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Benefits of early engagement

There has been a general trend of scope reduction for Mechanical Electrical and Public Health (MEP) Consultants which corresponds to reduce fees in an increasingly competitive market. The long-term result of this industry-wide phenomena is that the quality and performance of the completed building can suffer.

For example, a contractor, without adequate MEP support over the construction period, may deviate from the original design intent or install lower cost options. This situation, amongst many others throughout the design process, contributes to the huge energy “performance gap” of most buildings.

The main responsibility for operational energy performance rests with the MEP Consultant who leads the energy strategy and the design of all the heating, cooling, hot and cold water, ventilation, power and lighting systems.

Expanding the role

At Integration, we aim to expand the role and responsibilities of the MEP consultant as much as possible with the aim of delivering beautiful high-performing buildings. Our capacity to do this stems from efficiencies achieved elsewhere, such as those resulting from developing digital design process.

Here are five benefits of MEP engagement at the very start of a project:

1. Providing the edge

Finding the “big idea” for a project can become an easier and more fruitful exercise if an engineering perspective is available.

Often the innovation arises from the total of the combination of many ideas. In these cases, the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

A building physics rationale, responding to a unique environmental context, can provide valuable insights and give architects the edge when developing their concepts.

When we worked with Tonkin Liu on the design of the ocean themed UK Pavilion for the Dubai Expo, we merged daylight simulations with environmental design sketches to help develop the idea of shafts of light entering the darkened Great Ocean Hall, which take the form of glass lift shafts.

Blog image Early Engagement Daylight Simulation Dubai EXPO
Blog image Early Engagement 1st Facade design Dubai EXPO

2. Form finding for high performance

Form follows function, said Louis Henry Sullivan, and today form finding can benefit from rapid prototyping of fundamental design options. However, testing ideas using building simulation can only add real value if it happens very early in the project.

Simulations takes the guesswork out of complex real-life building performance, allowing the final form of the building to be based on multiple factors.

If the form is fixed by the time a MEP consultant comes on board, then the opportunities to increase the performance are limited.

For the UK Pavilion, the original concept started as uniform façade. Then, a responsive façade form was simulated and developed. The folds in the façade create self-shading where openings can be introduced to provide ventilation. This creates shaded and fresh, evaporatively-cooled bays for visitor to enjoy.

Blog image Early Engagement Facade Simualtion Dubai EXPO
Facade simulation

3. Decreasing risks

For many projects, one of the first activities we carry out is a site / asset survey to help highlight opportunities and red flag any potentially unforeseen constraints.

This survey is carried out by a senior / director level members of the team in order to bring the right level of practical experience and commercial awareness.

In tandem with the survey is the utility management which involves load analysis, connection applications and technical liaison with utility companies. This is essential as infrastructure limitations can influence key strategic decisions. Space allocation for necessary plant and substations then can be appreciated and accounted for early in the design.

4. Improving cost predictions

M&E costs are typically 20% of the budget. Establishing the form, the servicing strategy and energy generation methods allows for more accurate costing and ‘optioneering’ exercises can help steer the design, allowing the costs for each option to be considered.

Moreover, utility connection costs can be very significant and unexpectedly high if reinforcement works are required upstream (for example, a transformer upgrade in an upstream substation). There can be big savings if a scheme is strategically managed to avoid triggering high-cost upgrades.

5. Better planning submissions

The Energy and Sustainability Statements that we prepare for planning can be a great way of promoting a scheme. Optioneering studies and concept design development can be part of the submission to demonstrate why a scheme is genuinely innovative and sustainable.

Simulation tools can quantity the benefits relative to benchmarks. Besides energy and carbon, these can relate to health and wellbeing and include elements like daylight, overheating, fresh air or solar amenity and pedestrian comfort.

Blog image Early Engagement Energy Use Reduction

How early is “early”?

Ideally, MEP and Environmental Engineering input would occur when the brief is being set and even before the first architectural idea is cast.

While this may seem impractical in most scenarios, it is helped by the fact that early MEP input is in some cases a relatively quick exercise and can accomplished by a brief meeting or Teams call.

Please get in touch if you would like to discuss design opportunities for upcoming projects: hello@integrationuk.com