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The RIBA Plan of Work 2020

The RIBA Library, London. Photo: Wikipedia

The RIBA Plan of Work is the definitive model for the design and construction process of buildings. To paraphrase their own statement, it is designed to organise the process of briefing, designing, delivering, maintaining, operating and using a building into eight stages. It is intended to be used as guidance for the preparation of professional services and building contracts.

It has come a long way from its first iteration in 1963, when it came in the form of a fold-out sheet that simply explained participants’ roles via a basic matrix. As projects increased in complexity, and the regulatory environment changed, so did the Plan of Work, with the current structure of eight numerical stages being adopted in 2013. Specifically, Stage 0 was introduced that year, in order to create a pre-commencement point so that a decision could be made regarding if a building project was the optimum way for the client’s needs to be met, as was Stage 7, which provided a method for acknowledging a building’s life when in use until such time as Stage 0 recommences. Now, after seven years of gathering feedback, the new version has been released.

What is the context?

In June 2019 the UK Government committed to be net zero carbon by 2050, and the RIBA, along with much of the construction industry, are of the view that to meet this target new projects and refurbishments must be designed and constructed that will not require retrofitting again before 2050. A deadline of 2030has been set to achieve this. The RIBA believes that if this is to be successful, it needs to start now.

What is new this time?

The work stages have been renamed and reordered:

0 – Strategic definition

1 – Preparation and briefing

2 – Concept design

3 – Spatial coordination

4 – Technical design

5 – Manufacturing and construction

6 – Handover

7 – Use

There are extensive sections on how each stage works and a larger glossary detailing how each of the topics underpinning the plan are important to the success of a project. Furthermore, project strategies are fully explicated in order to show how a legion of topics will need to be addressed as a project moves through each stage.

The plan has been increasingly affected by the need to centre sustainability. The RIBA Sustainable Futures Group had a role in developing the relevant project strategy section, which emphasises the value of aftercare activities at Stage 6. This has replaced the Green Overlay.

In terms of BIM, where there has been changes as well, the overlay in question has been replaced by a new section, with a view towards addressing the challenges of using next generation digital deliverables, in the context of ever-increasing intricacy of information requirements. There will be greater emphasis on keeping models live, and using embedded data to push evidence-based design and to aid asset and facilities management.

A principal change has come with the change to Stage 3, which was in the previous version entitled ‘Developed Design’. The 2020 version suggests that the spatial coordination stage

“is fundamentally about testing and validating the Architectural Concept, to make sure that the architectural and engineering information prepared at Stage 2 is Spatially Coordinated before the detailed information required to manufacture and construct the building is produced at Stage 4… Stage 3 is not about adjusting the Architectural Concept, which should remain substantially unaltered, although detailed design or engineering tasks may require adjustments to make sure that the building is Spatially Coordinated.”

This has been changed and firmed up to address the issue of information being sought outside the main stage gateways, as it is not always possible for both deliverables and what tasks underpin them to be clear, and every stakeholder’s outputs may not have been taken into account. In short, the RIBA Plan of Work 2020 has been designed to prevent stages being split in two, as feedback suggested had been happening.

The other principal change has been to increase clarity between Stages 2 and 3. The concept should be got right at Stage 2, and should be fully signed off before Stage 3 begins. It shouldn’t be changed at that point. Rather, Stage 3 should comprise design studies for specific portions of the building, and detailed engineering analysis. The cost plan must be got right. Most importantly, the focus ought to be on the lead designer managing this information until Stage 3 is completed and 4 ready to begin.

The RIBA hopes that the Plan of Work 2020 “brings into focus the trends and innovations that are changing the construction industry and provides space for these to thrive on our projects while ensuring a simple and robust framework remains in place”.

It is a worthy ambition. In tandem with their Climate Change 2030 initiative, the RIBA is most definitely doing its part in the global fight for sustainability via the developing and implementing of transparent, measurable and achievable goals in the construction industry.

For our response to the new Plan of Work, see the Mainer RIBA Table.