Tag Archives: MEP

Working with Hydraulics Engineers

Blue water... by ERIO, on FlickrIn Australia hydraulic engineering and wet fire engineering (sprinklers/fire hose reels and hydrants) are often the work of a single engineer on smaller fitout projects.    For this reason I’ve decided to cover these two disciplines together in this one post. In other locations people may be more familiar with the use of the word plumbing to cover these disciplines.  In Australia, we also have fire engineers, who undertake work related to overall fire and life safety systems – which I’m not covering in this post. (Perhaps for another blog post – this series seems to keep expanding!)

The extent of hydraulic engineering works on many fitouts can be quite minor – perhaps limited to a single tea room sink.  Sometimes the fact that the hydraulic engineering works are so limited can mean that sufficient attention is not paid to coordinating this discipline.  Due to recent changes to the accessibility standards  in Australia it has become more and more common that a wheelchair accessible toilet facility will also be part of the fitout.  Installing new toilets into existing building structures greatly increases the need for coordination and early planning in relation to hydraulic items.

In my experience there are three major issues that arise again and again in relation to the hydraulic engineering works.

Clashes with existing structural elements
Frequently what needs to be coordinated is not so much the interior design and the hydraulic engineering or pipe work but the pipework or fixture locations and the structure or other impediments below the fixture.  It is important to try and find out at the very early planning stages what is underneath any rooms proposed to have hydraulic fixtures and in particular toilets.

Sometimes it is not possible to gain access to the ceiling below in order to run the pipe work. For example if there is another organisation’s server room below or if there is a fixed plasterboard ceiling – the costs, risks and difficulties of access may mean that it makes sense to move the toilet or kitchen to another location within the fitout.

The other issue is  locations of structural elements. In particular, this has a major impact upon locations for toilets as usually pipework for sinks, basins or showers can be slightly modified or moved to avoid structural elements.  Generally with a toilet waste this is not possible (there may be 2 options an P or an S trap only).  For accessible toilet facilities this becomes a more significant issue as the location of the toilet pan is quite critical and cannot necessarily be easily moved to accommodate structural elements.  If the room is designed to the minimum code dimensions this may prevent any rearrangment of the room to suit the structure. The best solution to this problem is again to try to obtain the information on the structural design early if possible (and import it into your plans/model so you can check and see it during your design process) – although often this isn’t possible with an existing building. In this case in may be necessary to scan the concrete slab to determine the location of beans or post tensioning cables. Another good options if it is possible, is to slightly oversize the rooms to allow for some future flexibility. The final option you are left with if this issue is discovered only when you are on site, is to install a pump. In my opinion and experience this is a very simple solution for sinks and basins and I have no problem recommending it to clients for these applications. However it’s not something to be recommended for toilets – whilst it is possible – it’s not pleasant when it leaks onto the brand-new carpet! (broadloom of course)

The other information that should be obtained early is the location of hydraulic stacks.  In my opinion as an interior designer or architect you can’t let these drive the fitout planning, as you would often end up with kitchen/breakout areas in the most unpleasant parts of the building with no access to natural light, but you should take them into account and be aware where they are located. That way when someone asks you about why the kitchen is not next to the stack you can explain that you considered them, and the reasoning why you located sinks away from them.

The most important thing is to consider these constraints and gather information as early as possible in the planning process.  By the time we get to a client signoff milestone where we have locked in the locations for rooms such as toilets and tearooms we may not yet have a hydraulic engineer on the project. As interior designers and architects we need to take responsibility for this early coordination.  If there is a hydraulic engineer already appointed it is a good idea to have them review approximate fixture locations prior to finalising the agreed layout with the client.

Sprinklers
Sprinklers seemed to be an item which frequently cause trouble on a project. I have never quite understood it but it seems that the sprinkler code in Australia appears to be open to some level of interpretation. I can ask three different hydraulics /fire engineers and get three different opinions as to what the design criteria should be to comply with the code. If anyone else has a solution to this problem and how to manage it I’d like to know!

