Philip Watson MMC Piece Wellingborough HLM Architects

In a recent article written for Keir Group, Philip Watson talks about how learnings from delivering a Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) approach at the new build prison at Wellingborough is informing our revolution in approaches to creating digital information and how this is driving deeper collaboration with manufacturers and contractors like Kier.

“To truly realise the benefits of modern methods of construction, designers, manufacturers and contractors need to embrace digital collaboration.”

HLM Architects is working with Kier to deliver multiple assets at the £253m new build prison at Wellingborough. Throughout the project we were able to draw on our custodial experience from previous schemes at Addiewell, Peterborough, Forest Bank and Bronzefield, among others, to make improvements to the operational function of the design, as well as efficiencies in construction methodology.

Our deep sector expertise enabled us to reduce the number of buildings at Wellingborough by combining support service functions, such as education, healthcare and worship, to make operations safer and more efficient. We also rationalized the entrance building to make access and control of visitors safer and more welcoming. In terms of construction efficiency, we were able to reduce external wall area significantly and centralise plantroom to make the distribution of services more efficient. Re-engineering the design in this way was key to moving the project forward.

Coordinating design and construction strategy across building types to maximise repeatability has been fundamental to successfully delivering offsite production of building components and has been vital to achieving programme and cost savings. Having reduced the number of buildings, we worked with Kier and the supply chain to rationalize the structural grids to ensure that windows and wall panel sizes were consistent.

Key to realizing these benefits was a collaborative attitude that pervaded the whole design and delivery team including the MoJ, Kier and its supply chain. With significant programme and cost pressures, this integrated team approach brought a willingness to make smart, timely, collective decisions that secured the viability of the project for everyone’s benefit. The primary lesson of this experience is to have the right team in place from the outset, who understand the strategic and logistical challenges and can bring creativity and pragmatism in equal measure to resolve them.

Unusually for architects, HLM entirely embraces offsite manufacture, believing this to be a safer, faster, greener, leaner, and better-quality way to make buildings. Our experience at Wellingborough is informing our own ‘Offsite First’ initiative. This is our commitment to consider how each project could be delivered using offsite manufacture as our primary delivery approach on every project. We are now developing digital tools which make us more efficient in the way we produce information for offsite manufacture for construction.

Consequently, we are moving towards a common platform approach to design. This means creating libraries of building components, some of which are assemblies of multiple components, to make standard building elements such as stairs, liftshafts, rooms, walls and door sets etc. Collaboration with contractors and their supply chains, as we did at Wellingborough, enables the creation of a ‘kit of parts’ that reflects preferred approaches to construction that are affordable and reliable. Assembling buildings using this ‘kit’ will always produce the most efficient and robust approach to design and construction. Working in a collaborative digital environment where models and components are shared is essential to realise these benefits. This is the position we need to get to.

Our initiative clearly chimes with Kier’s, ‘The Choice Factory’ approach to offsite construction and we are hugely optimistic about the benefits this will bring for designers, manufacturers and contractors alike in delivering high quality buildings on time and within budget. Realising these benefits will require deep and open collaboration between main contractors like Kier with their supply chains and design partners. HLM Architects is open to that challenge and ready to deploy lessons learned from Wellingborough.

For more information on our approach to modern methods of construction, watch our presentation, ‘We need to talk about Modular’