Lyons O'Neill

Focus on: Design that meets clients needs

One of the most important tenets of construction is understanding the needs of the client. If you go in with a dogged, one-size-fits all approach, you’ll meet far more issues and obstacles than going into a project with an open mind and a willingness to adapt to those you’re working for. Likewise, you have to be prepared for the terrain on which you’re working to throw surprises and difficulties, but adaptability and strong planning will allow you to be prepared for anything.

Currently, we are working on developing a new 4FE special educational needs school building for St. Nicholas SEN School in the borough of Croydon, South London. The new building is being constructed on the same site as the current school, which itself must remain fully operational throughout our work on the project. As such, we are working very closely and carefully with the client: our experience in the education sector has been essential, but the nature of the project means we’ve had to be as adaptable as we can to best work with and for the client. The site itself is a steep terrain, incorporating protected trees, and vehicular access is restricted, so it poses a number of challenges, in addition to the necessity of finishing the work as swiftly as possible to minimise disruption to the school. To this end, we’ve chosen braced steel frames with precast hollowcore decks as a cost-effective measure and also to facilitate accelerated installation time. It’s thinking laterally in this way and using decades of experience and expertise to come up with creative solutions which allows issues to be dealt with before they become a problem.

Another complex but enjoyable project of ours was the conversion of Derry’s department store in Plymouth. The site was to be turned into student accommodation and a hotel, with commercial space retained on the ground floor level of the site. Turning a retail space into residential accommodation was a more unusual transformation and it was vital to work closely with the client, architect and contractor to develop a structural scheme which retains as much of the existing structure as possible yet which integrates the new structure where required. Derry’s demonstrates that designing with each client’s unique needs in mind depends upon constant open and honest communication between all parties involved, to deliver a result which satisfies all requirements.

Finally, the client’s needs must dictate not just the design and construction which is carried out, but how the works are done. This was most obvious in our work with the non profit Phoenix Community Housing Association, creating their new headquarters in Lewisham which provide office, social and business space for local people and businesses. Essential to the client was achieving a good BREEAM rating for the project (an assessment of sustainability) so from the beginning we incorporated this into our plans. In fact, our work helped the Association achieve a BREEAM Excellent rating for the project, through our reuse of the existing basement areas for the attenuation tanks, as well as crushing the existing structure on site and using it in the ground improvement process.

Design is nothing if it doesn’t meet the client’s brief, creating the structure and space they require whilst also meeting the needs of the surrounding area and environmental goals. With this focus in mind, putting the client at the centre of each project, you’ll create relationships and structures which are successful and enduringly strong.