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Design, build and maintain

MEP panel at CW conference, Abu Dhabi


The MEP panel at the Construction Week Conference in Abu Dhabi debated the need for closer co-operation between engineers and designers as a key strategy to maximise opportunities in today’s constrained business environment in the construction industry.

Hyder Consulting Middle East regional director: value management and sustainability Stephen Oehme, who moderated the panel discussion, said the challenges facing engineering delivery, particularly MEP, in 2011 and 2012 will be “markedly different” from the challenges of 2008 to 2009. “We are going to see a considerable dialogue with respect to building codes, not only in relation to rules and regulations, but also in relation to enforcement of these,” which Oehme said was a problem endemic to the Middle East.

Buro Happold director Kevin Mitchell said a major challenge at the moment was the ‘perfect storm’ created by the conflation of the sharp market downturn combined with additional regulatory requirements. “That is placing a huge amount of pressure on the market as a whole, all the way from design to delivery, and including FM as well. We are all looking to find the sector of the market we are ideally suited to in terms of service delivery, and this differs from company to company.”

Atkins MEP head of department David Crowder pointed out that “one of the things about construction is that it is really a team activity, involving thousands of people on infrastructure projects, for example. A major change that has come about is the need for all professionals to work much closer together. I think BIM is certainly one of the ways that this can happen. We embraced BIM several years ago, in fact, on the Dubai Metro project, and we carried that forward on our metro work in Makkah and Calcutta, using the same methodology.

“I think not only will that bring design professionals closer together, it allows clients to see what is happening, and it also allows contractors to do a much more efficient job.” Fast-track and highly complex infrastructure projects like metros require a much higher level of co-ordination and co-operation. “We have seen that philosophy proved on the Makkah project, which was two years from design to operating one-third of capacity by November 2010. From the perspective of starting at ground zero, this was a pretty impressive achievement, with very few RFIs.”

Building services
Crowder said this was because Atkins, in working for the main contractor, provided a BIM design for construction and installation. “In fact, all the construction work started before the MEP contractor was even onboard, so all the building services provisions were undertaken from our design. It all worked out pretty well in the end, with the services having all gone where they should have done, with very few problems on-site.

“I think that is one of the things that should happen much more in future, and really trickle down to some of the other jobs rather than just the big infrastructure ones, so as to boost efficiencies in the overall construction industry. I think that is one of the ways to really get through the recession and carry on forward,” said Crowder.

Al-Futtaim Engineering GM: MEP division S.S. Murali was the contractor who executed Atkins’ design for the Dubai Metro. “The construction industry is inherently inefficient. We cannot ignore that. There are serious problems, especially in terms of whether the contractor delivers the quality that is required. I think the downturn has, in many ways, forced us to look at the way we operate, and look at our cost base and bring efficiency into the way we work.

“I think it is time for most of us contractors, particularly in MEP, to look at the way we work, and particularly material and time costs. It is a great opportunity now to drive those costs down. In terms of the new building codes and regulations, there has been a problem with the way in which the standards are interpreted and executed, with consultants and contractors interpreting them differently, for example.” Murali called for the regulatory process to be better managed and monitored, so that the inherent cost and efficiency benefits can be exponentially greater.

International codes

Imad Eldurubi, building code consultant at the Abu Dhabi Department of Municipal Affairs, explained in an earlier presentation how Abu Dhabi was adopting various codes from the International Code Council. He elaborated further on the MEP panel: “As we move forward with the actual adoption and implementation of these codes, we are going to see some good changes. As you are designing, you are actually going to be required to submit plumbing drawings, as well as mechanical and electrical drawings. The client will be responsible not only for checking the structural aspects, but also MEP and even energy use. A single point of contact will be created. The existing situation of differing interpretations due to the adoption of different standards and codes will disappear.

“We are going to use one document – which is what the designer will use to design his building, as well as the building, planning or code official in reviewing the plan and ensuring it meets the requirements of these codes. In the field, these buildings will be inspected based on these outputs. I think we are embarking on an adventure in terms of regulatory extension, and it will be good for the entire industry,” said Eldurubi.

Oehme pointed to the problem of increased regulation being perceived as an industry constraint. “The Middle East has a constrained ability to adopt progressive measures or alternative ideas. There is very much a desire to keep things as they were and have been done, in tried-and-tested fashion, in the past. From a business strategy viewpoint, could the new codes be interpreted as being too much too quickly?” Eldurubi countered this: “We emphasise that we are using an internationally-recognised, globally-applied family of codes. I am confident that using a standard like this will actually bring in more business; it will mean using a document that is used throughout the US and many parts of the world. That will encourage even more developers to design and build projects here. I think this is a positive move that will instill the right culture in the industry.”


Mitchell concurred that design-and-build is likely to become more prevalent as a result of the widespread adoption of these international codes. “What we are seeing a lot more in the marketplace is design-and-build. This was really a sector that, up to about 12 months ago, was not used much as a delivery model; now we are seeing relationships starting to pick up between designers and contractors as well. This is a delivery model that has been used extensively in Europe and North America, but is only beginning to make inroads in the region in countries like Kuwait. This will improve efficiencies, make for better built assets, and boost the industry as a whole.”

Murali said “there was a point five years ago where the market was just about build, build, build. Now that things have slowed down, building efficiently and building well are key criteria, to which everybody now contributes, from the consultant to the contractor. We have seen that change, and I think it augurs well for the industry.”

Crowder agreed that design-and-build is “an interesting way for people to work together,” as it is similar to ‘partnering contracts’ employed in such highly developed markets like Hong Kong.

I think one of the advantages, particularly for the client, is that they still have a say in major decision-making and how things are done, and they really get a choice through various stages of the project.

“A criticism of contractors in general is they are there to make money. Once you have handed everything over to the contractors, your choices are limited. So I would very much like to see more partnering-type contracts, where the contractor and consultant work hand in hand to cut costs and achieve maximum efficiencies, all to the ultimate benefit of the overall project.”

Oehme said that the over-supply of commercial office space, for example, necessitated closer working relationships within the construction industry not only to improve engineering, but delivery as well.

“It is absolutely essential for there to be partnerships to achieve these economies, to get projects moving, to finish projects on hold, and to change those buildings with performance and energy levels that are not acceptable. This is a good business model that will, in all probability, be assimilated very quickly.”

Positive response

Mitchell said that those “companies who are able to respond positively to these changes are the ones who are going to survive through these difficult times, as opposed to the dinosaurs, those companies which can only operate in a traditional business model. This will lead to a healthier marketplace and an industry as a whole.

“I am embarrassed to see the long list of failures and problems attributed to the construction industry. We have a terrible reputation as an industry, and we need to bring engineers and contractors together so we can effect the necessary changes.”

Crowder said that, “as designers, we put a lot of clever thinking into designing these facilities, whereafter there is a massive gap between what the designer’s initial ideas and concepts are and how that actually gets put into practice. We do our design work and then sort of disappear from the picture. Somebody else comes in and operates it, and all that original thinking does not get carried on by the people who operate it. They do not really understand the facilities that are there in many cases, and cannot take advantage of what has been designed into the building.

“As designers we walk away from a job when we have done our little bit, but we do not really know what happens with a building after it is occupied, whether or not the occupants are happy with it, if they are comfortable or uncomfortable, if it is meeting energy targets.” Murali concurred that more contractors were taking cognizance of post-occupancy issues, particularly in terms of issues such as energy efficiency.

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