Tracing the golden thread in balcony design


Nick Haughton of Sapphire Balconies discusses how the ‘golden thread’ concept can improve data in projects to benefit the design and delivery of balconies for multi-occupancy apartment buildings. 

The ‘golden thread’ is a term used for an up-to-date live record of data used on a building project. This concept was clearly identified in the 2018 Hackitt Report following the Grenfell Tower fire as being particularly important in residential construction. But what does that mean? 

The Hackitt Report observed that record keeping is a serious issue in this industry sector and highlighted its slow adoption of traceability and quality assurance techniques which are in widespread use elsewhere and the technology is readily available. The Report identified a clear need within construction to adopt new technologies and develop a culture of transparency and responsibility. 

A gulf can occur between the design and construction on a building project, and the operations managers who take over the end-product when information isn’t properly defined at the outset because designers, contractors and manufacturers don’t have a specific brief as to what’s required of them. 


Taking residential balconies as an example, record-keeping and visibility of information is key, from preparation and brief, concept design, special configuration, technical design, manufacturing and construction, handover and use. Traceability and control over each element are vitally important to ensure safety is maintained and high quality balconies are achieved.

In the past, paper records have typically been used throughout construction, but issues such as human error, missing paperwork and bad weather on site can impact the effectiveness of the records. 

Traceability is about identifying the critical aspects of each product and who has worked on it and at what stage. If there are any issues, they can be identified and traced precisely at every single stage. This prevents mass recall of products with its inherent waste of materials, time and money. 

Systems like Passport, an app we have developed, bring accountability with each step, capturing photos, names and a running record all aimed at delivering quality and enhancing competency at each step.


Having all records digitised and stored in an accessible format is the way forward to achieve traceability and accountability at all stages of balcony design and production. Before digital processes, records were written and filed, never to be looked at again. In an impermanent workforce – as is common in construction – information can get lost or is not adequately completed, leading to problems such as low-quality products and mass recalls, or worse still, ‘as built’ information not being ‘as-built,’ and the true nature being masked until problems arise.

Furthermore, if records are used only for compliance purposes, (eg., regulation 38) the industry misses out on the value of such records. Having everything recorded digitally shows the progress through the job, which means balcony manufacturers can learn from the information as real time data enables any necessary corrections to be made early on. And because the information is in a computer-readable form, it can automatically be tested to make sure what was requested is being provided. 

We recently introduced a physical check and Go: No, Go signoff where photos are inspected by a second person within the ‘Passport’ process. 


The golden thread concept can be applied to most products including balcony design in conjunction with BIM to provide quality control with digital traceability. Key information is fed into BIM right at the start of balcony design in the form of a specification tool. Standard data templates for requirements, products used, solutions and procedures can be created and stored for everyone to access. This provides the base of information that feeds into the applications being used during balcony production. 

If kept up to date, BIM information lives through the life of the production process and becomes the measure against everything to be tracked. When this is done in digital form, it can be fed into the different balcony design, manufacturing and assembly applications. This creates a library of information that all fits together. It also extends to scheduling and delivery of information at the handover stage and into the final part of the golden thread in asset management applications. It means that, whether BIM is part of the construction of balcony components or the balcony design and construction as a whole, the process can cut waste in both time and resources. 


Standardisation of components and offsite construction of residential balconies can dovetail neatly into the golden thread and BIM to deliver high quality, safe and more cost effective balconies. In combination they can bring building costs under tighter control by minimising variations in design, materials and finishes. This does not need to curtail the freedom of architectural expression: it simply requires best practice at all stages. For components – such as balconies that are built offsite – this already leads to more efficiency on production lines and, in turn, to superior product quality. This is complemented by streamlined delivery, handling and installation of completed units.


To ensure that the golden thread is adhered to, each stakeholder in a project needs to define the information they need, how to ask for it and communicate the consequences if they don’t receive it. With the knowledge gained from precise record-keeping, any issues can be dealt with at any stage of the process. 

The use of technology can also significantly increase quality as snags and errors are caught early in the design and strategy stage of any project or product. 

If all work is meticulously tracked via digital methods, there is very little potential for failure, even when errors in construction happen. 

Nick Haughton is head of marketing at Sapphire Balconies