Golden Thread could restore architects’ role as custodians of quality in projects, construction industry round table finds

Architects could see a return to their former role as guardians of design quality throughout residential projects as a result of the Building Safety Act, and the mandatory Golden Thread approach for providing comprehensive data on projects’ design and construction.

This was one key finding of netMAGmedia’s third edition of Building Insights LIVE industry round tables on crucial construction topics, which focused on the crucial safety agenda post-Grenfell that was enshrined in the Act. ‘Following the Golden Thread to Safety’ brought together leading architects, developers, BIM professionals and product manufacturers, to look at best practice on construction information management for safer buildings, in the post-Grenfell era. 

The round table discovered a range of learnings, including that while architects might be best placed to take up the new Principal Designer role in projects – with responsibility for the Golden Thread of project design information – they would need to be resourced accordingly, in line with the inherent risks. Delegates also explored how Common Data Environments could be used to harness BIM approaches for managing the Golden Thread in design and construction phases, as well as the potential cost implications, and the impacts of the new Gateway procurement system within the Building Safety Act.

The Building Insights LIVE round table was sponsored by fire doorset manufacturer JELD-WEN, Saint-Gobain Interior Solutions, and passive fire systems manufacturer Siderise. The mix of professionals enabled the round table to provide a real-world look at emerging best practice on achieving the Golden Thread, and how standards and standardisation may be beneficial. Although focused on the residential sector, with the Golden Thread being applied across the industry the round table provided learnings for a wide range of professionals. 

Richard Harrison, architect and past president of the Association of Consultant Architects, was a key contributor, commenting that the industry response post-Grenfell had seen a fundamental change of approach. “The response has been extraordinary,” he told the group, adding: “The Construction Industry Council said that never on any other issue has there been such a response.”

Harrison believed that collaboration was essential to making safety-critical projects accountable, and that it should be included in contracts: “We recommend a framework alliance contract which binds all the bodies together and dedicates them to work collaboratively.”

Lucy Craig, design director at the Mace Group offered the developer’s perspective, saying: “We need to look at the fee structure around design, you pay for what you get, and we need detailed, prescriptive design.” Several attendees raised the issue of the challenges for architectural practices of taking greater risk in projects as Principal Designer, particularly so for smaller firms. 

Further insights from the group were that early design and specification is essential, and that making data as simple as possible to understand for a wide range of users was key to success. Attendee Peter Sutcliffe, head of building engineering, UK & Ireland at AECOM, commented: “We’ve got a duty to make the Golden Thread accessible, and need to consider how it’s going to be used by the client, FM and future occupants.”

A rigorous approach to product data was another crucial area to focus on, according to our attendees, and there was a consensus that the Golden Thread presented a solution for sourcing responsible supply chain partners. Several speakers proposed standardisation as another way to achieve robust specifications.

Stephen Hamil, innovation director at NBS, commented: “We need to take the Principal Designer role seriously, and they need to get the design responsibility matrix correct, particularly around the specification strategies.”

James Parker, managing editor at netMAGmedia, who chaired the event, commented: ”It’s a tragedy in itself that it took the Grenfell Tower fire to shake the industry into a fundamental change of approach to design and construction of high-risk buildings, one that would ensure accountability for all decisions made.

“Our discussion provided some unique insights into the practicalities for design teams of working with the Golden Thread. This was an example of important knowledge exchange to help others pursue best practice going forward, and end the fragmented procurement process which had become the norm in the industry.”

The full list of attendees at the round table was: 

Richard Harrison Association of Consultant Architects
Lucy Craig Design Director, Mace Group
Hannah Pinsent Tate + Co Architects
Peter Sutcliffe Head of Building Engineering, UK & Ireland, AECOM
Stephen Hamil Innovation Director, NBS
Ben Wallbank BIM Strategy & Partnerships Manager, Trimble EMEA
Chris Lees Chief Executive, Data Clan
Chris Hall External Affairs Director, Siderise
Glyn Hauser R&D Senior Group Manager, JELD-WEN
Paul French Head of Digital Construction, Saint-Gobain Interior Solutions