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#011 Construction Technology (PART 1) 🏗️

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

Hello friends 👋

This week I’m going to briefly go through the Construction Technology competency. This is probably the competency I am least comfortable with, which is a problem because it is arguably the most important competency we are tested on.

Construction Technology is a vast competency, so it’s unlikely you will know everything, but we are expected to know the very basics. The trouble is, for non-cognate graduates, “we don’t know what we don’t know”, and even though there are plenty of construction textbooks available, some of the industry norms and practices are not captured on paper. For new joiners to the industry, you will be reliant on learning from your team and immediate supervisors. Please check my resources page for some links to construction textbooks that I use!

But fear not!

Hopefully, below I will identify some areas where you can start researching to build up your knowledge base. It will take time and effort on your part, but I hope it will be worth it!

DISCLAIMER: The following is not an exhaustive set of notes, but it's an attempt to help those who, like me at the beginning, did not know where to start! Please feel free to let me know if I have said anything incorrect or out of date!

So what is Construction Technology all about?

Well first of all the actual title is: “Construction technology and environmental services” and the RICS say the following:

This competency covers the design and construction of buildings and other structures. Candidates should have a clear understanding of the design and construction processes commonly used in the industry. They should have detailed knowledge of construction solutions relevant to their projects.

Level 1 is all about the following:

Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the principles of design and construction relating to your chosen field of practice.

The last bit is important. You are not expected to know everything! I work in an infrastructure/transport department and I generally tend to work on railway projects. This information will be known to the assessors as to when I submit my documents I will make it clear that rail is my area of specialism, therefore I (hopefully) won’t be asked questions about nuclear construction etc.

This doesn’t mean I am out of the water though, I still need to know about railway construction which is not easy at all!

Like last week, I’m going to cover the Level 1 bullet points of Construction Technology.

Let’s get into it!

The stages of design from inception to completion

This bullet requires you to understand the relevant gateway process for construction. In the UK we tend to follow the RIBA Plan of Work. When I first joined the industry, there was a 2013 edition, but looking at the website now there appears to be a 2020 edition. I must confess that at this point in time I am not completely familiar with the RIBA version. The railway industry uses a different gateway process call GRIP – Guidance for Railway Investment Projects.

The principles of any gateway process are the same: they want to organise the process of briefing, designing, construction and operating building projects in discrete stages and explains the outcomes, core stage tasks and the information exchanges required at each stage.

I would suggest you start with the RIBA plan of work and look at each stage and as the following questions:

  1. What is the purpose of that stage?

  2. What is the QS’s role in that stage?

  3. If you are preparing an estimate, what information will you require at that stage?

  4. Which OCE (Order of Cost Estimate) do you prepare at what stage i.e. functional, floor area, elemental and formal cost planning?

  5. How does the RIBA deal with the different procurement methods?

Impact of current legislation and regulations

There are loads of legislation that impact the cost of construction, I’ll go through some here, but remember this is NOT an exhaustive list:

  1. Building Act 1984 and subsequent Building Regulations: The building regulations are a set of approved standards that force construction designs to meet a minimum set of standards for safety. The regulations have created a set of Approved Documents (A-R) that cover various disciplines.

    1. As a QS you need to know the impact of the Regs because in some instances the standards they impose will have a cost impact on the client.

  2. Town and Country Planning Act 1990: This is an act that regulates the development of land in England & Wales. You don’t need to be an expert in planning requirements, you just need to understand the basics.

    1. Planning permission is the legal process of determining whether proposed developments should be permitted. The responsibility for planning lies with local planning authorities.

    2. Other than permitted developments (which are considered to have an insignificant impact), all developments require planning permission.

  3. Contaminated Land Regulations 2006: Essentially says that you must ensure that your land is not contaminated. Contaminated land can harm people directly, and indirectly by the impact the construction foundations which may lead to catastrophic issues later. It can be very costly to correct, therefore QS’s must take this into account.

