RIAI Awards 2016

We are delighted to have been shortlisted for the annual RIAI awards. Our practice

has been selected as one of the finalists in the Emerging Practice Category. You can

click through to the awards via the link below and if you would like to vote for us in

the Public Choice category click here and choose “Twist & Sculpt” by Bright Design Architects.

Thank you!

 

Cottage Upgrade – Dublin 2

We recently completed a feasibility study for a client to renovate a small cottage in Dublin 2. The project seeks to stick to the existing footprint and maximise the living space and storage Within the existing envelope.

Cottage Renovation and Extension – Dublin 8

We have recently been engaged to look at the feasibility of extending a cottage in Dublin 8 The proposal which consist of a revised internal layout and new first floor bedroom space with Screened first floor balcony

Cottage Renovation – Dublin 4

Views of our current project in Dublin 4. It is proposed to renovate and upgrade the existing cottage With a new living space to the rear. The property which has a generous garden looks to make the most Of the space and aspect.

Planning Application Submitted – Wicklow County Council

We recently submitted a planning application for works to an existing bungalow in County Wicklow. It is proposed to extend the dwelling with a new first floor and alterations to the existing elevations With an overall upgrade to the property throughout.

Is Longboat Quay the Next Priory Hall?

Is Longboat Quay the next Priory Hall? That was the question posed by George Hook this evening, the interview can be listened to in full at The Right Hook / 30th September 2015 – (Part 2, first slot).

 

As reported today, some 600 residents within Longboat Quay face an ultimatum this week to rectify fire safety defects or vacate their apartments. This comes on foot of a fire safety notice issued as a last resort by Dublin Fire Brigade. The issue came to light some time ago following an inspection within the development by a bank receiver. The estimated bill for remedial works on the 268 apartments is expected to exceed €4m in addition to works already carried out and paid for by The Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA).

 

Built in 2006 by Gendsong (a company subsequently in receivership), the building is reportedly subject to shortcomings in fire walls, service penetrations, smoke vents and ceilings. All works, mainly concealed post completion and which are extremely disruptive and costly to rectify.

 

So What Went Wrong (again)…

Again, the works were seemingly subject to opinions on compliance based on visual inspection where the architect (certifying professional) was not retained to inspect during the works and in this case was employed by the developing company. Building works require frequent inspections at key stages prior to ‘closing up’ or concealing critical works. To identify such defects post completion often involves invasive opening up works and even this may only expose a very limited portion of work which may exclude defects concealed elsewhere even in the same area. The systematic failure is one of self-certification – the legal acceptance of professionals who are retained by and paid by the developer to sign off and certify upon completion.

Unfortunately the mantra of ‘buyer beware’ applies for owners of such defective apartments. When purchasing they are wholly reliant on the opinions provided by professionals when the building was completed and which forms part of the conveyancing documents. At time of purchase there is very little other than a visual inspection that can be undertaken and this provides little comfort. Again, recourse to those who were negligent is often impossible or at best protracted – meanwhile the defect remains unresolved.

 

So What is the Solution…

Clearly what is required is a Building Control Authority lead inspection regime which offers independent oversight at key stages. This is what happens in the UK and Northern Ireland and which works well. It may involve an extra fee to resource but one which is surely worthwhile. There is also benefit in mandatory Latent Defects Insurance whereby the building owner automatically has the defect remedied without contest and the underwriter follows up for recourse with the negligent professional(s).

 

Are There Others Yet to Come?…

Unfortunately yes. Building Regulations are for the most part fit for purpose but the regulations are no good without compliance and independent policing of that compliance. Apartment blocks built during the boom could not go up quick enough and corners were cut – sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. They would have all gone through a stringent planning and fire certification process but often the standards specified on these documents were not followed and this is often not fully evident in the completed building.

Changes to the Building Control Regulations (S.I. 365 of 2015)

The following is a summary of the main changes to the Building Control Regulations (S.I. 365 of 2015) as discussed on The Right Hook on Newstalk this evening. The interview can be listened to in full at The Right Hook / 1st September 2015 – (Part 1, after first ad break, about 10 mins in).

 

Today sees in the introduction of revised Building Control Regulations (S.I. 365 of 2015) effective from today (1st September). This was largely anticipated following a press release on 31st July from Ministers Alan Kelly and Paudie Coffey :

https://www.environ.ie/en/DevelopmentHousing/BuildingStandards/News/MainBody,42399,en.htm

and a further one today with no new information :

https://www.environ.ie/en/DevelopmentHousing/BuildingStandards/News/MainBody,42562,en.htm

The main problem is that the changes to this legislation does little for consumers and building occupiers who need to be foremost protected. The main changes are prompted by a desire to reduce construction costs but has very little foresight for potential implications. In reality the right solution would be for local authorities to be given more resources to undertake inspections and full independent statutory certification themselves. This is the tried and tested system that operates in the UK (including Northern Ireland) and one which largely works. The current (relatively recent) system of Statutory Certification is still Self-Certification by building professionals which was the main problem at Priory Hall…

Below is a more detailed overview of the situation:

 

Background

Priory Hall prompted a kneejerk reaction from Phil Hogan in relation to certification of building works. S.I. 9 in 2014 brought in statutory self-certification for :

(a) houses

(b) extensions over 40sq.m and

(c) works requiring a fire cert (ie, commercial and apartments).

