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RIBA Plan of Work 2020 released with new focus on sustainability

Portland Place

The RIBA has beefed up the role of sustainable design in its updated Plan of Work, published today (27 February)

The new document is the first overhaul of the guidance since 2013, when the A-L steps were scrapped in favour of the current numbered steps.

The updated Plan of Work now includes a 17-page ‘sustainability project strategy’, setting out specific actions and tasks at each of the eight stages. These effectively replace the tagged-on Green Overlay from 2011.

This new advice outlines the desired outcome for each stage, with reference to eight factors derived from UN development goals and includes, for the first time, significant post-occupancy actions.



RIBA Plan of Work 2020

The RIBA has attempted to address concerns over the absence of a sustainability focus in the previous Plan of Works. The institute has spent six years consulting hundreds of construction industry professionals for the new document, the latest update in its 57-year history.

Others tweaks made to the Plan of Work include the introduction of project strategies on subjects such as cost planning and inclusive design, an addition on BIM integration and new guidance about procurement.

Alan Jones, RIBA president, said the changes were made to ‘reflect the huge environmental and societal challenges we face – as a planet and as an industry’. Jones said the challenge for architects is focusing on sustainable outcomes from the outset of a project.

‘Targets should be defined and agreed with the client during stage one briefing,’ he added.

Although the document includes a strategy on fire safety, the RIBA said it intended to address the issue with a more thorough plan of work focusing on fire safety in coming years.

The institute consulted on a plan of work for fire safety back in 2018 but decided not to publish a further document until changes to regulations had been made clear.

What has changed?


For the first time the RIBA Plan of Work includes a Sustainability Project Strategy providing actions and tasks aligned with the RIBA Sustainable Outcomes Guide for each project stage. These build upon Bill Gething’s Green Overlay from 2011 and range from appointing a sustainability champion to carrying out post-occupancy evaluation.


The previous guide was unclear about whether plans should be submitted at stage two, three or four. In the new guide, submission of a planning application is recommended at the end of stage three – although it may be done earlier with the help of an additional guide. This aims to reduce the risks of designers continuing on to the next stage without fully co-ordinating information. 

Stage Three

The name of this stage has been changed from ‘Developed Design’ to ‘Spatial Co-ordination’ to emphasise that stage three is not about changing design concept. Instead, it is about the lead designer managing information until the building is spatially co-ordinated and either ready to be sent to planning or ready for stage four (Technical Design) to start.

Post-occupancy evaluation

Another main driver behind the 2020 Plan of Work updates is post-occupancy evaluation. The plan recommends that facilities management and asset management teams are brought into the process at stage seven. It also encourages light touch evaluation to take place as early as the start of stage six – even before the work of the project team finishes.

Plan for use

In addition to the Plan of Work updates, RIBA is publishing a separate document encouraging a more in-use approach to design. Essentially an interpretation of BSRIA’s 2014 Soft Landings Framework, which was written in collaboration with the Useable Buildings Trust, this guide aims to help designers check earlier on whether what they have designed actually works. This guide will include case studies and is due to be published later this year.

The RIBA Plan of Work 2020 can be downloaded here

Ribaplanofwork2020 overview 1


Andrew Barraclough, group design director, Wates Group

The over-arching principles underpinning the RIBA Plan of Work 2020 is to improve the design and build process, so I am delighted that the new document sets out a high yet achievable bar across a number of key areas.

The introduction of sustainability into the plan of work is a crucial and welcome amendment that now enshrines this fundamental aspect in every stage of the design and construction process, from a focus on sustainability outcomes in stage 1 to recognising the increasing importance of offsite manufacturing in stage 5.

We also lobbied hard for stage 3 to be redefined as ‘Spatial Co-ordination’ because this stage – which should be completely aligned with the budget – forms the platform for all future technical documentation in stage 4 and should be realised without revision, requiring only additional technical information.


Readers' comments (2)

  • Clare Richards

    Now they need to do the same thing with social sustainability, always the poor relation, given that collaborative engagement with communities and other stakeholders is becoming a fundamental part of planning policy. It's also key to the Building Better Building Beautiful proposals.

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  • We welcome these changes and the clarification it brings to the RIBA stages and the intent/ purpose of each. Hopefully Clients, contractors and the wider design team will also welcome and adopt them as quickly as possible.

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