Building in Operational Environments

By Tony Wilson

March 2017

Working in a live operational environment is often part and parcel of a construction project.


At Equals we specialise in working with our clients, consultants and contractors to ensure business operations can continue and the projects we deliver create minimal impact on the day to day operations of our clients. We often work in ‘live’ environments, where activities cannot be expected to stop to accommodate construction, often on constrained central London sites. 

Noise, dust and vibration are unavoidable consequences of delivering any construction project but there are ways of managing these in order to limit impact on a building and its contents – whether that be people (staff, students, visitors or audiences) or objects or equipment.



The logistics of managing a construction project within a live environment can be complex and require careful planning.

When working with those delivering projects it is important to find solutions to common challenges faced:  

— How are deliveries and waste removal managed, and what interface is there with the client? 

— Can materials be stored on site or is an offsite facility needed? 

— What if there is no space within the footprint of the site to house welfare and site accommodation?  

— Can operatives share access routes with staff? 

It is important to have a Construction Management Plan and to work with the project team and the client to ensure their input.


No project is the same and sometimes you need to think differently about the methods of project delivery.  

With a consideration for health and safety always at the fore, it’s important to challenge project teams to think inventively about delivery. While working out of hours and through the night is one way to limit impact on the day to day operations, we often work harder to find a way through obstacles – such as creative phasing of works to ensure activities can continue and access routes are retained. 

Bringing experience and knowledge of technical construction issues and the logistical demands they can present, we can advise on programme phasing; for enabling, main works, and diversions of services and access routes, to allow organisations to remain open for business.

Operational Environment – Royal Opera House

As part of our work on the Open Up project at the Royal Opera House, we negotiated with the contractors to ensure noisy activities were programmed around rehearsal and performance schedules and where appropriate identified off site spaces for certain activities. Putting these and other measures in place – including the installation of acoustic hoardings and managing the noise output at source, has ensured no lost rehearsal or performance time to date.

Operational Environment – British Museum

When delivering the £135 million World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre, we worked with the British Museum to develop a strategy for managing and monitoring the impact of site generated noise and vibration on adjacent buildings, people, and most critically Museum objects. 

The Museum’s collection remained on display in galleries directly adjacent to the project site throughout the works.  

By conducting a thorough inspection of objects and spaces deemed at risk due to proximity to site or general fragility, and installing local protection to objects in both galleries and stores, along with implementing the use of a vibration monitoring system with the appropriate response strategy in place, we ensured there was no impact on the collection throughout the three year build period.


There is a fundamental need to manage the expectations of those affected by construction works through regular communication and engagement, both internally and externally.

Knowing in advance when it’s going to be noisy, or when routes are going to be restricted can make all the difference to those it will affect. It’s important to be as visible or as invisible as the client requires, while ensuring clear channels of communication and points of contact, and providing information in clear, easily accessible formats – through newsletters, forward look meetings, site visits and other forms of community engagement. 

When on site, a key group not to forget are the operatives actually carrying out the work – one team working together with a shared objective. Bringing operatives into the client organisation early on, by, for example, providing an insight into the research work taking place in a university laboratory or to see a production on stage at a theatre – helps to foster a collective ownership and this project buy-in can reap huge benefits in the longer term.


Our role often continues beyond the construction period and into occupation.  Relocating staff into new offices and work environments does not need to be disruptive, no matter how complicated the move, whether it be a simple one person office move, or a research laboratory with complex instruments, we have experience in managing this process from start to finish with minimal ‘downtime’ for those affected.

Our aim is always to deliver projects on time and within budget and we strive to do this while allowing business as usual to continue with the least possible impact.