AT Osborne Belgium

Bringing architectural programming to a higher level

Nicolas De Coster
Nicolas De Coster

Consultant / Project manager







AT Osborne is a leading consultancy and project management firm with offices in the Netherlands and Belgium. They provide a wide range of services, from cost consulting and tender management to feasibility studies and risk management.

Architectural programming is part of their services as well. Working closely together with decision makers, users, and other stakeholders, AT Osborne’s consultants help construction clients to formulate ambitions and requirements for their projects.

Nicolas De Coster is AT Osborne’s expert on this matter. He has over 15 years of experience in architectural programming for both public and private sector clients. He is also a true BriefBuilder power user, knowing all the ins and outs of the software. In this Q&A, he explains why and how he is using BriefBuilder for his projects.

Can you tell us a bit about your work?

Of course. Like most of my colleagues, I am both a consultant and a project manager. This means that I do architectural programming, but also lots of other things such as organizing tender procedures, doing workshops with end users, cost management and more.

On top of that I am responsible for our firm’s tooling and procedures for quality control, including our ISO 9001 certification. So, I certainly don’t have to worry about getting bored.

What type of projects are you working on?

I work on all kinds of projects—office projects, housing, sports facilities, health care projects and so on. An exciting project that I am currently working on is the renovation of the Spaak building in Brussels. This 84.000 sqm building houses the Chamber of the European Parliament. It is 30-years old and needs to be upgraded to meet contemporary environmental standards.

The Spaak Building in Brussels, a 30 years old building that no longer meets current safety and energy standards. The envisioned renovation is expected to cost around €470 million. Photo: courtesy of the European Union

Another interesting project concerns a redevelopment program in Etterbeek (a municipality in Brussels) where the site of the former town hall will be transformed into a mixed-use area with 120 housing units and a polyclinic.

In both projects I am working with BriefBuilder to capture and manage project requirements. The Spaak project is a very large and complex one, with over 8.000 requirements. The Etterbeek project is interesting because it contains several programs in one: a polyclinic, social housing, affordable housing and public spaces.

In addition, I am currently also using BriefBuilder for a new police station and for a new lab facility that will be developed through a Design & Build contract.

How did you come to use BriefBuilder?

I first heard about BriefBuilder around 2,5 years ago. I requested a trial version and played around with it for about two hours—I am deliberately using the term playing because it felt a bit like a game. After that, I was convinced of the application’s benefits. Without any further testing, we used it on a real-life project, which was a success.

One of the main reasons why we are using BriefBuilder is that it becomes easier to maintain consistency in requirements. Earlier, requirements were spread over many different documents and applications: Word for the texts, Excel for the square meters, and Powerpoint for the diagrams. It is not like we couldn’t develop a good programme of requirements in this way, but it was a lot of effort to keep information consitent and up to date.

One of the main reasons why we are using BriefBuilder is that it becomes easier to maintain consistency in requirements

Let me give you a simple example: if a client decided halfway through that the ‘seminar room’ should be renamed to ‘conference room’, you had to change this in all your documents. In BriefBuilder, you only have to change this in one place. Subsequently, all the related diagrams, overviews, and reports are automatically updated. This is practical and important because you don’t want your requirements to be a mess, right?

Was it difficult to implement BriefBuilder in your firm?

Well, some of my colleagues were a bit hesitant in the beginning, and a few still are. The thing is that BriefBuilder requires a different mindset and a different approach to how you formulate requirements. If you are fond of writing reports, and have done so for your entire career, the idea of creating a ‘model’ can be quite challenging.

Personally, however, I am very much in favour of a model-based approach. BriefBuilder helps me to create leaner briefs: briefs that contain factual requirements rather than loads of text. Let me again give you an example: when defining acoustic requirements, I prefer to a create a room property that stipulates “Sound level < 40 dBA” instead over writing a long sentence this “This room should have good acoustics, etc etc”. In itself there is nothing wrong with such a sentence, but when you have a lot of text, ambiguities and inconsistencies will creep in. Moreover, looking forward, it can be argued that texts are pretty useless when you want to link requirements to a BIM model.

BriefBuilder helps me to create leaner briefs — briefs that contain factual requirements rather than loads of text

However, I have to take into consideration that some stakeholders, e.g. clients or architects, still prefer the narrative approach of traditional reports. So, let me say, it is a process …

What’s your favourite BriefBuilder feature?

I am very fond of the commenting feature. When working on a programme of requirements, there are usually one or more review rounds in which the involved stakeholders are asked for feedback. Before we used BriefBuilder, we did this by tracking changes and comments in shared Word and Excel files. But in big projects, with many reviewers, this easily becomes a mess. Now, with BriefBuilder, we have all comments in one place, directly linked to the requirements. This makes review processes much easier to manage.

With BriefBuilder, we have all comments in one place. This makes review processes much easier to manage

Any recommendations?

Think carefully about what information you want to put into BriefBuilder! You can easily fill BriefBuilder with all sorts of information, but the central question is what information is truly relevant to the project. What information do the architect and engineers need to be able to do their job? Don’t put in things they already know. Think critically about what is important and what not … and leave out all those long texts!

The former town hall of Etterbeek will be tranformed into mixed use development with social housing, affordable housing, a clinic and public spaces. The requirements for these different functions have been captured in a single model in BriefBuilder. Photo: Wikipedia.

Many thanks to Nicolas for sharing his insights!

More info about AT Osborne can be found here.