Baggage hall at Jet Blue, Terminal 5, JFK Airport, New York. Credit Nic Lehoux Gensler

+ New development needs to consider basic operational requirements, so why are they so frequently overlooked? And how can we change this?

When major developments open their doors without being operationally ready, the financial and reputational costs can be significant. Whether they’re airports, shopping centres or office buildings, it’s my view that this happens all too often because operational requirements aren’t integrated into the design. So why does this happen and how can we overcome it?

Any new development needs to consider basic operational requirements, like how deliveries are going to come and go, or how waste will be managed. And yet I’m still surprised by how often they’re overlooked.

For some clients, particularly those who are experienced in constructing buildings, operational readiness is second nature. Some – like Land Securities and Stanhope, both in the UK – include operational consultancy as part of their design tenders. But for other organisations, designing and constructing a new building isn’t something they do very often – and this can lead to problems.

Such organisations often have separate teams for design and operations, and unfortunately they don’t always spend enough time talking to each other. Some organisations just don’t have the resources to handle a major project, with the operations team trying to fit the project around their day jobs.

If people aren’t used to working with architects, they can find themselves trying to make their point in a language they don’t understand, struggling to interpret 2D plans, or to see the full implications of the design. Unless they ask for help, operations requirements often fall through the cracks. And although the design will incorporate what the client has asked for, this often won’t include all operational requirements.

This is serious because operational readiness advice at an early stage can have a fundamental impact on the design, deliver capital cost savings and cut running costs. For example, automated distribution systems originally developed for manufacturing are now used in hospitals and offices to reduce staffing costs and free up space.

Heathrow Terminal 5, for example, used an off-site goods receipt facility to cut down the number of delivery vehicles by around 70% – a saving that was only possible because such a solution was considered at the design stage. This significantly reduced the number of basement loading bays, freeing up space in the design.

The advantages of operational consultants being involved right at the start of the design process are clearly significant. I believe the solution to this problem is for operations consulting to be a standard part of the design process, alongside transportation or fire services. This requires a re-education of colleagues, clients, architects and contractors in the industry. It also requires modifying the standard scope of services produced by national industry bodies, to include operational requirements. Without these changes, the typical design process will continue to overlook operational consultancy.