  4. CDM Regulations: These regs are intended to ensure that health and safety issues are properly considered during a projects development phase so that the risk of harm to those who have to build, use and maintain structures is reduced.

    1. Under the CDM there are various duty holders:

    2. Clients

    3. Designers

    4. Principal Designers

    5. Principal Contractors

    6. Contractors

    7. Workers

    8. QS’s fit into the second category. This is because, during value engineering workshops or the estimating stage, QS’s may sometimes recommend an aspect of design in order to save cost – thus making us designers! It is a rather large responsibility therefore as QS’s we need to be really careful about how we operate and stick to our defined role which we are insured for …

How the various elements of a building or structure work and inter-relate

This is a very important one and it requires an understanding of construction tech. The way I try to learn construction tech is by going through the relevant method of measurement and going through each group element with the intention of trying to understand the purpose of each sub-element. For example, for Substructure (which is all about foundations), I will go through the NRM and try to learn all about strip foundations, piling, the different types of piling and what is required for each type.

After doing this and gaining an appreciation of the different elements, you should be able to understand how things start to inter-relate. Let’s take an example.

Say we are building a house, traditional construction but it has a flat roof. Now lets the client has changed his mind and now wants to switch to a pitched roof. The roof has changed, but what else will change or need amending as a result of this decision? Let's go through the group elements and have a go:

  1. Substructure:

    1. Pitched roofs are heavier than flat roofs. This change may now require us to bolster the foundations. For a traditionally constructed house, we are probably talking about a strip foundation, but the change from flat to pitched roof may necessitate a deeper strip.

  2. Superstructure:

    1. Straight forward one, the flat roof is becoming pitched.

  3. Internal Finishes:

    1. No necessary resultant changes here …

  4. FF&E:

    1. No necessary resultant changes here …

  5. Services:

    1. The first thing you might want to think about is drainage. When you had a flat roof, you could skew the roof so you only need one drainage slot, one downpipe, one manhole, one connection to main sewer (over simplistic I know).

    2. Now that you have a pitched roof, you will need to add gutters, potentially two downpipes, two manholes and two connections to the main sewer.

    3. You might also want to think about how you are going to heat/cool/ventilate that space that has been created as a result of the pitched roof.

I’m sure I’ve missed something but that should give you an idea of how one change can result in changes elsewhere.

Operational and maintenance processes post-construction

This is quite an interesting one because it requires you to understand the context and needs of the built asset. For example, during the early stages of a project you might be asked to produce a rough OCE, let's say for a school.

What things do you have in a school which need to be considered? Clearly, you need to think about classrooms, toilets, a library, or maybe an IT suite. Each of these will have different construction requirements. For example, the IT suite may be built on a raised access floor.

How do the kids travel from class to class? Through corridors. Therefore we may need to widen the corridors to make way for the dozens of kids who will be navigating the labyrinth of a school corridor system at the stroke of the bell.

So by operational requirements, we need to consider how the built asset will be used and we need to ensure we advise the client if things look out of place.

We also need to consider the maintenance requirements of a built asset. How will people clean the building? Let’s look at train stations for example because I’m familiar with them. On complex train station roofs or canopies across platforms, there tend to be hooked on the aforementioned to enable people to hook into the system. This will enable them to clean the surface, and be protected in case they fall!

This bullet point is a bit abstract, but you need to learn about the asset you are building.

Knowledge of modern construction techniques such as prefabrication

This is a fairly straightforward topic. You need to know about things like precast concrete, how it's made, what are the benefits and disadvantages versus normal site poured fresh concrete. You need to understand the logistical and cost implications. You need to learn about the post and pre-tensioned concrete.

There are also all the other aspects e.g. pre-fabricated construction works, i.e. off-site construction methodology. Examples of this include chain hotels creating bathroom pods off-site, shipping them to the site just in time to be installed on a floor by floor basis.

I hope the above has helped to give you a brief understanding of what this competency is all about!

Have a great week!

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