Stories

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Smart building

Conventional procedures in the construction and real estate industry, where total service and general contracting companies are invited to submit tenders, result in wasted time and unsatisfactory results. This is a pity because it would be possible to save costs and achieve better all-round results if all interested parties were involved at an early stage. With the global services model, the client, planners and building contractors are all pulling in the same direction.

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The building and traffic department of Basel City canton need new premises. From May 2016, therefore, 320 of the 1200 staff are moving to two adjacent office buildings on Dufourstrasse in the centre of Basel. The canton holds a long-term lease on the office space in the building. To prepare for the move, the two old buildings, completed in 1927 and 1955, respectively, will be totally renovated and customized to meet the new tenant's needs. COBAB AG, Zurich, the private owner of the building, will be investing some CHF 24 million in the refurbishment. At first sight, it looks like the typical renovation of a property that has seen better days: the kind of project that is carried out every day of the week in Switzerland. However, a peek behind the scenes reveals that the persons responsible are doing much more than is normal today in the industry: from initial idea to turnkey completion, the project is being planned in its entirety by a single, interdisciplinary team, working to meet a maximum price defined and agreed before work even started.

Unexploited potential on both sides

A traditional approach would look different. As a rule, the client gets together with an architect to consider what type of concept would best accommodate the wishes of potential tenants. The architectural firm then designs a suitable project and plans it through to the construction phase. Finally, the construction itself is put out for tender to potential general and total services contractors. "In cases like this, the deciding factor is very often simply the price," says Felix Hegetschweiler, Managing Director of Halter Global Services. For this reason, he and his team have spent the past few years focussing on an all-round approach and the early involvement of the contracting company. The global services model is suitable for buildings involving CHF 5 million or more as well as new builds, conversions and refurbishments. The global services idea works best when all those involved in the project are working together from the start. It enables them to make use of otherwise unused potential and to save both time and money: for the planners, the constructors and, ultimately, the client. The approach is particularly suitable for institutional clients, such as real estate or pension funds. But it also a model that has a lot to offer from an architect's point of view: "The time and energy wasted with tenders and the subsequent revision phases necessary after the total services contractor had been chosen are a thing of the past," says Andreas Hell, the manager responsible for the project at Burckhardt + Partner architects in Basel's Dufourstrasse.

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Ambassador House: an example

The Ambassador House Glattpark (Opfikon) is a perfect example of how an all-round approach can make eminent sense. The complex of around 57,000 sq.m was inaugurated in 1989 and until recently housed, among other things, a hotel. After some 25 years in use, an all-round refurbishment was called for. The owners – Credit Suisse Real Estate Fund Interswiss (one of the bank's real estate funds), and two UBS funds – decided to use the opportunity to reposition the building exclusively as office space. The building is being taken back to the load-bearing structure and given a new shell. At the same time, the floor plan will be redesigned. Future office tenants will be able to move into the new building, which holds an LEED Platinum Standard rating, from 2017.

Initially, the project planning took a classic course. Once the clients had decided on their new strategy for the building, Stücheli Architekten (Zurich) drew up the architectural and construction plans. This was followed by the invitation for tenders. Although the actual planning was already well advanced, Halter decided to draw up the total services contractor offer using the same principles as a global service contractor and to identify the project's potential. As a result, we were able to present the clients with suggestions for various improvements and simplifications. These ranged from the design of the façade and technical equipment to earthquake protection. Savings on a budget of approximately CHF 140 million amounted to several million Swiss francs. "If we had been part of it from the very beginning, we'd have saved even more," says Felix Hegetschweiler today.

No shortage of demand

In Switzerland, there would be more than enough demand for the global services approach, particularly for old properties. Around 77 percent of all buildings in Switzerland were built before 1990, and almost half the existing ones are already more than 40 years old. Important decisions need to be taken regarding many of these properties, some of which are very large. The global services model enables a thorough assessment of the property followed by a concept for future orientation and its practical implementation. But is the market ready for the global services model? It is certainly difficult in the case of public sector projects where procurement regulations make the direct assignment of contracts virtually impossible. However, there is a chance in the form of the global service competitions that are becoming increasingly popular with the government, cantons and municipalities.

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The market is in a state of flux

A glance at the market reveals a new way of thinking that could well make the new model a viable option, at least for complex projects. "The tougher the assignment, the more it makes sense to get a global service contractor on board. This way, we can transfer the project risk to the responsible contractor at an early stage. It's the reason we're organizing more and more global service competitions," explains Adrian Baumann, Project Manager Ambassador House with Real Estate Asset Management of Credit Suisse. As a potential client, Adrian Baumann also sees another possibility. In order to define the rules of the game at an early stage, a suitable partner could be assessed as part of a pre-qualification process.

Komplex 2015

In our feature interview, Fitz Schumacher looks back on a career lasting over 20 years as head of building and public works for the canton of Basel. The opening of the Europaplatz Centre in Bern is a good reason to consider the subject of hybrid buildings from an architectural and historical perspective. Raimund Rodewald of the Foundation for Natural Conservation Switzerland states his position on the Rhytech project in Neuhausen on the Rhine Falls. A highlight of this edition is a series of unusual views of Zurich by photographer Joël Tettamanti.