Development is not just pretty pictures. This is technology!
The development of the market inevitably leads to increased competition, the exactingness of the consumer is growing. The market for new buildings is no exception, especially in recent years of active lawmaking in this area. If 5-10 years ago the state of the industry allowed the developer to make many mistakes, today the requirements for business processes are becoming stricter. Managers have to “dry up” costs, while not just maintaining, but improving the characteristics of the proposed product. Ivan Sukhikh, the founder and methodologist of the Parametrica architectural bureau, tells what the solution to this dual problem can be.
— Ivan, you have extensive experience in the development of a development product. What principles do you consider the most important?
— I think that the main thing is understanding the technology of development. Here I am not referring to the stages of construction, but a kind of “road map”, which lays down the procedure for implementing the project: from site selection to standards for managing the constructed facilities. Each stage should have its own KPIs, fixed in the checklists. It is important to understand that at the product development stage, photographs of residential complexes from Europe are not enough. Such pictures will not give anything to marketers and project managers, but rather, on the contrary, they will form the negative of buyers, due to the gap between expectations from the openings of advertising booklets, and reality when accepting an apartment. An effective project should be immediately integrated into the financial model of the developer, already at the stage of the master plan, it is necessary to calculate the effective apartment layout and the proposed materials.
— Standards, as a rule, are developed in industrial housing construction. Do you mean it?
– After the era of Soviet large-panel construction in Russia, a distorted idea of industrial construction remained – they are dismissively called “panels”. By inertia, any unification and serialization in construction is considered backward and bad. But it is extremely difficult to build a lot and inexpensively without a unification system. Another question – what is this system?
In Parametrica, we immediately began to think about seriality. It is interesting to make a high-quality series for the market, which would be flexible and allow regular upgrades. So that when designing a new house, previous mistakes were not allowed, but immediately taken into account, and the company moved forward.
My experience in one of the regional development companies was partly connected with the development of the quarterly system back in the years when it was not mainstream. The idea was to make 50 different neighborhoods and scale this wide range across the country.
— Did you manage to scale?
— The developer continues to commission about 200,000 sq m a year, and the company’s approach to the product is especially reverent. In such conditions, it takes a lot of effort and time to create a professional team that understands the principles of creating a quality environment. Such pro-European development is often associated with the constant refinement of projects and this does not allow unification. Inevitably, there must come a time when you need to stop improving and make a decision: “Here is the product range, we work in it!”. If you try to do each project individually, then this slows down the development of industrial approaches.
Then, being already the head of one of the product departments in the structure of the largest developer in the country, he continued to work on optimization, solving the issue of reducing the range of products. To do this work, I began to study parametrics. Simultaneously with this task, it was necessary to evaluate a very large number of land plots offered to the developer in different cities of the country, which took a lot of time, and the accuracy of the forecast left much to be desired. In working with the Dutch, I saw that the problem is effectively solved in the Grasshopper and Rhinoceros programs. Throughout the country, we began to look for specialists who have experience in parametric design and formed a team in Moscow.
As a result, we developed a range of sections of 29 pieces, which were metrically similar and interchangeable. From them it was possible to collect all kinds of designs. We integrated the development in one of the residential complexes of New Moscow – in one “box”, but with two types of flats that corresponded to the capital and Moscow region markets.
At the same time, working with the team of the largest developer in Kazakhstan, I solved another problem – they had to constantly adjust projects according to the requirements of the authorities. The company was moving towards industrial housing construction, and I also directed them towards unification. In order for the developer to use prefab (Prefabricated House), identical nodes must be developed, one axial step, it is necessary to minimize the nomenclature. In Kazakhstan, we have developed an architectural standard for the largest product in terms of construction volume – standard-class housing. This company is Parametrica’s key client today.
— How interesting are innovations for Russian developers?
— Now Russian developers are starting to diversify their business. For example, they invest in startups related to IT and development automation. Innovations in construction began to be dealt with in Skolkovo. Developers realized that they couldn’t make money the way they used to.
— Google and Microsoft are coming to the construction site.
— This is also there. The train comes from both directions. There is an interesting, in-depth study by Western experts, which tells that the construction industry is at the lowest level of evolution. Very difficult and poorly developed. If we take, for example, shipbuilding, then the construction industry is still at the stage of designing a sailboat. And the corresponding innovations: to nail an additional mast, but it still doesn’t reach the level of steam mechanisms.
