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Painting over the cracks

Do designers consider facility manager needs when creating interiors?

COMMENT, Facilities Management

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Bringing together two industry experts on opposite sides of the field is no easy task. Each has their own specifications and there are always mixed feelings about who should have the greater authority.

Victor Low-Foon, design manager at Highgate Interior Design, believes interior designers and facility managers do work together because facility managers invariably have to approve the designer’s specifications and generally get the final say.

Highgate has experience in commercial, retail and hospitality projects and provides refurbishment solutions to clients who need to upgrade their premises and compete with new buildings. According to Low-Foon, it is a practical requirement to liaise with the facilities manager, and common sense normally prevails.

But James Day, general manager of Smashing Cleaning Services, disagreed. Day would like to see improved relations between interior designers and facilities managers, claiming not enough feedback is given.

“Given the right size, a shoemaker will try on a pair of shoes he has made, in the same way a chef will taste the food he has prepared. A car designer most definitely gets to drive the car he has manufactured, and go and ask the engineers who helped design the Jabulani ball, the ball used for the last World Cup, whether they actually kicked it. Of course they did. As we all should,” said Day.

“Our own business requires customer feedback on every job done. So why is it that architects and designers never seem to ‘test-drive’ their own buildings, obtain valuable feedback, and improve their product?” he asked.

Low-Foon admitted when he chooses materials for a project, facility managers are not his main priority – although he does think about their concerns. “As a professional interior design practice, we provide our clients with practical and aesthetically-pleasing solutions with consideration for the existing fabric of the building.

“Not only do we consider the importance of fulfilling our clients’ wishes, we also have a duty to care for the environment. We, as a practice, concentrate mainly on the interiors, but we do need to consider the practicality and maintenance issues for the facilities manager.”

Ben Corrigan, partner at the Dubai-based design firm, Bluehaus Group (opposite), agreed.

He said in recent years, facilities managers have become more involved in the initial design process, which is a welcome development and an indicator that the local market is maturing, he suggested.

“We understand these are the people who are left holding the baby, so to speak, and endeavour to ensure that facilities maintenance requirements are understood and designed in at the early stages of a project,” he explained.

According to Day (below), his team spends 20% of its week developing and offering bespoke cleaning solutions to a wide range of customers, from cleaning chandeliers at the grandest hotels to the external cleaning of iconic structures.

Solutions take into account not only the structure or item that needs cleaning, but access to the property, provision of pressurised water, drainage and power supply at the correct locations, surface run-off, waste disposal, the variety of substrates, safe working conditions, provision of night lighting and change of air in confined spaces, along with many other factors that are way beyond the regular remit of the interior designer, but certainly affect service delivery.

“I am not suggesting we should limit the potential of interior and exterior designers to easy-to-clean designs, especially when so few cleaning companies possess the skills or passion to rise to the challenge and innovate in their own area of supposed expertise,” he said.

“New designs would never come into being, and new cleaning methods and processes would never develop.

“The challenge for the cleaning industry is to ensure a complete end-to-end solution that meets the customers’ cleanliness requirements, not to limit the designer. But, if we are engaged early on in the design process, such design concerns can be very easily addressed and mitigated, greatly reducing the costs of facility management in the property lifecycle.”

Sushil Kurian Pilo, senior vice-president for integrated community management at Dubai Pearl, a 1.85 million m² development in between Media City and Knowledge Village, agreed. Pilo would like to see designers bring in the right consultants who have experience in managing operations, as well as all critical services, and plan out the infrastructure required.

He believes there are several buildings built as residences which have been converted to commercial spaces and hotels and vice versa, all of which present nightmare scenarios for operations.

Despite the criticism, Corrigan maintained that designers do think about the materials they use with facilities management in mind – and more so today than ever before, as sustainability and value for money are key drivers of projects.

“We would undertake a series of workshops with the facilities manager to draw from their experience of managing interiors or buildings in the past, and look to implement those lessons into the design. We would also look to work with them to understand current and future trends in facilities management,” he said.

Interior designers are not entirely to blame, Pilo suggested. “The problem is not so much with the interior designers. Facility managers face more difficulties from the architects, engineers and other specialised consultants who all design a building without the operations in mind, thereby resulting in very poor manageability of the infrastructure,” he said.

“The only developers who get their requirements met by the consultants on a holistic basis are those who plan to
use the buildings for their own purposes, such as hotels or corporate buildings which are custom-built to their
specific requirements.”

Dubai Pearl has been one of the only projects of its scale and size that has addressed this problem at an early stage by setting up an exclusive division from inception, Pilo pointed out.

The division is responsible for integrated community management operations, which includes all facilities and lifestyle management services as well as the integrated and technology systems to support them.

“This will allow hotels, residences, commercial spaces, retail and entertainment components to have an efficient, optimised and transparent monitoring and management of all services right from its opening day, thereby ensuring quality of service and total lifecycle management of the infrastructure,” he explained.

“It is rare for designers to create a space that is easy to care for, unless requested by the client. When buildings are being designed, designers most often do not have facility managers in mind, except if the buildings are purpose built. In the future, I would like to see holistic operability and sustainability as a core focus, along with design and functionality.”

Day is no stranger to the discrepancies between interior design and facilities management. He has seen washrooms later re-assigned as a janitor’s closet, or bathrooms fitted without floor drains.

“A large portion of our business is water tank cleaning and disinfection. Designers appear to stuff water storage tanks into the most inaccessible areas, and access to those tanks for industrial cleaning is often restricted and difficult to reach,” he said.

“Both designers and facility service providers would greatly benefit from improved collaboration at the design stage. Designers need to think about that when they specify installations, taking up the cause of lower maintenance and easier-to-clean, environmentally-friendly solutions from the start,” he said.

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