The introduction of these regulations has lead to increased obligations on clients and professionals alike and has introduced unwanted costs. It is having a real impact on one-off house commencements and completions at a time when there is a well-documented housing shortage. The revised / relaxed regulations coming into effect today is in response to a 12 month review of S.I. 9 of 2014 published in June of this year. Itself quite shortsighted review in its terms of reference and conclusions.

 

The General Problem

Building and regulation of building has become significantly more complex in recent years. Construction cost is increasing due to certification of products, requirements for health and safety and increased standards generally (ie, insulation). All intended to protect interests of the occupiers, worker and environment etc. One-off House Self builders now have to (often reluctantly) employ professionals where they didn’t before. Current legislation places an onerous liability on certifying professionals – less want to do it, insurance is increasing for those who do and costs to client increase. The new role of Assigned Certifier ultimately require certification of specialist areas that are beyond expertise of any one building professional alone to undertake competently and completely. Joint and several liability (ie, 1% blame but 100% liability as you may be the only party carrying insurance) and the need for individuals and not body corporate to sign certificates is crazy. A building is only as good as (a) the client who commissions it (b) the designer or specifier and most importantly (c) the builder who builds it. Builders are not currently subject to any mandatory training or accreditation – anyone can set up a building firm.

 

The Solution (in the eyes of the Government as of today)

Owners undertaking new houses or extensions >40sq.m can now ‘Opt Out’ and instead sign a ‘Declaration of Intention to Opt Out of Statutory Certification’. While this saves the cost of mandatory professional input it will create a two tier system. Banks and insurance companies are likely to insist on full statutory certification if they are underwriting the building. Why wouldn’t they. Furthermore there may be unintended consequences for property values and ease of sale. This measure combined with the option not to have a builder below puts everything back to where it was pre-Priory Hall for houses and extensions which accounts for the bulk of construction work in the country. Building owner may take on the role of the builder. This is good in terms of the self-build option but bad in terms of the question on whether all building standards have been met. This will save immediate short term construction costs but could lead to problems down the line for subsequent occupants and owners. Owners can now sign the required statutory forms. Again I would imagine banks and insurers will have the last word on this. The definition of aggregate extensions has been clarified. Only if the extension being built now is >40sq.m do the regs apply – previously it could be interpreted as including previous extensions which was ridiculous and not the intent of the legislation. This is to be welcomed. Corporate bodies can now sign the forms. This removes the problem of employees signing and being personally liable. This is to be welcomed.

 

The Real Solution (or what the Government should have enacted today)

Increase the role of Local Authorities. Problem is they do not have the resources or expertise to even carry out random spot checks on the current system let alone be the only body responsible for all inspections and certification. Self-certification however does not work whereby the professional, paid by the client, certifies the work.Clear conflict of interest. Look to the UK Building Control model. Certification by Local Authorities is the ideal but not without cost (extra taxes or commencement notice fees). Increase the pool of those who can certify works – currently can only be an architect, engineer or building surveyor. This has potential merit if standards are maintained and quality not sacrificed. Mandatory Registration of builders to deliver a benchmark and guaranteed standard within the industry. Any building is only as good as the skills and experience of those who build it. Mandatory Latent Defects Insurance – a policy that pays out and fixes the problem immediately rather than the consumer having to resort to other means of redress. Without it a consumer must sue their professional whose professional indemnity insurer will do their utmost to defend such a claim. Ultimately the consumer is left with a long road to addressing their defect despite having paid for a professional service.

These changes are a reaction and not a solution. A guide for homeowners undertaking one-off houses or extensions has been published today by the Department of the Environment and can be found here.

Note: The above is a preliminary review of this new legislation and should not be relied on as a legal opinion or advice on these matters.

Proposed Apartment Size Changes

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The following is a summary of the main opinions expressed on the proposed apartment size changes as discussed on The Right Hook on Newstalk. The interview can be listened to in full at The Right Hook / 31st July 2015.

 

Dublin City Council (DCC) are rumoured to be considering significant changes to minimum apartment size standards as part of their current review of the Development Plan. The City Development Plan is reviewed and updated every 6 years and forms the basis for how all planning applications (what is permitted and where) are considered. The current proposals are not formally adopted but are largely speculation until the Plan is published for public consultation towards the end of the year. DCC usually set the upper benchmark for apartment size standards nationally and being the largest council in the state any change they adopt will have a significant impact.

In summary the rumoured changes include

1. the minimum number of dual aspect apartments in a development being reduced from 85% to 50%. Dual aspect means having windows on more than one side (ideally on opposing sides) to maximise light and provide varying aspect. However, this limits the number of apartments that can be served by a single lift and thus reduces the overall number of apartments possible while increasing the number of lifts required – both of which increase construction and purchase prices.

