Building Stronger Foundations

Submission cover sheet

  • Name of organisation or individual making this submission


  • Authorised delegate/contact person

    Weixu Ji

  • Position

  • Organisation

Questions on possible options

  1. What kind of plans should be signed off and declared by a statutory declaration?

    All plans and specifications that have an impact on code compliance should be signed off. These would commonly be general arrangement plans, various construction setout plans, details for fire safety, waterproofing etc. Non-BCA compliance related documentation such as joinery details, finishes setouts, paint colour set outs etc, basically anything inconsequential to compliance should not require declaration. However, what it means to declare compliance needs to be defined and kept to a consistent standard. At the moment, through the practice of D&C contracts, design compliance of building systems are often broken down to individual components and distributed amongst multiple trades at the discretion of the builder. --------- For example: It’s fairly well known to experienced practitioners that waterproofing of external balconies in apartments is best achieved with an adequate structural setdown at the threshold. But if a hob or bund must be used, the best practice is for the hob to be cast integrally with the slab so it is stronger and does not have any joints. The hob can be waterproofed over as additional safety if needed. However it is almost industry standard for hobs to be cast afterwards, which creates a cold joint between the hob and the slab which is not waterproof. The joint is then protected with a liquid membrane. This is much cheaper to build compared to the other methods but pretty much relies solely on the liquid membrane for waterproofing. Is it compliant? Yes? Maybe? I’m not even sure at this point but it’ll pass the flood test at that point in time. Is it going to last a reasonable lifespan of an apartment building? It’s hard to say, but liquid membranes generally don’t have warranties comparable to a reasonable lifespan of the building. If it does fail for whatever reason, it’s pretty much impossible or financially unfeasible to fix due to the complexity and cost. What is the reasonable service life of a building anyway? 30 years? 40 years? Keep in mind that the average mortgage is already 30 years -------- A different example: In a D&C contract, the builder often dictates the building systems they wish to work with. It is not unheard of for builders to nominate lightweight construction for fire stairs walls, essentially steel studs with two layers of fire rated plasterboard on each side. Is it compliant? Sure. Is it a good, responsible idea? Probably not, given the fire rating could be compromised the moment someone drills a hole in it unknowingly to hang up a sign, install a new handrail or accidentally knocks a hole in it with their bike etc etc. It doesn’t even matter if the architect agrees with the approach. They are contracted to the builder who essentially has the role of lead designer and client from the architect’s perspective. The design practitioners who don’t comply are often seen as the one at fault for holding up the progress and making things difficult. Yet when it comes time for invoicing, the architect or any other designer is required to attach a statutory declaration certifying their design, without which they do not get paid. But are they really declaring compliance of ‘their’ design? Or is it a declaration to indemnify the builder’s design? Architects fees are often very low compared to the degree of responsibility they’re required to undertake during construction. Fees in the range of 0.5-1.5% of construction cost is fairly standard. As such the commercial pressures can easily force them to agree to whatever path the builder decides just to maintain cash flow and stay in business. Until this is addressed and designers are protected from the commercial pressures, the actual weight of a statutory declaration for compliance is not going to be effective in the scheme of things and just creates shifts the responsibility to designers who may be qualified but often have no leverage in decision making.

