Attending the Sustainability Awards organised by Building last month brought home to me that the age of sustainable buildings has finally arrived.
As a building services engineer, I am excited by the opportunities that this agenda presents. The building services engineer used to be the last person that the architect wanted to speak to about a new design, now he is the first. Part L, carbon emissions targets, daylighting, natural ventilation and renewable energy, to name just a few of the issues, are the starting point for design. But are building services engineers actually any good at these things? “Does anyone know a decent M&E engineer?” remains the refrain of many an architect.
As the market evolves we need to recognise that we do in fact have an emerging discipline here. If I dig my degree certificate out it actually says I have a degree in building environmental engineering – not building services engineering at all. And quite right, too – they are two different things. It’s not architecture, although it’s close, and it's not building services engineering. It’s what my practice calls Building Sciences.
Traditionally engineers have looked to the Association of Consulting Engineers to produce schedules of duties, thereby establishing a level playing field and giving clients a steer on what service they might need. The ACE duties for a building services engineer are all very well for the pipes and wires but they don’t even begin to address Building Sciences. With architects disorientated by the ever-increasing complexities of Part L and sustainability-driven planning policy guidance, they look to their building services engineer for the answers. But if the duties are not included in the engineer’s appointment, what happens then? In my experience, either an embarrassing argument ensues or, more commonly, the engineer does what is the best for the client and ends up doing more work for less fee. This is not a sustainable position.
I know that architects are as frustrated as I am about this issue. They are crying out for engineers who can deliver clear strategic thinking and high quality conceptual design advice and it needs to be available to them at the very outset of the project. Some architects are beginning to lobby hard for this and I call upon all who are involved in the procurement of buildings to recognise that hiqh-quality sustainable buildings need the services of a Building Sciences specialist.
Andrew Pettifer, director, Gifford