True perfection – or as near to it as imperfect construction professionals can get – is the ambitious goal at the Radius project, a 5000 m2 speculative office development in Watford. Developer Guardian Properties, architect Hurley Robertson Associates, consulting engineer WSP and contractor Wates have set themselves the target of delivering a zero-defect building.

The defect-free philosophy is based on hard-nosed economics. The expectation is that driving defects out of the process will save 1-2% of construction costs – a sum usually spent on the consultants’ snagging inspections, the contractor’s return visits and the client’s negotiations with dissatisfied tenants.

And, in this case, any savings will be pocketed by the entire team, since the Radius project is being run on a partnering basis. In addition, the hope is that the team will use the benchmark performance data generated by the project on subsequent schemes. “In jobs to come, hopefully we’ll get continuous improvement, and everyone will see the benefit,” says Guardian Properties project manager Andy Cossey.

The Radius team does not have the luxury of testing its theories on a straightforward, low-rise, medium-spec office building, since the client and architect have set themselves the further target of designing a landmark office building. “It’s not at the cutting edge of worldwide design,” concedes HRA associate Peter Wislocki. “But we think the quality of the elevations and the internal spaces put it a notch above the rest.”

What is doubly unusual about the Radius project is that the zero-defect campaign was launched only after contractor Wates was already on board, had tendered most packages to subcontractors, and had been on site with the foundations and superstructure for six months. “In future projects, we would hope to do it earlier,” says Wislocki. “But it shows you can make a difference even if you hadn’t planned to on day one.”

The main weapon in the war against defects was a series of forums early this year on the building envelope, WCs, cores and ceilings. They were held just after packages had been let and brought together representatives from Wates, the consultants and subcontractors. “We simply asked why defects occur – and the responses from the people who actually do the work were very interesting,” says WSP director Tom Smith.

The end-goal of the forums was to draw up a predictive defects list, long before anyone thought about the real ones. But Wislocki stresses that those defect-elimination targets were never cast in contractual stone, and that the forums simply allowed knowledge, ideas and experiences to be pooled informally. A second and final round of forums is under way, aiming for “one final push” towards the zero-defect goal.

Realistically speaking, the team knows that the Radius project is unlikely to be 100% perfect on handover day. Says Guardian Properties’ Cossey: “We may get 80% of the way on this one, and if the other 20% takes us some time, so be it.”

Demonstration Project