  2. Should a statutory declaration accompany all variations to plans or only major variations?

    In theory, I think all variations that affect compliance with performance and approval should be declared. So anything that may cause deviations or alternative means to meet the requirements of fire safety, structure, sustainability, planning approvals etc should be declared. In practice, it is very hard to define what exactly is approved design and what constitutes a major variation. If designs are done properly and holistically without the mess of D&C and staged CCs where the basement may be constructed while the design of the upper floors are still being developed. Then it may be clearer as to what constitutes a major or minor variation. The common practice is now for CCs of large projects to be staged in the order of excavation, basement, above ground structure and finally fit out. This allows the design program to be staggered and interwoven into the construction program and drawings would be constantly revised to meet the ongoing changes or new decisions with regards to building materials, construction methods, engineering etc, while the builder makes design decisions the next CC stage. This practice would almost eliminate lead time for design development which is a considerable cost saving the builder and developer in procurement time and cost. However the design is essentially conducted on the fly on the assumption that all issues will be resolved down the line through whatever means necessary or possible. In other words, everyone on the job is just winging it and at the end of the job professions such as fire engineers, traffic engineers, BCA consultants, the Certifier are pressured to come together and find new performance solutions that may or may not be tested and verified so a compliance certificate can be signed off. The premise of staged consent opening up avenues of innovation is essentially focused around how to innovate solutions to solve problems caused by a lack of planning in the first place. But at the end of the day, developers and builders have reaped the rewards of a ‘innovative’ and ‘streamlined’ delivery process, everyone gives each other a pat on the back for a job well done while the underlying risks of what’s built has been passed on to the consumer. The new innovations are then implemented as a precedent on the next project and the cycle repeats. This practice also results in design documents frequently having 20-30 revisions. To declare each and every change in this environment will muddle the waters when audits do take place. Therefore I think the solution needs to start with some sort of systematic regulation of the delivery process for buildings to take out risky practices before going down the path of asking for more stat decs.

  3. How should plans be provided to, or accessed by, the Building Commissioner?

    Digitally through a centralised documentation management system. Or mandate the use of cloud based document control systems. Most complex projects would utilise systems such as Aconex to manage documentation and correspondence on projects and generate a central repository for all project related correspondence and documentation so that audits can be conducted, mostly for when things go wrong and someone needs to be held accountable for a back charge, but the same principles can be used by an auditing body. These systems however are wildly inconsistent in the way each one functions, so to maintain consistency, perhaps a centralised public sector operated system should be provided and all projects over a certain value are required to use it. This allows the commissioner to audit projects in real time at its own discretion. This also makes the construction delivery completely transparent to the commissioner and allow an avenue for all practitioners to put forward their professional opinions without the fear of being subject to commercial pressures. The use of a centralised platform that serves as a consistent and transparent mechanism for delivery in the hands of the building commissioner and thus the public would be a step towards resolving a lot of the poor decision making processes currently hidden from view. When all project related correspondence and documentation is visible to a regulating body would greatly reduce the temptation for any building practitioner to take shortcuts. It also forces the practitioner to give more thought to the way they perform their role and the kind of demands they place on other practitioners. Whether its a builder demanding designers to change their design or designers omitting key details forcing the builders to improvise, the correspondence would be on public record and thus enforceable in an audit.