The other issue that interior designers and architects need to be aware of when it comes to sprinkler design is to ensure that the engineer is aware of any high level elements such as bulkheads, feature ceilings, compactuses or joinery which could impact upon the sprinkler head flow.

Coordination of hydraulic fixtures
Hydraulic fixtures should only be specified once. It does not matter if they are specified by the interior designer or architect or by the hydraulic engineer. However it is important that it is agreed who will select the fixtures and that the other party is given information on what has been selected – and the chance to comment on the selections.

The interior designer or architect also needs to ensure that sufficient space has been left for the hydraulic fixtures including items such as pumps, hot water or boiling water units and the pipework or any ventilation needs associated with these items. Whoever is taking overall responsibility for coordination should also check that the electrical engineer has provided power where required.

The other item that should be checked early on (prior to finalising plans with the client if possible) is if existing fire hose reel locations will be sufficient. If new reels are required ensure to allow space for these too. In Australia, the need for a new hose reel may also highlight that you have an issue with your egress distances so you may need to check these (a hose reel covers 40m – the same distance as the permitted egress path).

Do you have any tips on hydraulic and wet fire coordination? In particular any suggestions on the mysteries of the Australian sprinkler codes? Are there other specific regulatory issues that need to be considered in the countries you work in?

I’m planning further posts on working with sustainability consultants, acoustic engineers and fire engineers – if you have any tips on these topics please email me. As always any suggestions for future blog posts are always welcome too.

Image credits:

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  ERIO 

Working with Mechanical Engineers

*** by dzarro72, on FlickrAt a glance working with mechanical engineers can seem to present less visible coordination issues for interior designers than electrical engineering (previous blog post here).  However, the results of mechanical engineering (most commonly air conditioning ) are one of the most frequently complained elements of office fitout.   Whilst a lot of the reasons for the complaints about the air conditioning are not strictly due to coordination issues between the interior designer or architect and the mechanical engineer, there are ways that the design team can help to minimise any problems.  In my opinion there are three reasons for the majority of the occupant complaints:
  1. People’s different perceptions of temperature. 
  2. Under design of the mechanical systems compared to the intended use.
  3. The interactions between the base building systems and the fitout systems or modifications made due to the fitout.
Perception of temperature

Individuals perceive temperature and humidity differently depending on many factors.  This is always going to be an issue and if you are dealing with a large number of people in a single space it is difficult to design out.  There are some options now available for individual air flow controls at workstations, or you can allow user override in meeting rooms or offices – however these options generally have to be balanced against increased energy consumption and installation costs and are not necessarily going to be suited to every project or client.

Under design of mechanical systems
Under design of the mechanical systems is the area where the design team have the most influence and control over the functionality of the systems.  As an interior designer or architect you need to ensure that the mechanical engineer is fully briefed on the functions and occupancy of the room. Often mechanical engineers assume certain numbers of people and anticipated occupancy periods based upon the floor plan and the usual use of a room. For example if the floor plan shows a series of meeting rooms with operable walls, drawn with a certain number of meeting tables and chairs, frequently the mechanical design will be based upon the number of chairs on the floor plan. Whilst the mechanical design may take into account the operable walls and allow the space to operate as a single space – it may not take into account that when the operable walls are open the client intends to use the space for a lecture and the occupancy density will be higher. The mechanical engineer needs to understand if spaces are to be used in different ways with different occupancy densities.

I have also found that the mechanical engineer may under design the systems to save money, thinking that the client will not really use the space in this way very often and therefore not want to pay the additional costs – for example a training facility for 60 people which converts to a function room for 250 people. If the mechanical engineer believes that the cost of the briefed functional requirement is unusual or excessive then they need to discuss this with the interior designer/architect and the client.  The client would much rather understand and have the choice to pay the cost up front than to have to modify the system later after everyone has sweltered at the opening party. Particularly if they had asked for a space for 250 people.

