Closer collaboration for better public spaces

Public realm projects are becoming ever more complex. Collaboration between local authorities, developers and all parts of the supply chain needs to continue to improve if we are going to create engaging, effective public spaces, says Stephen Wojcik.

The design and construction of successful public spaces has never been a more challenging task; with shorter timescales and minimal disruption to the customer and public being key delivery drivers.  

Population levels are rising at an astonishing rate, especially in London, meaning our public realm has to cope with ever-higher levels of footfall and traffic. There are more stakeholders to consider than ever before, each with their own disparate demands and expectations.  And the transport mix is becoming increasingly diverse, with the proliferation of cycling and pedestrian travel adding further layers of complexity to the challenge of designing and engineering spaces to serve multiple users.

Our industry’s approach to collaboration has moved on dramatically over the past decade.  This progression needs to continue if the public spaces we build now are to serve us well in the future and deliver best value. In the past there has often been a fundamental disconnect between different parts of the supply chain, despite best efforts to encourage early contractor involvement.

Often engineers, contractors, architects and planning teams operate in silos; only linking up when one needs the other, rather than when there is a real opportunity to share best practice. With London and the nation’s roads and public spaces undergoing a widespread process of renewal and projects becoming more challenging, we need to continue to value engineer from the very start.  

Project leading agencies need to pave the way by facilitating a more holistic and collaborative approach to project design and delivery. Projects now include representatives from many different focus groups in the consultation process to try and understand differing user needs and how a design might impact upon them, but procurement and material performance are often the last things to be considered. Holistic engagement is vital to ensuring that all voices are heard from the very start of a project, when design, cost, materials and programme can still be influenced.

Engineers and contractors involved early on can really bridge the gap between the vision and the reality; advising, for example, on how different materials will perform in real life.  Some products may be aesthetically beautiful and perfect for foot and cycle traffic, but will deform and fail under the load of heavy buses and HGVs. These are the sort of considerations that need to be addressed during initial design and specification stages to avoid significant cost and safety issues later on.

At FM Conway we are trying to do our part to help customers tackle these challenges by investing heavily in our combined design and build offering. This enables us to provide an integrated solution that considers all aspects of a project from conception through to construction - but it doesn’t make us the sole solution. We need sponsors, local authorities and developers to engage with all parts of the supply chain if practical, workable solutions are to be found for the challenging public realm projects that are on the horizon.

Stephen Wojcik is head of consultancy services for FM Conway.