[Virgin multiplex cinema, Hull] A contractor uses a series of similar jobs to form a crack team of cinematic heroes out of a bunch of raw recruits. Contains scenes of partnering, lateral thinking and cost reduction. Unmissable.
What's the project?

In December 1999, contractor HBG Construction completed the shell and core of a £3.5m Virgin multiplex cinema in Hull under a JCT81 design-and-build contract. The cinema contains nine screens arranged in a semicircular pattern around a circulation area. Public access to all theatres is from the ground floor, and the projection rooms are on the first floor. The air-handling plant is on the roof.

The cinema has a steel frame, with blockwork infill walls faced in composite cladding panels beneath a lightweight roof deck. Inside, the walls of each theatre are constructed with a combination of blockwork and plasterboard to meet strict acoustic criteria. Precast concrete terracing forms the platform for the cinema seats. The fit-out will be completed in time for an Easter 2000 opening.

Project highlights

  • Time savings

    The cinema was completed in 30 weeks on site, 12% quicker than the nine-screen UCI complex at Silverlink, North Shields, built by HBG in 1998, and 21% faster than the nine-screen Virgin multiplex at Boldon, near Sunderland, that HBG completed in 1997.

  • Cost savings

    The Hull cinema cost 3% less than the complex at North Shields and 8% less than Boldon's.

  • Research and development

    HBG carried out research on the acoustic performance of a variety of roof constructions. This allowed it to use the most appropriate and cost-effective form of construction.

  • Partnering the supply chain

    Trade specialists' acoustic and steel-frame expertise were integrated into the design process at an early stage.

  • Project management

    HBG had seen late changes to the cinema operator's requirements on earlier projects. This time, it adapted the design to take crucial client information off the critical path.

    Colin Gray

    Head of the University of Reading's Department of Construction Management and Engineering

    This project demonstrates the possibilities for improvement over a number of projects through increasing expertise, but not the dramatic change possible from pure repetition. HBG has built nine similar projects but they have been for a variety of clients with varying needs.

    The time and cost reductions have been progressive and consistent with the application of the contractor's growing knowledge base. HBG has built a team that can apply what it has learned to unfamiliar problems. Through partnering with the suppliers, the design, manufacture and erection supply chain can be formed into a skills "cluster" able to provide detailed design solutions. These have to be right first time: the 30-week site time indicates that there are few opportunities for parallel working. In addition, the virtual impossibility of obtaining a brief before design starts increases the need for the short lines of communication that are possible within a cluster. This also means the investment in research and development pays off.

    The industry is being encouraged to work more closely with its clients, as this project shows. For this to be possible, the client must be knowledgeable and well managed, or the design and supply process must be organised to be more flexible and responsive to its needs. Clients and their advisers need to be aware of the fine line between the benefits and the costs of seeking further flexibility.

    Martyn Jones

    Principal lecturer in construction management at the Faculty of the Built Environment at the University of the West of England

    This benchmark provides further evidence that developing longer-term relationships and reshaping processes – both upstream with the client and downstream with the supply chains – can lead to continuous and substantial improvements in performance. Although in this case cost savings are modest, reported time reductions are impressive and there have been significant improvements in the performance and buildability of key elements of the cinemas.

    For me, though, there are two particularly significant features of this benchmark. First, the benefits flowing from the early and effective involvement of the key subcontractors in the design and planning of the projects. Through downstream partnering on a series of projects, HBG has created an environment in which the subcontractors feel comfortable sharing their ideas, committing more of their resources, and changing their processes to add greater value for the other project partners and the external customer.

    The second feature is HBG's leadership in looking to retain and enhance the competitive advantage developed by the cinema team and take it to other segments of the construction market. This demonstrates how contractors can play a key role in passing on the performance improvements enjoyed by regular clients to the irregular users of their products and services.

    John Connaughton

    Partner in Davis Langdon Consultancy and chair of the Innovation and Research Committee of the Construction Industry Council

    In construction, we are very fond of saying: "If only clients wouldn't change their minds." If only life were that simple. As this project demonstrates, change is a two-way street. If clients allow the design and construction team the flexibility to use their creative potential, they can genuinely benefit. Relatively few clients realise how collaborative the design and construction process is. Successful clients do, and are prepared to enter into the give and take of mutually beneficial negotiation and trading.

    Continuing improvement will only really happen in an environment that encourages innovation. Research is an essential part of design development and it is good to see HBG investigating so thoroughly the problem of acoustic design, for example. But to do this effectively, the appropriate expertise must be available at the right time – and that means the early involvement of specialists. Partnering between HBG and its specialist contractors helps, of course – the steelwork contractor's willingness to commit resources to detailed design development was a key feature in accelerating the programme – but surely these arrangements must include the client if they are to be truly effective.

    It will be interesting to see whether the achievements of this team are recognised by other clients in the leisure and retail sectors, and if they can develop the kind of generic construction "products" for these sectors that Sir John Egan lobbied for.

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