  4. In what circumstances would it be difficult to document performance solutions and their compliance with the BCA?

    Well you can’t document performance solutions if you don’t know you need them upfront and you don’t know when you need them if you have to design on the fly. Other times you may be required to produce a performance solution, but it is very hard to provide sufficient scientific and methodical testing to back up the solution when there’s no motivation or incentive to procure them. Empirical tests or modelling are often very time consuming and expensive exercises. Other than fire engineering solutions, very few performance solutions even require empirical justification so people just write whatever they think would work without having to prove that it actually works as intended. Performance solutions are often used as a way to achieve compliance by writing a report to justify a non-compliance instead of actually constructing a compliant structure. Certain performance solutions have been so prevalent they are considered a ‘legitimate’ means to override DtS requirements but without the onus of proof outside of ‘professional opinion’ which is almost never peer reviewed. Unless empirical or otherwise sound performance justifications are required to accompany performance solutions and this is strictly enforced, no one will bother. -------- Common example: Height clearance above a disabled car space is 2500 minimum. For something like this, best practice would be to provide some additional height clearance to account for expected structural settlement, construction tolerances etc. But this seldom happens and basement heights are being constantly compressed to theoretical levels with zero tolerance to minimise excavation and structural costs or to ‘squeeze past’ planning control limits. Most basement car parks will end up with disabled spaces with less than 2500 clear height. Not by much, usually less than 50mm. This is typically written off by accessibility consultants as being okay performance wise for wheelchair hoists to still operate etc etc. But is it? where’s the study that shows 2450 is okay? and if it is, why does the Australian Standards still require 2500? Is the tolerance already built in? If so what is the critical point of failure? None of these questions are ever really asked. Expert opinion is just that, an expert who made an opinion. ---------- Another example: Distance of travel for fire egress. BCA DtS specifies 6m from apartment door to exit or point of choice between two exits etc. In recent times, designers have stopped trying to comply with DtS and instead assumes a performance solution will be prepared to extend that distance by how ever much necessary as it is far cheaper to obtain a performance solution than to fiddle around with DtS requirements in order to meet client expected yield. The solutions come in all shapes and forms but the two common methods are either ways to reduce occupant reaction times in an emergency through better alarms and warning systems. The other being added protection of egress paths via use of sprinklers. Given the cost differences, improved alarm systems are generally the preferred approach. However, I’ve encountered solutions where strobe lights and alarms with a noise level of 100dB has been specified at bed heads in order to promptly wake occupants even if they’re hard of hearing or visually impaired. Great solution to cover all bases. But 100dB alarms at a bed head is equivalent of a jack hammer going off next to your head while you sleep. Is it conforming to the performance requirements and wake you up in an emergency? Most probably Is it also going to give you a heart attack every time someone in the building burns their toast at night? Most probably Are there better ways to achieve the same outcome? Yes but it’s probably going to cost more. Although the recent change in BCA requirements for sprinklers in Class 2 and 3 building to 4 storey instead of 25m would have removed the need for a performance solution in many cases, given the sprinkler solution is now the default, it may just encourage further departure from the DtS and this type of scenario is still possible.

  5. What would the process for declaring that a building complies with its plans look like?

    I think clear staging of the design vs construction is essential and plans should not be certified until all relevant disciplines have made their input and the overall design co-ordinated in detail by the lead designer, whether it’s an architect, building designer or engineer. The plans should be certified / declared or ‘frozen’ set of documents generally free of errors and omissions and the build process should be a straight forward execution of the plans with little guess work remaining. There can be flexibility in certain areas where it can be anticipated that latent site conditions may be present, such as soil conditions, structural testing during adaptive reuse projects, particularly complex detailing or new technologies etc. A suitably experienced practitioner should be able to identify and anticipate these and declare them as points of risk/contention and appropriate time and resources allowed for in the construction program to let all parties have a chance to review and decide what course of action best meets requirements. Major adjustments that change the designed compliance strategy or require new performance solutions should be declared again. The design process in a D&C should be a collaborative exercise where the builder has input into how they want to build and their requirements form part of the brief for the designers to create a holistic solution for. Not the current situation of D&C builders dictating and overriding the expertise of designers. If any performance based solutions are required to achieve compliance, it should be verified by an independent peer review.

