Week 8 of the takeover and Sophie hands over to Ian McKee, aka The Building Doctor, our Managing Director. Ian was part of the team that founded GLM 25 years ago and will be sharing lessons learned from his career as we look forward to the future.
Ian is a chartered building surveyor with a keen eye for design. His interests are wide ranging from the technical to the strategic. Ian is well versed in the full range of the profession having performed the full range of building surveying duties in the course of his career including project management, major dilapidations claims, building condition surveys, building refurbishment and property management. This week, the Building Doctor hat is likely to be firmly on as Ian talks us through looking after our buildings for the future. Have a read and connect with Ian on LinkedIn or Instagram.
- (Image : Above, Centre) It’s a question often posed, what will the future look like?
While it’s important to let the imagination go wild and become super futuristic, thinking about magical teleportation systems or cities floating on the seas or even under it, when it all boils down, the future will look very much like today. Take the built environment – how different will this scene look in 10, 15, 20 or even 50 years time? Will we still get early spring snow or will we get even more of it? Will we still use the road for individual personal transportation? Will we still cram every piece of green space or brownfield site with identikit boxes? Can we afford or justify such big private gardens in suburbia? One thing is pretty certain, 80% of the buildings seen here and around us today will still be in use. And that’s a worry because many haven’t been built or maintained too well and their repair, upgrading and adaptation for a warmer, wetter, climate disrupted future is a massive challenge on which we are not making very good progress.
- (Image : Above, Right) For sure it is going to continue to rain…this is Scotland after all! But the intensity of the rain is likely to increase, we are seeing that already. Short sharp downpours combined with longer periods of persistent rain will become the norm in our climate disrupted future. Can our buildings cope?
It’s a question I’m asking here as we tackle a gutter related issue. Simple mundane things like gutters, designed and installed on buildings over 150 years ago, will need to be replaced with rainwater systems better able to cope with the phenomenal water surging effects of intense downpours. Just getting agreement between 17 owners here to do emergency repairs was exhausting enough, now try to convince everyone that ‘betterment’ is required!!
- (Images : Below, Left – 2 images) The future for buildings like these with their increasing maintenance and repair needs is being made all the harder as we advance our urbanisation. Routine tasks like cleaning out gutters, something required twice a year but lucky if it’s done once a decade as here, is going to be almost impossible when the trams start running. An excellent piece of urban transportation future proofing (in my view) will have the unintended consequence of making it nigh on impossible to get a cherry picker in to do this task. With live overhead cables around, will the city give the consent needed to bring one in? Experience elsewhere in the city suggests not. Maybe personal jet packs will advance enough to get us safely up to this level to get the work done.
- (Images : Above, Centre – 2 images) Even when the essential elements of a building are accessible, they are still often neglected. This disrepair doesn’t happen overnight and whilst it may be out of sight, rarely does it remain out of mind for long. Simple and effective maintenance and repair done on a regular and ongoing basis is the essential foundation to securing the future of your building. The market generally disconnects the condition of the building from its value. Market valve is driven by the simple economics of supply and demand and, whilst demand outstrips supply, people will pay whatever it takes to secure the property without thinking too much about the cost of future repair and maintenance. We often talk about the investment needed to bring a building up to a basic level of condition – the essential and necessary works required just to return a building to its basic functioning condition. This comes as a shock to most… surely the seller will deduct this from the asking price…well no! This is the distortion caused by the property market. So before that list of desirables can be done or even some upgrading to make it more energy efficient we need to find a new method of funding maintenance and improvements.
- (Images : Above, Right) And it doesn’t get any easier in the rural environment. Rain still persists and the economics are just as challenging. Here it’s not so much about LtV (loan to value) and the lack of free equity (or equally hard to find disposable income) to fund the repair and upgrading works necessary, but rather finding a viable economic use for a building like this to justify the expenditure necessary to repair and upgrade it. Or just someone who, like a vintage car lover, pours their heart and sole (and their cash) in to its restoration just for the love of it. Either way as part of our built heritage, we need to find ways to effectively and economically repair and upgrade them.
- (Image : Below, Right) One thing is for sure, the future will still need the traditional building skills, techniques and materials that so much of Scotland’s built heritage relies on. However, the importance of careful design and specification and even some carefully considered experimentation, cannot be underestimated, if we are to incorporate the upgrades necessary to meet the environmental challenges we all face. Like for like repairs won’t cut it. For instance, this roof is now over a 100 years old and needs to be replaced. A new lead roof will last well into the future – another 100 years or more quite easily – but with the roof covering off should insulation be added? To conserve energy and meet our carbon reduction targets the answer is yes. But get the design, specification and detailing wrong and you’ll be back here in 10 years or less with a written off roof.
- (Image : Above, Centre) And what of the future for professional advice? Well, despite Michael Gove’s belief that ‘the country has had enough of experts’, never has the need been greater. With such overwhelming and conflicting information being pumped out into the ether it’s not a bit of wonder risks are being taken and mistakes made. I’ve recently advised on some very expensive and apparently ‘fully refurbished’ up market properties bought without survey only for the new owners to find fundamental problems a year or so down the line. The condition of buildings is not often (if ever) factored into the market value and, as the heat in the market is fanned ever higher, this leads to risk taking that can come back to bite. But I do think the nature of the advice and the way in which it’s presented will change. Here we talk those responsible for this property through the building defects we see and the issues they face, discussing short, medium and long term repair and maintenance requirements that could be funded through wider estate management strategies. The time saved writing and reading lengthy reports means more money to spend fixing the problem.
- (Images : Above, Right – 2 images) In addition to meeting onsite to talk through the issues, we fly drones over buildings and mark up the resulting images, emailing them halfway across the world so an owner can make an informed decision. A worldwide lockdown has taught us to find these alternative methods of working. And as we refurbish, we’re putting systems into buildings like these that enable them to be controlled from across the world too…the future is here or at least yesterday’s future is! Where next? The pace of change and development is relentless.
- (Images : Below, Left – 3 images) And a word of warning, we won’t get everything right. An understanding of the past must inform the future. It once seemed like a great idea to make bathroom pods in a factory – they were a great solution for accommodation platforms on oil rigs so why not for student accommodation, hotels and prisons? Well longevity is an important factor. An accommodation platform in the North Sea has a defined life at the end of which it’s refitted or scrapped. Buildings are not the same! A fibreglass moulded bathroom pod cannot be refurbished in situ and when it is life expired or the grading of the hotel is improved there is only one thing for it…destruction and landfill.
- (Images : Above, Centre) The greenest buildings are the ones we’ve already got and 80% of them will still be with us in 2050 and beyond. Collectively we must value them not for how financially rich they make us but for the embodied ‘energy’ they represent and the remarkable heritage and cultural riches they give us. In my world, the future starts and finishes with well considered design and specification followed by carefully planned and implemented lifelong building maintenance.
Head over to our Instagram – @weareglm – and follow along as David Ralph (Image : Above, Right) takes over Week 9!