Robert Ousey, principal at Architectus, has over 20 years experience working on projects throughout Europe and Australia.

He has worked on several large-scale aviation projects, including Sydney International Airport T1 Refurbishment Projects, Heathrow Airport T5 and Hobart Airport.

Architecture and Design spoke to Ousey about the future of aviation design projects, how the shift from traditional procurement processes to D+C models is impacting on the industry and why graduates need to be careful about using BIM.

You have expertise in aviation projects. Where did this interest come from?

I began working on aviation projects in the early 2000s in the UK. Following 9/11, UK airports were required to upgrade infrastructure to segregate incoming and outgoing passengers. This was problematic owing to the constraints of existing infrastructure; in particular, the single level piers serving the aircraft gates.

By this time I had developed extensive experience and a passion for prefabricated building systems, or as it is now termed ‘design for manufacture and assembly.’ I developed an interest in aviation via this project which continued through a stint on Heathrow Terminal Five before moving to Australia. Recently with Architectus I have been working on several projects at Sydney Airport, including working with the team to create a vision for the airport over the next five to 10 years.

How do you see aviation design changing in the next 10 years?

Over the next 10 years I anticipate that aviation design will increasingly need to be tailored to meet the evolving demands and expectations of the airlines clients, their passengers and specifically key revenue generating and growth markets.

Airports will facilitate airline product offers targeted at selected passenger groups: premium passengers, the ageing population, families and emerging markets. Premium passengers – the most important revenue generating sector for airlines – will expect enhanced priority processing and additional services such as inbound lounges.

One area of focus, in particular at Australian ports, must be the arrivals processing experience through passport control and immigration. Currently this can be an intimidating experience for passengers unfamiliar with the processes. The architecture that frames these processes must be able to communicate more effectively why the processes are necessary – to protect the Australian flora and fauna.

How has the changing way architects work influenced the design process? What does this mean for the buildings that are being created?

It is the changes to the design process, led by others within the construction industry, that has had the greatest impact on changing the way architects work, not architects influencing the design process. The shift from traditional procurement processes to D+C models has recently been taken a step further with the increasing use of early contractor involvement or public private partnership procurement models.

These procurement approaches can restrict or completely remove the interface between the client and architect. This restricts architects’ abilities to help the client define project requirements and expectations and can reduce the level of control that architects have in shaping the final outcome.  Projects driven by contractors tend to have reduced design programmes and keener analysis of costs early in the process. There is also limited scope and time to explore design options, test unorthodox or unconventional solutions and/ or undertake research and development.

 The challenge to architects is to modify our model of working to suit these new procurement routes without significant compromise to design quality. Architects have to understand what is important to contractors (programme and cost) and modify design processes to align with these imperatives.  Design quality expectations and design outcomes must be scoped and quantified through benchmarking early in the process to allow contractors to obtain a level of cost certainty, whilst creating sufficient time for considered design to happen in tight programmes.

Technology has had a significant impact on the industry.  What effects is this having on how buildings are designed?

The advancement of building information modelling has undoubtedly had a positive impact on the way buildings are designed.

BIM can be tailored to suit specific project requirements and when applied with discipline and accuracy, encourages an approach more akin to product design, which allows for more integrated buildings and delivers tangible commercial benefits by reducing variations resulting from clashes on-site.

One of the negative impacts of the reliance on digital technology is its tendency to divorce its users from the reality of the construction process. In particular, current graduates have a tendency to rely too heavily on digital design and production tools. What can be achieved on the screen is not always feasible in reality, and with current procurement models, recent graduates’ exposure to work on-site is often limited, especially in larger practices.

What is one project you wish you had worked on and why?

Herzog and De Meuron’s Signal Boxes in Basel, Switzerland. It creates an extraordinary outcome from what could have been a relatively prosaic assignment. To elevate the everyday in this manner is a particular interest of mine.

It is vital that the design of everyday buildings, which form the vast majority of building stock, is not neglected or considered outside the frame of architecture. Architecture must not become exclusive.  My passion is to deliver exceptional architecture across the built environment,, especially in sectors or building types that traditionally may not have been the focus of the design community.