  6. What kind of role should builders play in declaring final building work?

    Builders need to declare that the final as built structure is consistent with the design documentation and the declaration must be verified by the designer or certifier on site and substantiated with documented evidence. It is meaningless for builders to simply declare that the building is built according to plans without some evidence backing up the claim. It’s not uncommon that walls are positioned incorrectly on site and instead of rectifying the error, it is brushed off as ‘within tolerance’ and there’s no clear definition of what degree of tolerance is acceptable. NSW Dept Fair Trading publish a guideline for the consumer on what is acceptable level of tolerance in construction work, however when the work is not commissioned by the end buyer, there’s no way for them to verify whether the design has been built correctly. Off the plan sales contracts may nominate along the lines of 5% difference in floor area as permissible tolerance. Individual contracts may vary. However 5% difference in property valued at $800,000 is $40,000 of value that could simply disappear into thin air. It is also not uncommon that building systems installed on site are done so incorrectly, whether it is lightweight framing or fire rating measures around openings, waterproofing membranes extents etc. While most specs would call for ‘install as per manufacturer specifications / instructions’, no manufacturers would ever be invited on site to certify an installation unless they themselves are the installers. In the end, everything is covered up behind plasterboard walls and no one would ever be able to determine whether the build quality is up to standard unless catastrophic failure occurs and the cover is removed. -------- Surveyors to verify as built structure and envelope. At the moment as-built drawings, when required, are often not accurate representations of the as built building on site but instead just the final revision of the design drawings at the end of the job. If designers were not specifically made aware of changes on site, there’s no real way for any designer to verify the works are completed as per design or if there were any changes to the prescribed dimensions. So it is entirely up to the builder to disclose what ends up on the as-built documentation and whether things are built correctly. This means there’s no real incentive for builders to declare or rectify errors and there’s no real process for anyone else to identify errors or update documentation to reflect the as-built conditions on site. While surveyors are typically hired to set out line markings for wall positions etc on larger buildings. It’s unclear whether a surveyor is used to verify the built wall positions. Good practice would be for an as built survey of walls be required so it can be checked against design plans prior to sheeting and finishing and any major deviations rectified. This would make the builder’s declarations of compliance with plans justified and meaningful. -------- Designer / Manufacturer / Certifier to verify details There are areas where survey information may not be sufficient to establish design compliance, (e.g. waterproofing, fire wall junctions etc.) and as such the responsible designer, product manufacturer and certifier should be presented with opportunities to verify that works are completed to detail or agree that any adjustments are acceptable on grounds of practicality or improvement. This can work with the idea of establishing project based inspection points proposed, especially on complex projects with highly bespoke detailing. While it is unrealistic to check every corner on a complex project, random spot checks of critical details and key junctions can be performed by the responsible designer to ensure compliance is met. The inspection should be documented and builder to declare that all other instances of the detail are constructed to the same standard. This will require a bit of planning to establish what needs to be inspected in addition to the standard point in time inspections and allowed for in the construction program. It is not uncommon for this type of inspection to be performed by fire engineers for performance solutions and structural engineers prior to concrete pours but the scope should really be expanded to cover all aspects of BCA compliance and particularly the amenity performance of the building fabric. I.e. weather proofing, thermal control, noise control, air tightness, passive heating/cooling systems etc etc

  7. Which builders involved in building work should be responsible for signing off on buildings?

    The head contractor should be responsible for facilitating and coordinating the necessary approvals on site, whether their own sign offs or those of their subcontractors. Ultimately they have site control and thus is in the best position to coordinate required approvals. Ultimately all builders should be responsible to sign off the final build and certify that it is built to the design specifications.

  8. Are existing licensing regimes appropriate to be accepted as registration for some builders and building designers, such as architects, for the new scheme?

