Optimising and value engineering PBSA buildings from an early stage and throughout the project allows smart developers and investors to maximise the potential returns from this unique kind of development. 


Andrew Stanford

PBSA developments are a hybrid of types, bringing together aspects of residential, hotel and commercial buildings into a unique form, one which we have also started to see evolve into so-called ‘co-living’ developments.

Massive unmet demand in an uncertain economic climate

The margins on PBSA developments are undoubtably under pressure and the need to balance affordability for students against profitability for developers has never been higher. Despite this, the UK national student to bed ratio currently stands at 2.39:1 so there is still massive unmet demand. The current economic climate and sustainability requirements has put further pressure on these margins and returns, so the drive to reduce costs and add value is greater than ever. With over 17 years experience in this market, we have found that engineering excellence, with a strong focus on value, lean design and sustainability, is a key component in achieving both financial and construction success on student accommodation projects.

The three most important considerations are programme…, programme… and programme

PBSA schemes only have a small calendar window to open each year, so a delay of just weeks can cost an entire academic year of rental income. The traditional approach has been to focus on construction programme but the early stages of design are on the project “critical path” and a focused approach on the design of early construction works can bring forward the all important “start on site” date


Trafalgar Way: the largest PassivHaus PBSA development in europe

Value engineering is needed from day one

For value engineering to be most effective it should not be a single iteration “bolt on” driven by the cost consultant, it needs to be integrated into the development strategy and overall design from day one with a big focus on modern methods of construction and lean design.

Key engineering considerations on PBSA Developments

Drawing on our experience, we believe the key engineering considerations on PBSA developments should be:

  1. Engaging experienced engineers at an early stage to support land investment strategies, understand the impacts of site constraints and de-risk them with practical mitigation measures;
  2. Establishing design processes and flexible sub-structures solutions which allow construction works to commence early and shorten the programme even whilst details of the super-structure are being finalised;
  3. Exploring innovations and efficiencies in the substructure design focused around collaboration of engineering disciplines that can reduce both the construction budget and the programme duration;
  4. Optimising the structure by considering the building usage in both the short and long term - from basement plant and amenity layout to socket locations - to incorporate both detail and flexibility into the design of each and every element;
  5. Balancing lean design, with standardisation and overdesign through optioneering by anticipating future adaptation requirements which can maximise the lifetime returns;
  6. Carefully considering and optimising structural elements to facilitate additional rooms or even floors within the development;
  7. Exploring Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) and hybrid solutions which lend themselves well to PBSA developments but understanding they are not a panacea and have to be fully explored and planned for at the earliest stage;
  8. Incorporating lean design and standards like PassivHaus to improve sustainability credentials by reducing both the embodied and operational carbon of the building.

This article has been summarised from the Walsh White Paper: Eight Key Engineering Considerations for PBSA Developments which includes case study examples.

Click here for more information and a copy of the complete white paper