ellivo (Studio Journal)

16.10.2016 (Blog)

Façade Wars: The Council Strikes Back

BCC seeks better design outcomes by conditioning architects to certify for design compliance

As scaffolding comes down on many of Brisbane’s newly-completed apartment projects, it is clear that some buildings do not resemble what was approved. In many cases there is very little correlation between the DA and marketing images and the finished building façade.

Unfortunately, when poor-quality outcomes like these occur it reflects badly on the development industry as a whole.

So how can such an obvious disregard for DA approval conditions occur, and how is this possible and lawful?

This article explores the current approval process, identifies who is responsible for approving design modifications, and provides a glimpse into the future, where BCC is seeking greater compliance to the approved design by way of stringent conditions requiring Architectural Certification.

An inherent weakness of the D&C process

With construction costs increasing, many developers have chosen Design & Construct contracts to deliver their buildings. This form of contract places construction cost risk with the contractor, however it also gives them the flexibility and the opportunity to ‘value manage’ by substituting materials and reducing quality.

So unless the developer has adequate independent Project Management and administration controls in place to ensure that the building quality is maintained, the result may be that substitutions of materials, finishes, and façade treatment are undertaken by the contractor at their discretion.

From a Town Planning viewpoint, the contractor’s legal requirement is to comply with the Development Approval, including Plans and Conditions.

Often, the Development Approval does not contain a precise level of detail.

Once a Design & Construct contractor is appointed, the consultants are often Novated across, or the builder may choose to commission a new consultant team, including the Architect & Certifier. This team will now tend to protect the Contractor’s interests rather than that of the Developer.

The current Certificate of Classification process

Development Approvals tend to incorporate an implied degree of flexibility, acknowledging there will be a process for further design resolution during the documentation process. A reasonably standard Condition of most approvals, and one that most in the industry will be familiar with, reads:

“Carry out the approved development generally in accordance with the approved DRAWINGS AND DOCUMENTS.”

There is a process for exploring minor changes that are ‘Generally in Accordance’ with the Building Certifier, who may choose to seek further clarification from a Town Planning consultant. This may result in making a formal ‘Generally in Accordance’ request to the council. Where the scope of the changes is broader, then a ‘Permissible Change’ application may be made to the relevant local authority. Unfortunately these processes have the potential to cause delays if applications are made late, the project is nearing completion, and council approval is still required.

Ultimately, in situations where changes to the façade have been undertaken by the Contractor as part of the D&C process, then the Building Certifier has a certain level of discretion regarding whether the façade is ‘Generally in Accordance’ with the original approval. It is this somewhat flexible interpretation that has been used by some Building Certifiers to sign off on changes that other Certifiers (and their insurers) would consider outside their area of expertise.

And the result is an Approved Building that does not look like the Development Approval.

More stringent Council Conditions

Over recent months, Brisbane City Council has been writing more stringent Architectural Development Conditions, generally for medium to high rise buildings. These specifically address the requirement to submit detailed façade drawings and ensure compliance with these by way of an Architect’s Certificate.

Typically, these conditions now require:
Submission of Detailed Architectural Façade Drawings to the assessment officer, required prior to the commencement of Building Works. These outline a range of façade details at scales of up to 1:20 so that the design intent is clearly documented.
Arrangement of a pre-start meeting with the assessment officer that addresses the issue of façade treatment.
A legal requirement for the Building Contractor to comply with the drawings as submitted, and
The requirement to submit a Certificate of Compliance to the assessment officer by a Registered Architect, certifying that the building has been constructed in accordance with the approved architectural drawings.

What are the implications?

The new conditions will limit the discretion of the Certifier to assess if façade changes are generally in accordance with the original approval. It will bring forward the requirement for the Architect to resolve the building’s exterior, and will reduce the flexibility of the Design & Construct contractor and their certifier to make value management decisions.

This should also ensure that the quality of our city buildings are kept at the high level that was intended when the building was designed & the DA lodged.

Also, Architects are in discussions with their Professional Indemnity Insurer to draft appropriately worded ‘Certificate of Compliance’.

And we all hope that the unethical Darth Vader Developers who have previously abused this GIA loophole will be vanquished.

Header image retrieved from: ttp://au.ign.com/articles/2015/12/16/star-wars-the-force-awakens-review

Written by Scott Whiteoak (Director, Ellivo Architects) with assistance from Leo Mewing (Cardno HRP).