    I can’t say for other disciplines, but I don’t believe the architectural registration schemes are addressing the real expectations of the market or the general public. Buildings are complex systems with lots of moving parts. Architects are traditionally known as the “jack of all trades” meaning they should understand the working principles of all building trades and how they interact in the context of buildings. They don’t need to be experts in all fields, that is not possible anyway, but they should know enough to understand what is required for a building to function and coordinate the expertise of various disciplines accordingly to deliver the right solution. There is currently a real issue of many architects being so detached from many technical aspects of building design that they no longer know what is necessary for a building to perform. The next generation of architects are especially impacted as many do not get the exposure they need to understand how various components of a building work and how to design them correctly to be functional. After all, in a D&C scenario, they often aren’t required to do so and it is left up to the builder to decide how to best build the design. In a way, many architects have given up their own authority by not acting in the authoritative role, Im not sure whether its due to a lack of scope to do so in D&C or perhaps as a means of reducing liability by distancing themselves from the complexity in construction. It is often considered that architects shouldnt need to tell builders how to build, which may be true to some extent with regards to literal nuts and bolts, but the line definitely shouldnt be drawn at 1:200 scale DA drawings. The registration exam of architects also do not require any significant demonstration of technical knowledge and experience but is rather focused on the understanding of a very specific set of ABIC building contracts sold by the AIA that no developer, builder or government body will use to procure commercial projects and no government body uses for public projects. Registered architects were assessed on their understanding of legal & ethical obligations centered around the consumer and responsibility to the built environment and the public at large, whom in reality the architects will never get to interact with in a commercial setting and few commercial decisions are made on the basis of providing greater public good. The only times architects or any other building designers have control over these matters is in high end class 1 & 10 residential projects where the architect would commission and manage the builder and ABIC contracts actually get used, sometimes. This is not to say registered architects are incompetent. Many architects are highly trained and possess a great deal of experience in the requirements of the building types theyve been exposed to. But everyone is exposed to different things and it is highly inconsistent between individuals architects when it comes to their expertise. However they’re all considered to be equal as far as the registration and licensing is considered. This inconsistency in skill and expertise can often result in scenarios where the builder will just find the less experienced architect looking to prove themselves and inadvertently makes life easier for the builder through blissful ignorance. Other times there would be architects who wish to establish themselves in the market without fully understanding the amount of work actually needed to deliver a good building and end up underquoting to get the job. This then pushes more experienced architects to also cut fees and as result cut scope in the process creating a downward spiral in quality of work. --------------------------- Another point is that Architects in addition to having stronger technical elements in their registration criteria, also need to be given the authority to enforce their design without external influence. Architects and building designers are not empowered to enforce their design. There’s no legislative framework that requires the architect or designer to personally certify the as built design of any building with the exception of Class 2 apartments and even then, it is only in the context of SEPP65 compliance which is largely a qualitative standard (i.e. open to interpretation) and can be overridden or discounted by inconsistencies in planning approvals. Once DA approved, SEPP 65 is essentially tossed out the window and the architects certification only needs to state that the drawings produced comply with SEPP 65. Whether the builder built it correctly is generally not questioned and no builder will ever say they built it incorrectly to a certifier. If something is really way off the mark, the architect is often instructed to change the design to match wherever possible. Keep in mind that in a D&C scenario, the architect’s client is the builder not the buyer and it’s incredibly difficult for architects to enforce quality and compliance in designs for the good of the public when the public has not given architects any real authority to do so. Particularly when the commercial viability of architects requires good working relationships with the builder as D&C by a builder is the default procurement structure. On rare occasions, the developer retain the architect in a quality control capacity instead of novating them to the builder. These are often very high end projects aimed at a very premium market or projects where the developer is keeping the asset either for own use or as a long term rental product. The few architects working on government or institutional projects may have more control over the design but bread and butter firms that are building majority of commercial developments are typically not so fortunate. The role of the certifiers is to assess compliance with the BCA, they often don’t have the tools to verify whether a design is built as per approved design or whether changes are going to impact the building’s performance unless it is something captured by the BCA or DA conditions. As far as architectural design is concerned, the only requirement is for the architect to sign a statement that says: “The design is not inconsistent with the approved DA” Anything that can be considered “not inconsistent” with the approved design can then be changed with no real contention. As for what constitutes as “not inconsistent” is essentially open for interpretation. While this is useful for justifying minor practicality adjustments or correcting minor design issues such as resizing a service duct or tweaking some balustrade heights. It can also be used to replace entire building systems provided the end result looks “not inconsistent” to the approval. --------- A lesser known example: The architect may have the intentions of designing a 7 star NaTHERs building with lots of good passive thermal design features such as double glazing, airtight detailing and high performance external walls made from tried and true building systems. However this is often expensive, so one way to get around it is to specify highly rated appliances, lighting and water fittings etc instead to offset the performance requirements of the building fabric. The end product will still be 7 star and marketed as such but the performance element is no longer the actual building fabric but rather the replaceable fixtures with much lower life span expectations. What happens when the 5 star oven or tapware fails and replaced with cheaper, lower performance alternatives because the owner didn’t know better. Suddenly the apartment is no longer 7 star rated and no one would even realise. Couple more replacements to taps, lights and so forth and soon the premium 7 star product no longer exists. But it’ll surely still be marketed as such on resale because no one would know any better by that point. Where as if the building was built to perform as a 7 star building by having all the performance features built into the building fabric, it wouldn’t be replaceable and the building will perform at the expected standard for much longer.

