Architects are assuming a more prominent role in data centre design. For Will Ringer, project director at Scott Brownrigg architects, the only surprise is that it hasn’t happened sooner
Architects have always been an important stakeholder during the transition from the design phase to the building phase of data centres, where they help translate a client’s brief (including floor plan, security, space planning and maintenance access for cooling and power requirements) into detailed design documents.
However, they have seldom been asked for their opinions on the requirements themselves. But as data centres become ever more complex and the pressure to cut costs mounts, the creative mind of the architect is increasingly being called upon.
Data Centre World Singapore speaker and mission critical architect Will Ringer attests to the importance of an architect’s eye to data centre design. Will has experience with large US hyperscale clients, serving as project architect for three years on a hyperscale project in Holland, and with some of the largest engineering firms. He has helped design and deliver around fifteen other mission critical projects, ranging from two to 96MW in size, totalling over 1.5 million square feet of critical environment.
What value do architects offer to facility design? Will claims it is to do with their distinct mindset. While an engineer might simply tell a client if their requirements are achievable and challenge the engineering approach, an architect asks questions that make clients revisit requirements — identifying ways to save money, save time or make money by squeezing in more capacity.
A case in point is how Will challenges widely-followed industry standards, including the 5.5-metre floor-to-floor height. When working on multi-storey projects (an increasingly common kind of facility due to land value) or even single-level campuses, Will puts it to the client that shaving centimetres off every floor can generate capex savings, and that shaving centimetres off every storey can make room for an extra floor (in some locations).
“If the client brief is for a 5.5m floor to floor, ‘The limits of 5.5 metres would then be defined’, the engineer would say, ‘That clearance works for the solution.’ But many will not challenge the brief. Architects need to challenge this mindset. It’s not really an engineering mindset.” Will says.
Mechanical and Electrical (M&E) are typically the lead consultants in complex data centre projects, due to their very MEP nature. But as clients recognise the cost-cutting (and generating) power of the architect’s perspective, their role is changing and responsibility growing.
Nowadays, architects are expected to take the lead on projects and be the lead coordinator for structural & civil engineers and M&E engineers. For instance, a large hyperscale client delivering a 32MW project might typically employ a consultant team of ten to fifteen people with three to four architects full time for six to eight months, and employ two to three full time on-site during delivery.