In today’s covid-climate, those in the architecture and design industry need to bring their A-Game when it comes to design thinking and supply management. Chow:Hill director, Brian Squair, recently discussed some of the strategies being adopted in response to construction supply constraints.
Attention-to-detail has long been a hallmark of Chow:Hill’s practice – which is just as well because, such an approach is now crucial to addressing and overcoming covid-related supply issues.
Chow:Hill Director Brian Squair acknowledges that supply of materials could generally be taken for granted, which meant a greater diversity of materials could be used. “Whatever material we, or a client, wanted, we could generally get. That also meant our team had greater scope in the variety of materials we designed with. Our projects have seen materials sourced from Italy, Brazil, China, Germany – availability was never an issue. Now we can't assume that, and we have to be very agile in terms of product selection.”
Squair says more time is now needed to research material availability, its source, the supply chain, and the routes to get it to New Zealand shores. “Yes it’s time consuming, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Rather, it’s challenging our approach to design, encouraging us to become even more creative and innovative with our design. If a material we have always utilised is no longer available, or is too costly, or lead time is too great, we need to look at alternatives. That’s exciting. It challenges our thinking, it leads us to discover new possibilities and it extends the repertoire of materials we are able to design with.”
Design thinking and management
While this product availability situation may be testing the mettle of designers and procurement staff alike, there are also significant financial implications for clients. Squair cautions that there now needs to be constant monitoring of all required products throughout the design phase, with clients proactively encouraged to procure product early, despite the associated costs of storage and insurance.
“We are advising clients to have a larger contingency sum, mainly because there's a higher risk of prolongation, which therefore increases costs,” he says. “That has been an unfortunate side-effect of today’s environment, but clear and concise communication with clients, and a really collaborative approach to projects ensures there’s little, or no, surprises. Everyone’s in the same situation. Is it the new norm? We hope not, but equally if there’s one thing covid has taught us, it’s certainly the need to design and manage projects with an incredible degree of agility.”
Even when ‘Plan B’ options are implemented successfully and the construction schedule is maintained, there can still be economic consequences. Brian cites the case of a large early education project for which an aluminium composite material panel had been specified.
“The reason we specified it was because the building's quite tall and it would mean there would be no need to erect scaffolding and paint it every seven years. We discovered the material was going take between 20 and 30 weeks. That's too far out. So, we've had to resort to a compressed sheet, and painting it, because that's what we need for the programme.
“At the end of the day, it does appear visually similar. The issue is now there's more maintenance involved for that particular building owner, and that's a price someone has to pay.”
Opportunity for sustainable design principles
Despite the current constraints, Squair is optimistic that the pandemic-led shortages and difficulties will not result in an austere design ethic. Contemporary trends towards more sustainable and environmentally sensitive construction and design will still be to the fore.
“Most of our projects take anywhere from three to eight years. On a site, the construction phase may take from one year to five years. I suspect that for our industry this is more of a blip than a wholesale reformation.”
Squair also believes it opens the doors to a shift in design thinking. “There are periods throughout history where significant global ‘events’ have had a real influence on design architecture,” he says. “It will be interesting to lookback in decades to come to see the design aesthetic of our current covid-world. If we can embrace the changes that have presented themselves and adapt quickly, we have a real opportunity to undertake some exciting design projects.”
Brian Squair was one of three industry leaders interviewed by Product Spec.
You can read the full article at https://productspec.co.nz/en/articles/shortages-drive-innovation-in-covid-era-construction/
November 28, 2021