A comparison of two project scales on site

At the start of March I went up to Oxford to shadow the project architect working on our Oxford University project. The project was for a new teaching accommodation facility and the refurbishment of an adjacent existing listed building at St Peter’s College. The project started on site in December and is due to be completed in October this year. On my visit the steel frame had almost finished being erected on the new build and insulation, door fittings and electrical fittings were all being installed in the areas being refurbished. By visiting this construction site I hope to see the projects transition from paper to reality and I feel more site work will help me improve my design work where I will be more confident on how certain detailing works.

My previous site experience, at Richard Hopkinson Architects, involved snagging ceramic tiles and brickwork on Lewisham Southwark College. This was a large scheme next to London Waterloo station nearing completion at the time. The contractor working on the project was Balfour Beatty who are a large international construction company. They had a large workforce on site in order to accommodate the building’s size. I found that in order to coordinate this workforce they had a lot of complicated site management procedures in place. This included vast amounts of programmes and schedules in the site office down to the electronic access system that recorded the times of who entered and left the construction site during the day. This initial experience was fairly overwhelming with so much going on on a large site at the same time and of course was a completely new environment for me. It also came as a shock to see so many imperfections on site and that it isn’t always as precise as the drawings produced in the office. While on site my boss and I made observations on the previously unforeseen problems  that had occurred during the construction phases in which new design solutions had to be produced for. This showed me how stage 5 is not as straight forward as building everything produced during the design stages as I initially thought. I was able to start seeing how a keen eye for detailing can go a long way in preventing issues down the line and I’m becoming aware of the impacts that even the smallest of details can have on a project. I’ll will be sure to take this into consideration when I undertake these sorts of tasks further on in my career.

In Oxford I was expecting a much smaller work force working on site. The hired contractor for our St Peter’s College project is Edgar Taylor, a small Buckinghamshire based construction company. An initial observation was that there was a lot less management needed on site to coordinate the workforce than the London project. It didn’t take to long to be shown around by the site manager and to navigate the site to check up on the individual processes that had taken place since the previous visit. My involvement in this visit was to take observations for my own personal development. As I haven’t been involved with this project before, or been on site visits for Design Engine, I spent time before heading to Oxford reading through the stage 4 report and tender information. I also took the opportunity to discuss some of the contractual elements of the project with a colleague to get a greater understanding of the project up to its current state. This process was useful for me to so I could understand the transitional periods between work stages and so I could start to see a project develop through stage 5. Overall these site experiences are helping me to understand project timelines in later stages which I can take into consideration in early stages.


Site photos of St. Peter’s college showing the erected steel frame of the new build and the ongoing refurbishment works
(Photographer: Sean Bailey)

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