Base building issues
One of the biggest issues with the mechanical systems for many interior fitouts is that you are working with, modifying and adding to an existing system. Often no accurate drawings or manuals exist for those systems. Whilst not frequently undertaken, a full site audit of the existing mechanical systems prior to design can be very worthwhile – if the client is willing to pay for this and if there is a way to arrange access (generally this will mean removing ceilings). If not, the involvement of the mechanical engineer during construction stage to work with the air conditioning subcontractor is essential.

The other issue with existing base building systems can be that there is an air conditioning subcontractor responsible for ongoing maintenance. It always makes sense to see if this subcontractor can undertake the fitout modification works as well. At least that way if there are any complaints there is only one responsible maintenance company. Some building owners and facilities managers require that modifications are undertaken by the maintenance contractor.

Other coordination tips
Many of the issues discussed above are not so much coordination issues as design management issues.  So I’ve listed below a few more of my tips on coordination between interior design / architecture and the mechanical engineer:

  1. Ensure the mechanical engineer understands the different partition or wall types in the project. In particular they need to be aware which walls are operable walls and which walls are full height to the underside of a slab or roof above, or which walls have baffling above.  Walls to the slab above or with baffling above impact on the path of return air above the ceiling and need to be taken into account in the design of the mechanical systems. Operable walls change the air flow within the space and again need to be taken into account in the mechanical system design.
  2. Coordinate different types of diffusers and grilles. Ensure that grilles are shown both on architectural and mechanical drawings. Ensure that you understand where the door grilles go and advise the mechanical engineer if there are any problems with proposed locations. For example grilles proposed in acoustic doors , glazed doors or other doors where the visual appearance is important. Similar issues apply to ceiling diffusers and grilles.  Ensure that the selection and style of grille and the colour are co-ordinated suits the interior design and are not specified differently in the architectural documents and the mechanical documents. Also ensure that linear grilles which crossover from room to room and could impact acoustics are considered and detailed appropriately.
  3. Check locations of thermostats and controls. Ensure they are not on operable walls, glazed walls, behind retractable screens or in other functionally or visually unappealing locations.
  4. Consider accessible outdoor space for condensor units and the need for either building owner or authority approvals for any outdoor units or grilles.

All of the above are my tips and suggestions – maybe the mechanical engineers reading this have their own suggestions?  What are your tips for working with mechanical engineers?  Does anyone have any more solutions to managing and coordinating with existing base building systems? Do you have any tips for hydraulic and fire engineering collaboration?

I thought my readers might also be interested in this blog post  on BIM collaboration – what it has to say about collaboration applies to every type of project, not just BIM projects. http://bimfix.blogspot.com.au/2013/02/collaborative-bim-planting-seed.html

Image Credits:
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  dzarro72 

Working with Electrical Engineers

IMG_0570_ps_v24jpgIn my series on engineering collaboration, I’ve decided first to focus on collaboration between interior design and electrical engineering.  (See here for general engineering collaboration tips if you missed it), For interior design projects the most obvious area of coordination (or lack thereof)  is generally with the electrical items – which on even a straight forward office fitout project could include lighting, audio visual, information and communications technology and security as well as general power.  On a more complex interiors project there may be multiple engineers involved in designing and specifying these systems.

This week, cost overruns and time delays due to ICT and security made news in relation to the new office fitout for the Australian Prime Minister. Whilst its not clear what the problem was with the Prime Minister’s office fitout it’s clear that somewhere along the line there was a breakdown in communication which lead to significant budget overruns and time delays for the whole project due to these disciplines. Regardless of why this occurred the results highlight the importance or the impact that electrical engineering disciplines can have on a fitout costs and program.

Not only do electrical systems have a big impact on project cost, they are often ones that the client has a high level of interest in – generally clients care much less about their office air conditioning (as long as it works at the times they want it to) than they do about the operation or location of controls for audio visual or security systems, or even lighting in a board room.