— Why was Russian development completely uninterested in innovation for a long time?
— There is a problem with the Moscow market with its high margins and the flow of customers. There is such a shortage of housing here that people bought everything they built – there was no need to improve the product. And in general, in the country, the “fat” market did not give a motive for optimization – everything was sold anyway. In many ways, here’s the problem: before the adoption of the 214th Federal Law “On Shared Construction”, there were many developers who lived off the receipt of cash from equity holders. They took deliberately unprofitable projects, pumped up a “bubble” through various tools. Then the money was withdrawn for other needs when they needed it. Such developers needed projects with good TEPs, and not optimal solutions.
— The situation has changed?
— Now Federal Law No. 214 changes the situation completely. On the one hand, developers need to ensure high sales dynamics in order to constantly feed the project account with money, thereby reducing the percentage of bank loans. On the other hand, you still need a low cost to make a profit from this project. Thus, the developer must work with the cost, reduce it. But these are mostly design decisions: for example, the effective location of houses on the site.
Parametrica often audits development projects. In one of them, we just expanded the landing of houses, and as a result, the number of elevators decreased and the amount of sold space increased significantly due to the effects associated with improved insolation. Savings after auditing the project can reach up to 30% of the cost.
— Have developers learned how to optimize their product?
— Just learning. Developers-optimizers are sometimes in a “tank” – captive to their ideas, competencies and values. Sometimes they start optimizing one block and thereby break others. They pull in savings and get an inadequate product, forgetting about the client. You need to understand that if you optimize the frame, which is 35% of the cost, then by reducing the cost of the frame by 10%, we will get 3.5% of the total construction cost. Another question is if we optimize the facade, and this is only 3% in social housing. By optimizing the frame, you can make another facade, and saving on the facade will not do much. And unfortunate optimizers for some reason often climb to save on the facade during the construction period. Probably because all the main opportunities have already been missed.
— Is there a demand for project optimization services?
— The market has matured. Parametrica constantly has audits in progress. The basis of the methodology of our bureau is balancing between the cost price and the quality of the product. The principle of the team’s work is “design by cost”, that is, we constantly check design solutions through their cost. We make a financial model and, based on it, we select design solutions. This is important even for facades: on the ground floor, tactile perception, it is desirable to use high-quality and durable materials. Above – the solution can be simply technically reliable and aesthetic, which can provide significant savings.
— What is the role of industrial construction methods in optimizing development projects?
— In million-plus cities, many developers now look at projects with prefabs as an optimization of their activities. First of all, they are interested in accelerating construction time and controlling costs. But factory housing is also not so easy. As in the automotive industry, there are specific technologies. To launch a sought-after car into production, prototypes are first created and tested. We need a consistent development of a standard for each series of the developer’s product. It will take several iterations, the optimum is unattainable the first time. Step by step improvement of the product with the R&D (research and development) process, implementation of the pilot, collection of feedback from all participants, adjustments after the first launch, creation of the second pilot, and so on. As software development: it was impossible to immediately create Telegrams with cryptocurrency, video and audio calls, bots. The product developed consistently, and it all started with a simple chat.
— When, when creating a product, should one start thinking about technologies, about the industrial nature of construction?
— From the very beginning, at the stage of master planning. The end result of the developer’s work is the satisfaction of client expectations. If the customer likes the product and the price is right, then he buys it. But there is another extreme – sometimes for the sake of industrialization they forget about the client. That is, either the fight against the nomenclature or the restriction of stamps. Entering industrial housing construction, it is required, first of all, to understand the product that you intend to create. To understand the product, you need to know your client, the check that is acceptable for him, and the functionality expected in the apartment. Calculate the prime cost that suits the developer. From this data, the development of a task for the prefab starts. That is, before you start mass production of apartments, you need to clearly and distinctly imagine which families will be comfortable living in them.
Thus, effective development relies on two components: cost optimization and increasing the value of the product, which gives an increase in added value. The values of the product are expressed not only by the quality of the built house and the layout of the apartment, but also include environmental design, the formation of the necessary solutions for comfortable living. For one developer, the comfort of a tenant ends at the door of his apartment, while for another, comfort and well-being accompanies residents to the bus stop. High quality environment for everyday life, exceeding expectations in the standard class, drive revenue and profit.