  9. What should be the minimum requirements for a registration scheme?

    Demonstrated experience in the class(es) of building being delivered or complexity in scale of projects being delivered. I’m not sure what should be sufficient and where the line should be drawn but I think in principle there needs to be a recognition that design and delivery of a 2 storey Class 1 houses is not the same as a 20 storey Class 2 apartment or Class 5 office block or a Class 9a Hospital. Whether the differentiating factor is understanding of large scale building services or specialised structural systems, building products, NCC classes or other factors should be up for debate. Builders should also be registered and licensed in NSW. At the moment commercial builders are not required to be licensed in NSW as long as their work falls out side the scope of the Home Building Act 1989. So technically, you dont need to be a licensed builder to build schools, hospitals, office towers, factories and so on. Even if you want one, they dont technically exist. Even the electrician fixing your light switch is more regulated than a commercial builder. How is this okay?

  10. What form of insurance should be mandatory for ‘building designers’? Why?

    The current professional indemnity insurance policies seem to be sufficient for building designers. By building designers I mean architects, building designers, engineers etc. Not just limited to the odd class of practitioners referred to as building designers. However there needs to be a review of where responsibilities sit should in scenarios where two different designers work on an interconnected structure, such as the case with post-tensioned concrete structures. Similar things also happen with various building services. It becomes unclear who is actually responsible and therefore whose insurance policy should cover the damage and leads to prolonged arguments on the proportionate responsibility in legal battles that do not serve the interests of the end user suffering the consequences. It should also be prohibited for designers to limit their indemnity to a value less than the value of the work theyre impacting. It’s not uncommon to see designers limit their liability in their fee agreement to ‘providing the services again’ or some nominal sum that will not cover the potential damage. ------------ For example, Hypothetically, a traffic consultant limits their liability and compensation to not cash but a re-supply of the same services. During their review of the design, they miss something that results in inadequate vehicle turning spaces and structural columns need to be moved to make it comply. No amount of their services is going to make the column move and someone else ends up paying for the error. ----------- Insurance companies on the other hand need to be regulated in a way that prohibits them from paying out a claim on the condition that they are discharged from all future liability. A common practice in payouts these days involve insurance claims lodged based on an initial investigation. The insurer will agree to a pay out to fix the issues in the initial investigation on the condition they’re discharged from all future claims. But once the repair works begin, more often than not there will be more defects discovered, particularly if the initial investigation isn’t an invasive exercise that exposes all the issues, which it almost never is. At that point the insurer essentially got out of paying for the full extent of the defect and the owners are left with the remaining bill. This, frankly, is incredibly dodgy.

  11. What kinds of minimum requirements should be prescribed for the insurance policy (for example, value, length of cover, etc.)?

