The value of lean construction

How value in the design and construction of schools, colleges and universities can lead to early programme delivery

Andy Stanford is a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, director of Walsh Group and a visiting lecturer at the University of Nottingham. Over a 23-year career, he has worked across a variety of sectors and has extensive experience in schools and student housing. Joe Lawson-West asks him a few questions about the fundamentals of design and construction for living and learning.  

Building 4 Education: How would you describe the Walsh Group’s ethos?

Andy Stanford: Our emphasis is very much on innovation and value. We try to come up with innovative solutions during structural design to maximise value in terms of buildability, programmes, materials and redesign.  

B4E: What are the company’s main focuses?

AS: We are the industry leader in student accommodation, and we are a very contractor-friendly company. The result is that contractors come to us looking for the edge.

B4E: What are the key considerations when designing schools and colleges?

AS: The first consideration is cost, and the second is sustainability – especially in education. We provide sustainable, low-cost design through lean construction, where we minimise materials by designing them down to a safest limit.

Modern schools require a nice ‘clean’ structure, so an important factor is keeping clear spans to allow natural light into the building. By designing a ‘clean’ structure, we can maximise window area.

In student accommodation, however, the key consideration is programme. If you miss the deadline, when students are meant to be moving into their accommodation, that’s a year’s rent lost for the client. So all our solutions are very much focused on ensuring that any risks of the programme deviating are designed out from a very early stage. This was very much the case with the Moonraker project [featured on facing page].

B4E: Tell me about recent and near-future examples of Walsh Group educational projects.

AS: A good example is East Barnet school, which we’ve completed fairly recently. Originally designed by others under the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, it was a massive and complex project showcase. But then, during the recession, everyone was talking about how the BSF programme costs were running away. We worked with a small architectural practice to create a much more efficient design, reducing the costs dramatically – by something like 20 to 25 percent. The school was sited on a hill, and we redesigned how it sat in the hillside, reducing cut-and-fill, reducing retaining walls, etc.

We have previously completed schemes providing over 5,000 beds of student accommodation and currently have schemes under design to provide almost 2,000 beds. The Moonraker Point scheme is a great example of how we have achieved this while providing value.

B4E: How has BIM changed your working practices?

AS: It’s made coordination with architects much easier. We’re working with architects at the forefront of the project, exchanging BIM models. We’re able to do some very complex building with very limited clashes.

B4E: Has sustainability become a more important consideration in recent years?

AS: It’s very prevalent now. We’re pushing towards ISO 14001 by using lean construction and minimising materials rather than trying to fundamentally change designs.

B4E: How have the recent changes in procurement and the focus on value affected the way Walsh approaches education projects?

AS: Previously, bigger budgets were creating wonderful secondary schools but weren’t providing value. Now the Department of Education is pushing for value. It’s what we’ve worked towards for years, and now our solutions are exactly what clients in all sectors are looking for. Everyone is seeing the benefits of lean construction, innovation and value.


Case study: Moonraker Point

Moonraker Point is a 660-bed student accommodation block situated in the heart of London’s Southbank. It consists of two eight-storey reinforced concrete framed buildings.

Students are demanding more from their living quarters so, with this in mind, Moonraker Point was designed to include two levels of commercial space at ground floor and mezzanine level and a large basement with plant space, car park and cycle storage.

Programme challenges

Walsh Group value engineered the project in 2010 in the height of the recession, which meant no upfront funding was given. Because of this they were not able to begin designing the structure from RIBA Stage C until three months before works commenced on site which meant there was incredible pressure on the design programme.

By removing piles from the design outline and adopting a raft solution they were able to save a further two months of programme delivery thereby relieving the pressure on the front end construction team.

They focused their initial design input on the basement wall which allowed it to be constructed ahead of the superstructure design. This took the detailed superstructure design off the critical path and enabled them to progress with the design while the construction team were excavating the basement, saving the team a further two months!

Technical challenges

As the basement lies close to the water table – which is expected to rise in the future – the design of the foundation had to take potential floatation effects into account. Value was provided by collaborating with geotechnical specialists CGL and undertaking a joint finite element analysis of the structure soil interaction, which allowed Walsh Group to convert a complex analysis into a simple solution.

The superstructure consists of 225mm reinforced concrete flat slabs designed using finite element analysis software to minimise the reinforcement quantities required.

The pods which form the top two storeys of the main building cantilever past the structure below. This is achieved by using reinforced concrete deep beams storey high on the room wall lines.

The focal point of the building is the impressive balcony at the ‘point’ of the building. This four-metre hung cantilever was developed by collaborating with the cladding designer and designing the frame and balcony structure as a single element rather than separate elements.

Walsh Group: W:




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