Richard Rogers Partnership's (RRP's) Welsh Assembly has received so many plaudits, including an RIBA award last month, that it is tempting to overlook its chequered history. After all, it is the completed building which remains for posterity, and the story of how it came to be will soon be forgotten.
RRP is no stranger to complex large-scale public projects, and there has been much speculation about why this scheme went so badly wrong. The more relevant question is how it was put back on track with RRP still in the saddle, albeit under a design-andbuild contract led by Taylor Woodrow. After winning the initial competition in 1998, RRP had to compete again as part of a contractor team to stay on the job.
Most instructive is how the Assembly building managed to avoid the dumbing-down and poor detailing that plagues so much design and build. The integrity of RRP's original design was compromised more by security and accessibility requirements than by the constraints of design and build. In some areas, such as the simplification of the roof geometry, the design was actually improved. Taylor Woodrow project manager Jerry Williams explains that he worked with Arup to rethink the roof structure, and as a result drainage wells were replaced by continuous guttering, simplifying both roof structure and finishes, and thereby reducing cost; a significant change, which received RRP's approval.
Project managers Dermott O'Reilly and Kallirroi Deligianni, from construction manager Schal, offer their view on the following pages, stressing the importance of team building, communication and pushing design development as far as possible in the pre-tender stage: 'What we did was open up a can of worms and lay the issues out, one by one. Then we set up clear lines of communication and stuck with them, ' says O'Reilly. So much so that RRP, under contract to Taylor Woodrow, refused to offer its view for this article.
A 3D computer visualisation and Design Quality Indicators (DQI) were among the tools Schal used to clarify decision-making. Interior 3D visualisations, eschewed until recently by RRP, were used to convey the complexities of the scheme, to prioritise areas in need of further design development and to assist the multi-headed client in understanding the project.
The Welsh Assembly was a trailblazer project for the use of DQI, a process now adopted not only by CABE and Schools for the Future, but also by the Office of Government Commerce, which means it will soon be required on all public buildings.
Cullinan partner Robin Nicholson, instrumental in developing DQI in its early stages, says the process is 'about the conversation at a high level with the client, the design team, the end users; a conversation which generally never takes place'.
The story of the Welsh Assembly shows that the original scheme captured the client's aspirations to the extent that it was willing to stick with RRP a second time. Perhaps the most important lesson is the need for clarity and open communication throughout the process, so that design intentions can be translated into finished buildings which their architects will be proud of.
NATIONAL ASSEMBLY FOR WALES By Dermot O'Reilly, sector director, and Kallirroi Deligianni, project manager, Schal On the Cardiff waterfront five years ago sat a project manager's nightmare: an excavated site, clad in hoardings and studded with pilings. At the heart of the capital's flagship regeneration zone, where the first Welsh Assembly chamber should have stood, was a gaping hole - a vortex for media hostility, political conflict and taxpayer resentment. The Welsh Assembly has been so well received since its opening in March that it is hard to recall when the building once looked as if it might never see the light of day.
Schal, a specialist in property and construction management, was brought in as project manager in May 2002.
The challenge to deliver the project was enormous, despite our extensive experience in high-profile projects such as the British Library, Tate Modern and Portcullis House. By the time we were appointed to the Assembly building, work had been suspended for almost a year due to concerns over programme, buildability and cost, and the project was in dire need of a positive, team culture.
Schal assigned a multi-disciplinary team of more than 20 architects, engineers, accessibility assessors, security advisors and others to ensure that value was added, risk reduced and costs controlled without compromising the architect's design or the client's commitment to transparency, quality of environment, sustainability, accessibility and security.
The Assembly had originally procured the project under a construction-management form of contract - a high-risk mode of engagement for a client with little experience of construction and its pitfalls. It was now keen to implement the project under a particularly onerous design and build contract - terms under which those few contractors capable of delivering a project of this scale were unlikely to be willing to work.
Our first recommendation was that the programme be extended so that tenderers could develop the design and reduce some of the risk. Bravely, given the adverse publicity that would (and did) arise from further deferment, the then Finance Minister, Edwina Hart, accepted this advice. This enabled a number of notable improvements during the tender period, primarily to the roof and the building's security. The roof had been identified as high-risk in terms of structure, weatherproofing, buildability and cost. Tenderers achieved refinements of structural steelwork, particularly to the roof's geometry, which greatly reduced risk.
To clarify the decision-making process, value criteria and design-quality indicators were developed in partnership with cost consultant Northcroft. The team consulted intensively and collaborated closely with the building's many stakeholders: from representatives of the Assembly through to user groups, advisory groups, designers RRP, BDSP and Arup, contractor Taylor Woodrow Construction, a range of specialist subcontractors, and more. We worked hard to gain buy-in from all stakeholders and establish effective communication between all parties.
Schal also undertook a comprehensive audit of the existing design, which had been extensively revised before work was suspended in 2001. The team discovered that a number of design compromises had been introduced in an attempt to counter increasing costs - most notably a proposed reduction in the width of the building - which would not result in a proportional reduction in cost, and where the compromises to design would outweigh any potential cost-saving benefits. There were potential problems with the steel structure, and further issues with security and accessibility, particularly for wheelchair users and visually impaired visitors.
The design that was ultimately submitted for retendering was based firmly on the RRP scheme originally approved by the Assembly in January 2001, supported by a schedule of proposed amendments and improvements.
As a basis for analysis, consultation and communication, Schal developed a 3D computer object model of this plan. Many stakeholders who had silently struggled to fully understand the complex 2D plans and sections responded enthusiastically to a digital walk-through model.
3D modelling also helped identify areas that required further design development. For example, the door to the media commentary room was potentially lowered to 1,650mm by a beam; there were unresolved access and safety issues regarding the roof; services to the debating chamber were potentially affected by an increased rake in the oor, the curtain-wall design was underdeveloped; and there were possible circulation problems around the lifts. Schal estimates that design costs were reduced by up to 10 per cent, thanks to better coordination, improved stakeholder awareness, automated scheduling and increased efficiency. Buildability and clashing checks at the design stage reduced construction costs by up to 4 per cent, and the model also improved communications with the trades, further reducing costs.
Our environmentalists ensured that RRP's innovative sustainable design - which included 27 100m wells with heat exchangers to assist heating and cooling, rainwater collection and grey-water use, and natural ventilation - was preserved intact and implemented. Here, as throughout the project, we worked diligently with client and contractor to identify, assign and mitigate risks.
Throughout the project, DQIs and value criteria were used to ensure that aesthetics and sustainability were not compromised by cost control. But a taut eye for value and an incentive programme for contractors guaranteed small but significant value-engineering savings - £15,000 was secured simply by reducing the number of oorboxes in the reception area - which helped offset the inevitable unforeseen items and employer changes and enabled the building to be constructed within budget. When Assembly and user representatives reassessed the building against Schal's DQIs, it scored even higher in all areas than when the design was assessed precontract. The building already fulfils the role it was intended to achieve: a unique and user-friendly national landmark.
WELSH ASSEMBLY TIMETABLE Oct 1998 Competition won by Richard Rogers Partnership Feb 2001 Start on site July 2001 Construction suspended May 2002 Schal appointed as project manager July 2003 Contract awarded to Taylor Woodrow Dec 2005 Contract completion 1 March 2006 Offi cial opening