2. Single aspect east facing apartments will be allowed and north facing only where overlooking a body of water or attractive open space. Currently only south facing single aspect is allowed on a limited basis.

3. The number of 1 bedroom apartments allowed in a development will increase from 20% to a maximum of 30%. A good mix of apartments results in a varying mix of tenures and creates a mix of occupants within a development. Larger apartments (2 bed and larger) are seen as being suited to families and hence sustainable development where occupants can live long term in a development knowing that the apartment will cater for their needs should they decide to have a family.

4. Increased heights are being considered. This will increase the overall density of schemes which would be positive in urban locations where development land comes at a premium.

5. Studio apartments reintroduced – minimum of 45 sq.m (national 1 bed minimum apartment size standard) and for a maximum of 7.5% of the development mix. These would potentially only be allowed in ‘build to rent’ schemes of >100 units with integrated communal facilities in city centre or dockland locations. They would also be permitted in conversions of older buildings to encourage the mixed use of upper floors of commercial buildings. With the demise of the ‘bedsit’ in recent years there is a gap in the market for small units which are suited to short term accommodation for students and young single people without families. However, this needs to be approached with caution so as to avoid a repeat of the abuse of the bedsit system.

 

The fear with these proposals now circulating is that quality will suffer as a result of reduced apartment size. In my opinion it is a kneejerk reaction to the housing crisis but one which will leave a lasting legacy for the quality of life of the occupants for generations to come. With the fast growing population in Ireland we have an increasing number of households but also an increasing number of smaller households (2 people) which requires more housing units. The current standards are based on ‘Sustainable Urban Housing : Design Standards for New Apartments’ published by the Department of the Environment in 2007. This formed the  basis for higher standards adopted by DCC in their last Development Plan however they were never really tested as the construction downturn occurred in the interim. These are good standards but are seen by developers as an obstacle in conjunction with all of the other increased building regulation of recent years.

 

Standards can be relaxed only if quality is not sacrificed. This will promote a move towards sustainable developments where people can happily live long term in an apartment which is adequate and flexible to meet their lifelong changing personal circumstances. There is an argument that there is already an oversupply of smaller apartment types – these were built in the 1990s – it is plausible therefore that the newer larger apartments to be built will allow the occupants of these existing smaller apartments to up-size leaving them available for the demographic they suit. With the very young and increasingly very old population of Ireland we need these larger units more than ever.

 

Apartment living is a necessity of a developed country where development land in key urban centres is limited. By increasing residential density it allows a greater number of people to live close to their work and allow key services (shops, creches, schools etc) to be located locally and sustained by a larger local population. It also reduces the need for car dependence and reduces carbon emissions through greater energy efficiency. However, these homes need to be of critical minimum standards to ensure it can sustain a wide range of tenure types and be flexible to meet these needs over the long term. Unlike houses, apartments cannot be readily extended or altered and therefore getting them right at the outset is critical.

 

The major problem of affordability cannot be denied. Smaller apartments mean higher profit margins for developers (ie, more units per site) but the increased standards needed for energy and accessibility may cancel out any cost saving passed on to purchasers. Therefore, not only is a reduction of construction cost necessary but the purchase cost needs to be looked at through financial incentives offered to purchasers which are government led. It is positive that the government have through the Housing Agency committed to an annual updated review of housing supply and demand with an outlook for the years ahead. The National Statement on Housing Supply and Demand 2014 and Outlook 2015-2017 can be viewed here.

Simon Open Door 2015

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Bright Design Architects are again participating in the Simon Open Door initiative this year. For a modest €50 donation to the Simon Community the public can arrange a consultation with an architect. This affords an opportunity to avail of professional advice on a project without any obligation. Furthermore, no project is too big or too small and the opportunity exists for the public to gain advice on domestic projects that could make a big difference. The double benefit is that it aids a really good cause and over the years it has generated much needed donations needed to sustain the work of the Simon Community.

The initiative has yet to be formally launched but it would appear that bookings are filling quickly. In response we have added some additional slots. These can be booked by going to the Simon Open Door website and following the instructions. Click here for a direct link.

Through the consultation a client will be given general information on the services that architects provide and the fees; information on building costs; planning and building regulation issues and the process of design through tender and construction. It is a lot to fit into a one hour consultation and the advice is to prepare in advance. To help there are a number of useful links:

What to bring on the Day

Top ten questions to ask your Architect

Top tips From RIAI Architects

Working with your Architect

What should you think about before you start your project?

The event is co-organised by the RIAI (https://www.riai.ie/) who are the registration body for architects in Ireland.

 

 

Ranelagh Mews House Planning Permission Granted

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Planning permission has been granted for our mews house design on Oxford Lane Ranelagh. Located to the rear of a protected structure on Mount Pleasant Avenue, the site demanded a bespoke design and careful detailing to compliment the context. This continues our perfect track record for domestic planning permission grants in the Greater Dublin area.