Skip to main content

The golden thread of early engagement

By February 15, 2024Healthcare, News
Sheldon Walsh, Partner at Ryder Architecture

Ask the Architect Blog Series #4: With Sheldon Walsh, Partner at Ryder Architecture

MTX Kent and Canterbury reception

Sheldon is a qualified architect and a partner with Ryder. He has worked in this sector more than 20 years and leads the team in the Manchester office. The company has more than 300 employees and four other UK offices, plus offices in Hong Kong and Vancouver.

How long have you worked with MTX?

I have worked with MTX over a number of years. We are currently involved in plans for a 64-bed unit at Stepping Hill Hospital for Stockport NHS Foundation Trust – two wards of 32 beds connected to existing hospital and currently awaiting planning. We hope to break ground early 2024. Healthcare is largest business sector for us, and therefore we value partnering with another specialist such as MTX.

Will MMC and DfMA play an increasing role in healthcare construction?

The massively important new hospital programme roll-out starting in earnest next year will see the construction sector under huge pressure to meet those demands, and volumetric and offsite construction will play an increasingly significant role.

What are the particular challenges of healthcare construction?

Construction on a live healthcare site is a massive challenge, managing the conflicts with control of infection, site logistics and everyday delivery of healthcare services. Any aspects of construction that can be taken offsite alleviates much of the pressures on live sites. That presents a significant opportunity for modular construction in the coming years. It relieves some of the key pressures on labour force and managing multiple contractors on a live site. Delivering as much of that activity offsite will be very important.

More than 30 hospitals in the Government’s programme are set to be delivered by 2030 which is an incredibly short timescale. Whether the construction market has the capacity to deliver to that timescale is a serious question.

What are some of the difficulties ahead?

It is a combination of factors impacting on the capacity of the construction industry in terms of skills and resources. Most of these projects are over half a billion, and that challenges the capacity of main contractors to deliver, along with sub-contractors and supply chain, putting pressure across whole labour force not just tier 1 and tier 2 contractors.

Alongside that you have net zero carbon ambitions which will play an important future role in terms of the amount of construction activity required, not just in new hospitals but estate redevelopments, retrofitting and maintenance.

How can MMC and offsite construction help achieve net zero targets?

The primary structure of a building is one of the main sources of embodied carbon for any new build, and modular construction can reduce that. MMC and modular building provides clear advantages, and also makes it easier to dismantle and decommission buildings which again plays a massive role in a net zero carbon project life-cycle.

What are some of the other advantages of MMC and modular construction?

An important advantage for MMC and offsite construction is collaborating at early the stages with the modular contractor, helping to influence early design decisions to streamline and inform standardisation to ensure at later stages we have a design which can be delivered efficiently.

How important is early engagement?

Early engagement is incredibly valuable. Not just in terms of those efficiencies, but it presents fewer restrictions in terms of being able to deliver a variety of elevational treatments. Engaging early with MTX means we can tie down detailing, airtightness and U-values to ensure that what is designed can be built, particularly in relation to the Building Safety Act legislation. The design and planning gateways the BSA have introduced encourage early engagement and consistency. It promotes a more efficient building design process and the ‘golden thread’ of information to ensure that what is designed is what is actually built, and then handed over to the NHS Trust, so they are equipped to operate and maintain the asset throughout its life cycle.

So, with modular what you design is what you get?

It provides a more controllable build process – that is why modular construction aligns so effectively with the principles of the Building Safety Act. With modular build and MMC the need to engage at an early stage is critical and forces the process to ensure that early engagement with modular contractors, in accordance with the principles of the BSA.

How important is the experience and track record of contractors?

Absolutely vital – healthcare is a highly specialised sector of construction. We are responsible for some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and there are also high levels of complexity in the environments we create – such as operating theatres, critical care departments and acute accident and emergency facilities. Alongside the complexity of construction, services and interfaces between components is the installation of specialist equipment, which often requires integrating MRI and CTI scanners, surgeon’s panels, and radiation protection. Having that knowledge is vital. Some of those complexities could be very challenging for those with less experience of the healthcare sector. Therefore, the knowledge that MTX has as a sole provider within the healthcare sector is incredibly valuable.

What is the biggest driver for you personally working within this sector?

From a personal perspective – I am incredibly passionate about working in healthcare architecture and it is exciting to work with clients who demand the highest quality environments for their patients, staff and visitors.

Healthcare architecture is part of our social infrastructure – and the hospitals we build are a reflection of society itself.