Finally  lighting forms a highly visible element of the fitout, contributing to the overall experience of the space.  A great fitout can be ruined by poor choice of lighting.  Good lighting design will not work in isolation – it has to be a collaboration between the interior designer or architect and the engineer so as to suit the fitout aesthetics, budget, the spatial functional requirements and the lighting functional and performance requirements.

So some tips from Ben Murhpy, GHD Canberra  Building Engineering Manager,  on coordination between architecture or interior design and electrical services (Ben’s comments in italics with some further comments by me after each one):

  1. Allow for comms racks and switchboards. These items are not large, but do have significant access requirements to comply with code requirements, which leads to large rooms/spaces. Plan them early or risk having them exposed on walls or taking up entire rooms earmarked for “storage”. In Australia (and maybe other countries too) be aware that a server room must comply with the requirements for disabled access which means that they will appear to be huge and must have a ramp if they have an access floor.
  2. Cables require space too!!!! It is assumed these are small and therefore don’t need any space. We actually need to consider the route for every cable from the switchboard/comms rack to the final GPO/comms point and ensure it can be installed, maintained and look nice. The alternative is aussie duct or surface conduit. In particular look at how power and data will get from freestanding reception desks or workstations to the duct/ceiling. No good if your pretty island of a reception desk has to have a power pole added at the last minute because you couldn’t get access from the tenancy below to core hole for your cables.
  3. Selection of lighting should be broad concept from architect, but leave actual fitting selection to engineers with approval by architect. Architects picking fittings doesn’t often work as the fittings selected don’t meet the performance, maintenance, energy efficiency requirements. Much better to provide the engineer with a general brief of types of things you want to see in each area. Now I have to admit to differing in opinion from Ben on this one. Lighting is a key element for interior design, it really can make or break your space, and therefore needs to be carefully integrated with other design elements. For me it depends on how critical the fittings are to the design intent and how well I know the lighting engineer. If the fittings are critical to the design I will put forward the fittings and unless there is a pretty good reason I expect the electrical engineer to design around them. That said, I also know I can’t do this for the whole fitout and that there might be a good reason for the engineer not to use them. In that case I am happy to work with the engineer on alternatives. But we have to talk about it.  If the fitting is not critical to the design, then I can just say something like linear suspended fitting and expect the engineer to make some suggestions.

The final tip I would add to this is to consult with the client over their systems needs.  As a first step find out what areas they expect to have involvement and input into.  Then build their input into the program identifying dates the information must be provided by to meet design deadlines.  If there are numerous client stakeholders it can also be useful to hold workshops to address specific topics such as audio visual or ICT.  The client should review final documentation for any systems where they have significant inputs,  design involvement or performance expectations.

What are your tips for working with electrical engineers?  Would you agree that areas such as security and IT are often the most complex to resolve with the client?  Do you have any tips for mechanical or hydraulic engineering collaboration?

 

Collaborating with Engineers (or play nice in the interior design sandpit)

iStock_000000252654SmallI thought I might put together a series of posts on the topic of playing nice with the engineers on interior design projects.  In the spirit of collaboration I asked some of my former colleagues over at GHD to provide some comments on collaboration. Thanks to Ben Murhpy, GHD Canberra  Building Engineering Manager for some great inputs across all the building services/MEP disciplines.  Over the coming weeks I’m going to focus on each discipline but for today I’m just going to look at some coordination and collaboration issues that cross all disciplines.

Engineers and interior designers or architects often don’t get along very well.  They seem to think that their project aims will forever be in conflict.  However I have found working in the interiors space that most engineers who regularly work in fitouts do actually want similar outcomes to the interior designers and architects.  They don’t want the engineering components of the fitout to stick out either.  The problem more often seems to be one of engineers and interior designers or architects actually communicating and working together, collaborating for the best solutions – rather than each thinking that only their way or solution is the best or only way.  The best way is going to be the best for the project or client and end users, which is often found by the different disciplines working together to solve the issues.  This collaboration can happen regardless of if the engineering and architecture teams are in 1, 2 or more offices.  While I worked in an integrated practice, I also frequently worked with other engineering consultants or teams in remote locations and found that the same issues apply – the need to communicate with one another.