    I’m not sure this is a good question to ask. Current insurance policies aren’t too bad if building practices were sensible. It is unlikely in my opinion that relying on insurance policy will ever work to the extent necessary to cover building defects arising from a broken system. Insurance is a means of risk mitigation by protecting the few major misfortunes of the minority through many minor premium contributions from the majority. It stops working if the misfortune is upon the majority. Insurance companies define premiums based on risk and operate largely within a profit driven industry. The current environment doesn’t give a lot of confidence for them to insure building defects so the premiums would be unrealistic and that is if insurance is even willing to cover building defects. Current individual or strata building insurances don’t usually cover building defects anyway. Defects are expected to be covered by the professional indemnity of the designers and builders responsible. This is only good if the entities still exist at the time of claim. Plus the amount of argy bargy involved in determining who’s responsible does not help the end users who have to suffer the consequences of defects. The owners and occupants don’t particularly care who’s fault it is, they just want it fixed and not at their cost, and rightly so. The aftermath of the Grenfell Towers tragedy was that the UK government ended up providing public funding for the replacement of flammable cladding at a cost of £200 million. While I’m not well versed in the ins and outs of that particular decision, Australia operates in a very similar industry context. Perhaps there’s another way, but perhaps government intervention and bailout needs to happen for those already suffering from current defects followed by action towards the responsible builders and developers in due course. -------------- The ultimate solution really should be steering the design and construction process towards actual quality, not profit. If you build it right in the first place, none of this is an issue. Plenty of buildings in Australia has lasted well over 60 years and still functioning well, and for the sake of humanitys progress, the service life of new, modern buildings built with the aid of modern tools and technologies should not be less than that of a project home house from the 1950s. It is well known that houses built around the 1950s are often easier and cheaper to maintain than the lightweight, often fibro clad houses built in the 70s and 80s. However lightweight fibro construction was cheaper, quicker and allowed the demand to be met at the time, the end product wasn’t as high in quality and lead to higher maintenance costs. Asbestos being the most well known and common issue. Now we have another housing boom and high demand in housing, but lessons from the past on the risks of seeking temporary short term solutions seemed to have been forgotten. All building practitioners need be responsible for designing and building structures that will last and take that responsibility as a point of pride. Otherwise no amount of insurance is going to solve the issue. While genuine errors are possible and do happen, they would be a much rarer occurrence and that’s when insurance could be a feasible strategy. However it may be more appropriate to set up a publicly administered insurance/sinking fund, paid for via stamp duty income, development levies or long term security deposits from the developers / builders. ----------- On a side note, warranties should be reviewed along with insurance as it is effectively a form of insurance built into certain products. Owners should also be provided with detailed and accurate documentation of component warranties and maintenance requirements so that adequate upkeep can be scheduled to prolong the service life of the building. There are some observable issues with certain products on the market where the maintenance requirements in order to validate the product warranty is either not communicated clearly to the end user, or not reviewed for practicality in the context it’s used. For example many external finishes often require annual or half-yearly cleaning with warm soapy water to avoid dirt build up in order for the warranties to be honoured. So a 20 year warranty can easily be voided in 2 years because cleaning regimens weren’t up to spec. If the particular finish is used in a 10 storey building and the owners aren’t aware, or if the owner’s corp can’t afford to hire highrise facade cleaners frequently, the warranties are worthless. This may not be a major issue in milder metro environments, but in harsher coastal or regional environments, the reduction in lifespan can become an issue. It can often be attributed to the environment rather than inappropriate product selection, but the outcome is that owners bear the cost of repairs and added maintenance while the overall environment suffers from the added resources required.

  12. What skills should be mandatory for ‘building designers’?

    I’m going to assume building designers refer to all building design professionals as per previous responses. In my view there should not be two different professions doing essentially the same job. Registering ‘building designers’ under a separate system to architects and allowing a generic title such as ‘building designer’ is just confusing the public and serves no practical purpose. The architects registration board already have registration schemes where non-tertiary trained building designers can be registered as architects. The registration of ‘building designers’ should just be built into that and have them join the regulatory frameworks for architects. To create a whole new registration framework to regulate a profession that does the exact same job as an architect and require the exact same skill sets as architects is meaningless and confusing. It’s not like anything taught in university degrees have anything vitally related to the practical requirements of the current architecture registration anyway so why not just let people passionate and skilled in designing buildings become an architect? Otherwise it’s like saying let’s have a new profession called ‘healers’ and let them do the same job as doctors but registered differently. What’s the point of that? -------- But for building designers in the general sense: Building designers should be able to understand the long term life cycle performance and impacts of different design solutions and implement them appropriately to the intended use. What sort of skills are needed to achieve this is worth its own discussion paper, but more importantly a mentality shift needs to happen to achieve a successful built environment. The upfront construction cost is a significant factor in realising a project, that is undisputed. However there are plenty of studies that show the ongoing life cycle costs in maintaining serviceability and building life span is often far greater over the lifespan of the building. Anyone participating in the design of a building needs to be responsible to ensure the cost of construction is not irresponsibly shifted down the line to the end user in the form of maintenance or operation costs and to the environment in wasted resources and embodied energy. Anyone replaces solid masonry walls that require little to no maintenance for 60 years with painted fibre cement sheets that require painting and patching every 5 years is essentially taking the upfront cost savings and passing it to the user / occupant in long term costs. This may be okay if the building is a temporary accommodation at a mine or construction site and only expected to operate for 5-10 years, but not if the intended building is a family home expected to last 60 years, even less so if it’s going to be an apartment building housing 200 family homes.

