What Is Soft Landings?

Ingrid Berkeley

Senior Sustainability Consultant

Max Fordham LLP

Daniel Hopkinson

Soft Landings is a process that enables building owners and occupiers to get the most out of their building.

Key Aims of the Soft Landings Process

It is a structured approach to collaboration between building designers, their clients and the future occupants and operators of a building that focusses on delivering buildings that are comfortable and straightforward to use, and with systems optimised to minimise energy use and maintenance costs. It is now seen as an integral part of targeting net zero carbon.

  • Help building occupants understand the links between their actions and energy use
  • Identify key risks to successful low energy operation and performance and develop risk mitigation strategies
  • Focus project teams on these key risks throughout all stages of the project
  • Help clients understand the significant impact that the operation of a building has on its actual performance
  • Support clients in planning for handover and taking over operation of their building
  • Provide support and aftercare for the occupants beyond the handover of the completed building including fine tuning and optimising of building systems

The Soft Landings Process

The Soft Landings process should be managed from briefing through to operation to ensure all strategies are put in place effectively. A NZC Soft Landings Champion would work with the project team and a wide range of key building stake holders to carry out the following tasks:

Concept Design and Briefing - Set challenging but realistic and measurable performance targets. The design is then monitored against these targets, tracking energy use estimates and key assumptions as the project develops.

Design and Construction Stages
- Review the design with occupants and building managers as their views and experience are essential to deliver a building that operates successfully. Identify risks to the building’s operational performance and agree mitigating actions for each stage of the project’s development. Incorporate Soft Landings requirements into tender documentation.

- Work in advance of handover with the contractor and facilities management team to see that the handover is well planned, including staff familiarisation and training.

Aftercare - Once the building is complete the Soft Landings process continues with the “aftercare” period. Throughout the aftercare period, regular visits are made to observe the building in use, review the energy performance and operation of the systems and assist in fine tuning, with the goal to improve comfort, reduce energy costs and optimise the building as much as possible. Operators and occupants are supported as they familiarise themselves with the building, helping to identify emerging issues and agree solutions.

The Role Soft Landings Can Play In the Delivery of Net Zero Carbon Buildings

Using a Soft Landings approach will contribute towards achieving net zero carbon buildings by helping to close the performance gap (the difference between predicted and actual performance) and therefore reduce the carbon emissions associated with extra unnecessary energy use. The performance gap is as much about people and communication as it is about technology. Soft Landings brings the designers and building users together from the earliest design stages through to operation; helping to achieve a smooth-running building with low energy consumption. Appointing a dedicated NZC Soft Landings Champion will ensure the process is effective and this person could also champion the net zero carbon aspirations, acting in effect as a Net Zero Carbon Champion.

Soft Landings helps the building operate smoothly resulting in other benefits beyond energy savings, these include:

  • Improved comfort
  • Occupants are more familiar with building systems and understand their operation
  • Fewer complaints to FM and managers
  • Improved staff and user satisfaction

What Are the Key Elements for Successful Soft Landings?

For a Soft Landings project the following are considered key to success:

  • Client and Project Manager buy-in to the process is essential
  • A NZC Soft Landings Champion with a flexible approach
  • Ensuring that Soft Landings is thoroughly embedded into all contract documentation and is part of the Contractor’s selection criteria
  • Close collaboration between design team and building users and estates teams from briefing to occupation
  • Close monitoring of the building’s developing design and changes which may occur late in the design process to meet budget constraints
  • Staff training and ongoing engagement
  • Clear distinction between the defects and aftercare process