Although engineers often blame the interior designers and architects for not telling them things or changing the design, when asked to provide comment Ben added that “Engineers don’t seem to want to ask questions of architects for some reason???”  I’ve also found many engineers don’t seem to like asking the client questions either.  I’m not quite sure if this has something to do with the personalities of many engineers, for it is certainly true that there are many engineers who are very good technically but for a variety of reasons are not very good communicators.  Now this post isn’t meant to be an engineer bashing post at all (many of my very good friends and favourite colleagues are engineers), but I will start out with this point to engineers – ASK QUESTIONS!  Actually the same point applies to everyone working on the project, whatever the discipline.  In my view the only dumb question is one that you have asked before.  I recently worked on a project where the engineering consultants sent a list of about 50 questions before starting work, some were for us and some had to be answered by the client.  I would say it was a standardised list they had developed for fitout work and then they reviewed and customised for each project.  I thought this was a great idea.

These are my tips for working with engineering consultants:

  1. The interior designer or architect needs to allow space for engineering services from the very earliest stages.  Early on before you are sure of requirements, its better to allow a bit too much space than none at all.   Whilst it is possible to be excessive with space, I find usually the extra space is needed for something wasn’t thought of at concept stage. If you don’t allow space for the services you will end up with a switchboard or fire hose reel right next to your main entry or taking up all your allocated storage space.  More will follow on this in later posts.
  2. The engineers need to be given a brief.  They don’t know how many power points to put in each room or how many people will occupy it, unless someone tells them, they can only guess.  I am a big fan of Room Data Sheets (or something similar) to agree with the client the details of what goes into each room and then as a tool for briefing the whole team – interior designers or architects and engineers.
  3. Following on from point 1 above – give the client the opportunity to have input into how the lighting or audio visual systems etc work.  Some won’t care, but others have very specific requirements or expectations.  And in the end they are the ones that have to operate the systems installed.
  4. Interior designers and architects need to try to understand a little bit of engineering.  It is important to know what areas might be key or what issues might be non negotiable from a technical view.  This is also important from a cost management perspective, as I’ve talked about previously.   Engineers should also make the effort to understand the design intent and not see aesthetic issues as interfering with technical solutions but as a new challenge.
  5. Regular team meetings are a must.  These can be face to face or teleconferences, video conferences, web conferences or anything else.  The point is to open up conversation and encourage all team members to raise issues.  Whilst sometimes team meetings can seem like a waste of time when people are busy, if they are kept focussed and actions recorded and followed up they can save a lot of trouble later in the project.  It is much easier to get things right the first time than have to rework.  I also believe that all team members should be involved not just one or two senior staff.  I also find that a final coordination workshop at around 90% project completion is very useful, preferably run by a senior staff member who hasn’t had day to day involvement in the project and who is experienced in coordination issues.
  6. The interior design team needs to check the engineering documentation.  Mistakes happen, thermostats end up on glazed or operable walls.  Lighting is missed from a joinery unit.  Just as you check the interior design documentation, someone on the project team needs to check that the engineering documentation is coordinated with the interior design and matches the client brief/room data sheets.
  7. Establish and agree a program/time schedule and a scope of work before you begin.  Agree when engineers will provide the interior designers with certain deliverables, at the same time agree when the interior designers or architects will provide the engineers with information – such as final ceiling types.  This program also has to tie in with the program for client approvals.
  8. Everyone in the team needs to take responsibility and feel ownership for the project no matter which discipline.  Everyone is responsible for coordination.

Over the coming weeks I’ll expand with more particular tips for each engineering discipline.  What are your tips for working with engineers?  Why do engineers dislike asking questions?  Does your interior design team work collaboratively with your engineering team? If you are an engineer, feel free to email me with tips to include in future blog posts.

Image Credit: iStock_000000252654