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Why you need an architect on your specialty technical project

What do counter terrorism facilities, abattoirs and pharmaceutical storage centres all have in common? They’re highly complex projects that require rigorous technical design skills.

8i Architects has been designing specialty technical projects for more than 10 years for organisations like the Queensland Police Service and Sigma Pharmaceuticals. 8i Director Hieu Nguyen has grown the practice’s expertise in this area firsthand and seen how seemingly minor design decisions can have big impacts for organisations. He shares his insights here.

How does a specialty technical project differ from other projects?

Many people ask me why you’d need an architect for a processing facility (or similar) because they’re not always the prettiest of projects. But, there’s a huge level of detail that goes into these sorts of buildings in order to make them function.

The design of these projects is often driven by the machinery required to be housed there and the organisation’s workflow. Many times, it’s about working out how a product or food is cleaned, processed, cooled down, stored and is later transported. We even have to think about how food meets quarantine requirements for shipping and international food safety regulations. Each of these steps requires a high level of consideration and expertise, even more so than projects like education buildings or health facilities.

What are the top issues you need to consider when designing specialty technical projects?

There are a number of considerations on every project and they differ depending on the client’s needs. For example, with a food facility, the main concern is cross-contamination and the same is true of firing ranges, where there’s an issue around lead contamination.

We recently completed a firing range training facility for the Queensland Police Service to prepare officers for future conflict. The current design thinking for similar facilities is to treat lead decontamination (the major concern) the same as low level laboratory decontamination. However, we dealt with the design in a unique way. We developed a workflow of separating dirty and clean areas so that cleaners didn’t recontaminate the areas they’d already cleaned.

On every project, we aim to produce as little waste as possible, and this is achieved by thoroughly considering workflow and efficiency.

What can go wrong?

Many projects involve machinery, but they also involve human life, so we need to be certain we’re designing spaces that are safe for workers.

Some specialty technical projects contain a food storage space (like a freezer). If these spaces aren’t properly designed and detailed, there’s a chance that condensation can build up and cause the concrete slab below the freezer to crack, sometimes in as little as a year. There are lots of issues like this one that need to be properly considered.

Though an abattoir or firing range seem very different on the surface, they involve the same curiosity and approach to design. It’s all about asking the right questions and that comes with experience.

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