Your guide to the golden thread: the cornerstone of building information

Posted on: 13 May, 2024

The golden thread is a hot topic in the construction industry as the Building Safety Act comes into effect. Here’s why.

To most people, a building is purely a physical structure – a tower, a home, a hospital or a block of flats, for instance. For a built environment professional, a building is a completed project – a series of processes, procedures and decisions, from the choice of materials used to the positioning of the structure in relation to sunlight.

From conception and design to construction and through to operation, the building lifecycle is a complex process full of information – information that can range from a variety of sources, stakeholders and disciplines within a project. Retaining and tracking this information is crucial to ensure the successful running of a structure and to keep its occupants safe, and in the wake of recent tragedies relating to building safety, this has never been more important.

One concept that has emerged in the last few years that could help better organise building information is the golden thread. But what exactly is this concept, and how does it work?

What exactly is the golden thread?

The golden thread is a digital record of information about a building that will help ensure its safety, both for now and for the future. It covers the structure’s entire lifecycle, showing that its construction complied with applicable building regulations and providing its operators with the information needed to prevent or reduce future safety risks.

Where does the golden thread come from?

The golden thread concept is part of the 2022 Building Safety Act – a piece of legislation set out by the UK government to make homes and buildings safer by enforcing stricter regulations on design, construction and operation.

The topic of building safety was thrust into the public consciousness by the Grenfell tower fire of 2017, when a fire broke out in a 24-storey tower, leading to the deaths of 72 people. This disaster prompted discussions about building safety regulations and led the UK government to commission a report, authored by Dame Judith Hackitt, in which she introduced the concept of the golden thread.

Why is the golden thread important?

This concept has now entered legislation and is featured as part of the Building Safety Act. This makes it a legal requirement for duty holders and ‘accountable people’ to maintain and provide a record of information to others on a building. Failure to comply with this regulation is considered a criminal offence, which can lead to jail time and an ‘unlimited’ fine.

Ultimately however, maintaining a thread of information is about more than keeping in line with legislation and safety standards – it’s about keeping an accurate record of crucial information that ensures the safety of a building’s occupants.

How the golden thread is stored

As part of legislation in the Building Safety Act, the thread of information on a project must be stored with digital tools. The use of building information modelling (BIM) technology is often recommended to facilitate this, whereby information about a structure is stored in one common date environment (CDE).

Where does the golden thread start (and end)?

To accurately record all information pertaining to a project, the golden thread must start at the very beginning, before the construction phase even starts. Maintaining its accuracy will mean continually updating it through these processes and handing it over to any accountable persons once the structure is in operation. In this regard, the golden thread it never truly ‘ends’ unless a structure is demolished.

Who is responsible for the golden thread?

The legal duty to maintain this thread of information belongs to the dutyholder – a position which can be held by the client, Principal Contractor or Principal Designer during the design and construction phase. One occupation begins, this transfers the accountable person, who can be an individual, partnership or corporate body.

The 10 principles of the golden thread

Here are the 10 key golden thread principles:

1. Single source of truth

The golden thread must act as a ‘single source of truth’, gathering all information on a project into one location that is continuously updated throughout its lifecycle. This centralisation prevents the duplication of information, while also ensuring clearer accountability.

2. Industry culture change

One of the goals of this concept is to facilitate a culture change by increasing the requirement for competence, information management and process optimisation in the industry.

3. Accurate and trusted

To enable effective management, maintenance and compliance of a building, all of the information in the golden thread needs to be accurate, trustworthy and relevant.

4. Security for residents

Relevant information about the building must be available to residents, as well as construction teams and designers. This will empower residents to hold building safety managers to account for ensuring the safety of their buildings.

5. Data security

Along with making residents feel secure, the information in the golden thread needs to be secure to maintain its accuracy. As such, it must comply with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation.

6. Easy to access

Part of ensuring a building manager or accountable person can ensure a building’s safety is making any relevant information easy to access. To facilitate this, the golden thread must be stored in a structured way that is both easy to locate and frequently updated with the right information.

7. Accountability

Accountability is a key principle of the golden thread. A detailed record of changes, with indication of responsibility for each, can drive greater accountability and set out clear duties for the maintenance of both the structure and the information recorded on it.

8. Relevance

While the golden thread must be continuously updated with new information, it also needs to be kept relevant, meaning that not all information needs to be recorded and kept hold of throughout the building lifecycle. If a piece of information is no longer relevant to building safety, it must be disposed of to ensure relevance and ease of access.

9. Longevity

The role of the building safety manager and any responsible person is likely to shift over time, and as such, the golden thread needs to conform with the principle of interoperability – whereby it can be easily handed over through a building’s operations.

10. Consistency

The golden thread can include information from various sources, individuals, organisations and professions, so ensuring consistency throughout is key to enabling accountable persons to utilise it effectively.

What does this mean for building owners and construction professionals?

As of April 2024, the Building Safety Act (and thus the golden thread) are now in effect. Keeping in line with legislation will require organisations to instil a culture of building safety and digital literacy in their operations, along with adopting the latest digital tools that can help facilitate the effective management of information.

Architectural technologists are the digital experts that bridge the gap between an aesthetic vision and a practical reality. If you want to be at the forefront of the built environment’s digital future, UCEM’s BSc (Hons) Architectural Design Technology will give you the technical expertise and literacy you need to become a valuable contributor to the sector.

Find out more: BSc (Hons) Architectural Design Technology – University College of Estate Management