At its core, the National Construction Code is a performance oriented document which focuses not upon ticking boxes but instead upon delivering outcomes surrounding the comfort, stability, sustainability and safety of the built environment.
It achieves this by enabling compliance through either deemed-to-satisfy (DTS) solutions or performance solutions. Whilst DTS solutions provide a pathway which delivers certainty about compliance, performance solutions enable flexibility surrounding different methods by which requirements of the Code can be met and facilitate the use of innovative materials and design strategies.
Alas, take-up of performance solutions is not as high as it could be. During a recent engagement initiative conducted through a survey and focus sessions involving predominantly architects but also builders, engineers, material suppliers and regulators, the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) uncovered a number of barriers which were preventing greater employment of performance solutions.
First, according to Clare Wright, director – education and engagement at the ABCB, a lack of accessible information and resources such as case studies makes it difficult for practitioners to ‘see’ performance solutions at work and how they could be applied in practice. There is also a lack of clarity surrounding consequences from a liability perspective where performance solutions are used and something goes wrong. Often, the pursuit of performance solutions necessitates the engagement of external consultants, which adds further cost. Finally, where performance solutions are not planned at the outset, more costly solutions can be required, adding yet further costs.
Wright says architects value opportunities associated with performance solutions but balance these against any drawbacks involved in going down this path.
“I think the flexibility and the ability to have innovation in the design process is appealing to architects,” she said. “I think it then gets weighed up against any barriers which will impede them in realising the design that they are seeking to deliver.”
Carmen Marshall, community engagement director at the P4 Group of consultants who conducted the engagement for the ABCB, says there needs to be a shift in mindset across the sector.
“The research findings highlighted the need for a cultural shift across Australia’s architecture sector, and more broadly, across Australia’s building and construction industry,” Marshall said.
“The findings confirmed there is an appetite for cultural change, with a number of survey respondents and focus group participants sharing their views around the need to see a shift where performance solutions are deemed the new norm. There is an opportunity for this change to be driven by a number of key stakeholders within the industry, for example, incentivising and increasing the risk appetite of certifiers to enhance their willingness to certify successful performance solutions.”
Going forward, Wright says the Board is seeking targeted engagement to identify the benefits of performance based design and to better address barriers. The Board will also seek to address information gaps, including through case studies which demonstrate how performance solutions could be applied and how architects might engage with other stakeholders with regard to their use. The ABCB will also seek to raise awareness about performance solutions through the tertiary education system.
Whilst the Board would like to increase the use of performance solutions as part of a broader focus on the part of the government in terms of driving national productivity, Wright stresses that this in no way removes DTS solutions as a legitimate pathway to demonstrate compliance. She also stresses that knowledge of how to apply performance solutions will become increasingly important as the pace and scale of change within the building sector makes the task of updating DTS solutions to keep up is set to become increasingly difficult.
Wright says breaking down the aforementioned barriers will be a critical area of focus for the Board.
“We are looking to see how we can improve the increased use of performance solutions,” she said. “It’s been part of our business plan for a period of time now. We are looking at maintaining and supporting that into the future.
“There is an exciting opportunity to achieve better building outcomes, improve productivity across the sector and to optimise the benefits we have got with a performance based code.”