  13. Which categories of building practitioners should owe a duty of care?

    All categories of practitioners should owe a duty of care to the degree in which they have control over the end product. The lead designers at the top of the decision making chain would hold the most duty of care, e.g. architects, building designers, structural & major service engineers and builders. These are the parties making the design decisions and coordinating the overall design and final execution and therefore should hold significant duty of care to the end user and the public. This function is often drowned out in the commercial pressures and contractual obligations to the client. For the duty of care to the public to be exercised effectively, regulatory mechanisms need to be in place that override any conflicting contractual obligations to the client, be it the builder or developer. Powers should be given to the designers to enforce the requirements of their duty of care either directly or indirectly via absolute transparency of process to the ‘building commissioner’ such that the powers are not abused. On a different scale, builders and designers must rely on the quality of workmanship and expert advice from their subcontractors, consultants, suppliers etc when it comes to specialist knowledge. These parties should also owe a duty of care in the way they advertise and promote their services, solutions and products to ensure that the lead designers are making informed decisions based on clearly communicated implications of the solution to the intended applications. It is unfair on the designers if they have to decipher industry jargon and specialist knowledge they’re not experts in. ----------- For example - Warranty conditions should not be tucked away in the fine print. Especially where specialist or onerous maintenance regimes are required. - Test conditions to which the products have been tested and certified should be clearly articulated upfront with shortfalls identified. Particularly around fire safety and slip rating tests, which are surrounded by a lot of confusion across the industry as to how they can be used. The whole combustible cladding debacle is already well known so I won’t go into it. Another common example is slip rating certifications. It is not uncommon for tile suppliers to test one tile model out of an entire product range and use that across the whole range. Designers then take that rating and specify products that weren’t specifically tested. Supplier would often fall back on caveats that say ratings may vary from batch to batch and designers/contractors should test each batch individually on site. At time of certification, tests are performed on site and it may fail. By that point the tiles are often already installed and so patch up solutions like slip resistant coatings are installed as a fix. Problem with that is, coatings of any sort don’t last very long under frequent foot traffic and the occupant is not informed to reapply the coating periodically, or cannot afford to do so and the tiles become a hazard, even though at the time of handover, everything is compliant and certified. Similar situations occur due to the misconception that slip ratings of a surface is a constant. It is not. Tiles laid on a ramp require higher ratings as increases in slope decreases the effective slip rating. It may sound like common sense that sloped surfaces are more slippery, this issue occurs all the time with confusions from suppliers to designers to builders to installers on what the real slip rating is for a particular product installed on site.

  14. What should be the scope of the duty of care? Should it apply to all or certain types of work? If so, which work?

    See response to "Which categories of building practitioners should owe a duty of care?"

  15. What types of consumers should be owed a duty of care?

    Primarily the end user of the building and anyone else that needs to interact with it. Consumers should be entitled to a reasonable expectation of a building’s performance and building practitioners owe them a duty of care to deliver on that expectation. This should not be limited to owners but also renters, workers, neighbours and visitors who should, at the very least, be entitled to not needlessly worrying about whether the building they’re in or live next to will fail catastrophically for no apparent reason. In the end, buildings are a product. Just like any other product on the supermarket shelves, just bigger and very expensive. In terms of complexity, it’s arguably less complex than a modern car or smartphone. The difference is that it’s not mass produced product with lots of research, prototyping and testing to make sure all the components work nicely together. It’s very expensive to build and mistakes are even more expensive to fix. There needs to be an understanding that we have one shot at getting it right and it’s important that people take the task of design and construction seriously with a long term view to make sure it’s done right, built to last, especially given the sunk environmental costs in resources and energy to create a building, you want as much use out of it as possible. If people only get to buy a single cup in their lifetime, they shouldn’t be sold paper cups.

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