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Incorporate M & E into whole design concept

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Letters

I was interested by Paul Bastick's letter entitled 'Mechanical services are an afterthought' (AJ 25.5.00).

As a client, m y M & E consultant is appointed at the concept stage of the scheme along with the rest of the professional team, yet I still face grave difficulties with this discipline.

For many years I have been involved with the development of school buildings. Even with tight budgets, we can provide exciting buildings. All that is required is imagination and attention to detail.

As a client, much of my time is spent appointing and briefing professional teams.

I still find it exceptionally difficult to recommend a firm of M & E consultants to a fellow client. This is the only discipline where I face this problem. Very rarely is the M&E installation satisfactory, either from a functional point of view or in terms of design features alongside the architectural style for the building. M & E services rarely feature high in the briefing process but their failure to function and their common ugliness soon rank high on the list of defects at handover stage!

There are two approaches to M & E installation. The wiring and pipework are either totally enclosed, or they remain exposed but the service runs are designed to complement and enhance the overall architectural character of the building.

As Mr Bastick suggests, the services are usually an afterthought. Their relationship to the architectural form is virtually non-existent. Strangely, this does not seem to concern the architect and we end up with grotesque pipework and cabling, completely exposed, passing through crucial public areas usually at eye-catching height. What makes matters worse is the fact that this situation is completely avoidable.

In a number of very successful schemes where the M&E services have complemented and enhanced the architectural theme, they are usually 'overdesigned' to provide a bold statement while remaining a friend of the overall concept. But it is more common to end up with an attempt to conceal the services, or make 'a sort of statement' which, in both cases, results in a very poor product. In schools, poorly installed pipework just below ceiling level or just above the skirting board encourages pupils to swing or balance on the pipes.

Punctuating these runs by using colour and purposeful installation techniques will alleviate the problem of abuse and provide an exciting environment that will demand respect. Perhaps more importantly, a thoughtful design shows respect to the proposed occupant.

Too often, and especially in the case of the M & E consultants, members of the professional team act autonomously. While the architect is the principle designer, and this must not change, there is much to be gained by incorporating some of the components of other disciplines in the design.

My message to M & E consultants is: do not view the services as a poor relation in the process. Look carefully at the materials at your disposal and encourage architects to incorporate them in the design philosophy. If attitudes do not change, M & E consultants and their product will continue to be seen as a necessary evil rather than an opportunity to enhance the architectural qualities of a scheme.

David Squires, Brentwood

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