the client’s brief and deliver a co-ordinated construction documentation package. On the supervision side when it moves to post-contract, we’re almost working for the contractor to facilitate the build, but also making sure it’s in line with what the client has paid for, what’s in that contract, and what the contractor is duly obligated to produce.”
BSBG Blog: What elements of design work are involved in the lead consultancy role?
Kevin: “From a design perspective, it’s more about co-ordination; one point of contact that all parties can filter their information through, who understands the input that comes in, and can provide clear guidance and identify the areas of the design where more attention to detail and time is required. As a lead consultant, we need to understand across the board what each contributor is doing, and how we can make sure they are able to produce work in a cohesive and productive manner.”
Andrew: “It helps to be naturally inquisitive about all aspects of the project. Where some lead consultants can fall short is that there’s a tendency to take a slightly blinkered view of a project. For example, they may only have a focus on the aesthetics, the façade, the look and feel. They don’t want to hear about the structure, MEP or fire and life safety, particularly if they are design architects. Very shortly after the vision for the pre-concept is established, it needs to get real, and unless you take ownership over the functional inputs, invariably you’re not going to produce the best design for the client. A beautiful aesthetic quality may have been produced, but without co-ordination this will be eaten away at, and compromised when it comes to establishing the structure or MEP. That’s going to be to the detriment of the programme and also to the aesthetic. A good lead consultant will very quickly bring those elements into the concept design to make it a workable concept that also delivers on the design intent and aspirations.”
BSBG Blog: So it helps to be well-versed not only in architectural design, but in structures and MEP as a lead consultant?
Andrew: “Yes, and this is what we’ve brought to the lead consultant role in our first project in London. There was a separate architectural package, a structural package and an MEP package, and the first thing we did was to fully co-ordinate the three packages to ascertain at an early stage whether the client objectives could be achieved. Looking at getting the spaces and the engineering to a high level of efficiency was the first objective we had.”
Kevin: “Generally speaking, the architect will take on the lead role, because it is the architecture which informs the rest of the project. There is input on the project from all consultants but the architecture is the determining focal point; the eminent concern. But because of this, often you’ll see a lead consultant drawing plans for a basement or an area of the development without having incorporated an important component; such as fire safety, for example. They draw the plan, finish it, then they’ll bring in a fire safety consultant, and will have to completely change the plan and draw it again. This awareness comes only with experience, because there’s a lot of different information to get to grips with.”
BSBG Blog: What are the main challenges of managing large teams of consultants from different companies with different standards?
Andrew: “There’s a huge emphasis on respect, attitude, drive and personality. Because if you’re the captain of the ship and nobody wants to work with you, how are you going to drive the ship forward? You can stand on the bridge and shout and bang the drum as loud as you wish, but if you’re not approachable, or you don’t understand the value everyone brings to the table, you’re likely to find that the deliverables won’t be presented to you on time. It’s as much about developing a solid working relationship with all the contributing parties as it is about co-ordinating drawings and plans.”
Kevin: “There are examples of this role being attempted to varying levels of success. I think this is what has differentiated us over the years, we really strive to embody everything a lead consultant should be. It’s co-ordinating the stages properly, understanding the client’s key requirements and fulfilling those, and driving the team forward in a positive, energetic fashion. It’s not an easy job (to be a lead consultant), pulling together all the different pieces of the puzzle and presenting the complete jigsaw to the client…”
Andrew: “It’s what we’ve done on countless fast track projects internationally, and it’s what we target the implementation of in London. We’re able to pool all our resources, all our experience to deliver co-ordinated packages of information that the client knows will get the end result they want. Our aim for BSBG in London is to achieve what we have as a lead consultant in the Middle East; we want to continue to add value to projects, and with our expertise in BIM, our high-end design and construction documentation capabilities, and our experience in co-ordinating some of the most complex projects you’re likely to see, I think we have an important contribution to make in London that will advance the process of design and construction across numerous sectors…”