In 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):
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?