— Strong Scandinavian developers say they cannot apply their solutions in Russia. Why? The Soviet Union had powerful traditions of industrial housing construction, so why are they not felt today?
— The last decades of the Soviet Union is a transition to the number of square meters. People have formed a stereotype that prefabricated is bad, it is a depressive environment. This is the first. The second is the loss of architectural, technological, engineering competencies in the 90s. When specialists worked in the market, they traded something at the “flea market”. The third is the market of the 2000s, which consumed everything and agreed to a low-quality product.
— Can you show some examples of how you optimize projects?
— We had experience in Novosibirsk, where we built a residential building with a local designer, similar to the post-Soviet Grazhdanproekt that exists in almost every city. There was a ready project of a 17-storey building. Out of habit, the designers made a huge basement: they made sure at an early stage that all the engineering equipment would fit, and that the design could be entrusted to less competent subcontractors. In addition, there was also a technical floor on top, which appeared due to the fact that the designer did not know how to make another roof assembly. There were also product shortcomings, for example, small windows. They looked effective from the outside, but caused huge negative feedback from customers because they didn’t need such windows. The layouts of the three-room apartments did not meet the expectations of the clients. And there was also a too large MOS (common areas: lobby, corridors, etc.). This is the starting position.
It was required to tie this project in Tyumen. We had our own R&D, and we decided to take this project as our serial development. Collected feedback on the first house and redid the project. They removed small windows, made a good three-ruble note, removed the attic, reduced the basement and the MOS. Due to this, the cost price decreased from 38,000 to 34,000 rubles per sq.m. In addition, since we were in the process of rebinding and we already had a project to finish, we were able to reduce the cost of the work of local designers by a factor of three.
Next iteration. We built these houses in Tyumen, and we got new competencies – it turned out that the basement could not be done at all. A small technical underground is enough for an input node, and an engineering room can also be placed on the ground floor. The houses were located inside a residential area, retail premises were not required. We filled the remaining space on the ground floor with apartments, improved the layout in an evolutionary way. And they were even able to insert another floor by reaching the required elevations. As a result, we made 18 floors. The cost price at the same time approached 30 thousand rubles per “square”. As a result, over several iterations, we were able to reduce the cost by 20%, and the salable characteristics of housing only improved. We achieved this due to the fact that we worked systematically, having a series in the prefab.
— Very interesting.
— But that’s not all. Having a catalog of thousands of ready-made solutions, we subsequently assembled BIM elements in Revit. This is already parametric: a number of characteristics – parameters can be adjusted, along with this, volumes and drawing projection will be modified. The catalog contains apartments, stair and elevator units, basements, parking lots – these are the modules from which the future house is assembled.
The designed “shop of apartments” is the whole range from which ready-made solutions can be assembled. Next, we, together with the developer, calculated the cost for each element. Now we understand to the penny how much each apartment costs, what components it consists of. How much does engineering, frame, finish cost.
— Is it possible to use similar principles in masterplanning?
— We have developed such a module. Based on the survey map, he makes a quick landing of the building. Using the elements of the structure and the algorithms that are embedded in it, the module offers a million options for arranging buildings on the site. And we, according to the given KPIs, determine the planning option that is needed. All technical and economic indicators, coefficients are immediately considered, what the developer needs. If necessary, indicators are adjusted online – for example, rechecking insolation.
And most importantly, you can further detail and train this modular system. We are constantly improving it, it knows how to put corner houses, respond to the context. Rechecking the insolation takes a few seconds, and the minimum apartment graphic is immediately issued, the cost is considered, both per square meter and for the entire master plan.
You can also work quickly with apartmentography. For each stage of the project, you can plan a different apartment layout: the further the development project develops, the better the reputation of the developer. Social infrastructure appears and large apartments are sold better, their percentage can be increased. This data, if necessary, is quickly uploaded, without any calculators and human errors.
Such an automated modular system within 5 minutes can generate a BIM model of the detailed concept level with a certain facade. Now we are working on facade presets, which allow us to calculate the economics of the project as a first approximation. All elevators, pylons and the like have already been calculated. This can be the basis for the development of the stages of working documentation, the project and the finalization of the draft design. If a person in an architectural bureau were doing this, then it took him about 7 months of work, using specialized modules – no more than one hour. Now we are doing this work for our Kazakh customer. But later we want to develop a more flexible system so that any developers can use it. It turns out some kind of robotization of design.