The building industry seems to be in a mess.

Some buildings are failing with occupants evacuating or running for their lives.  Inquiries search for answers and everyone has an opinion.  It all seems too hard, but the path back to public trust and industry health may be very simple.

The resolution, in very basic terms is; let architects design and let builders build.  Over time it seems to have gotten all mixed up.  Architect leadership has dropped to the level of secondary consultant, and builders are getting involved long before it’s time to build.  A quick look at recent history will help explain things. 

Traditionally, a building started with an owner hiring an architect to design their building.  Once the design was done, the architect documented the building into construction drawings and specifications.  Then the architect put the project out for pricing (tender) with few carefully selected tenderers (builders).  With a builder selected, they built the building while the architect did full contract administration (as the owners representitive).  On bigger building jobs, the hiring of a clerk of works added more quality control.  The traditional building process is a beautiful thing and in my opinion, nothing beats it.  Going back to using traditional procurement is how the industry might easily regain integrity.  Let me explain further.

So this idea; let architects design, and let builders build, used to be common and obviously can work very well.  Architects generally can’t become architects without a passion for design quality; the grueling training and graduate years tends to filter out low standards.  Builders are amazing at construction, especially when they have good plans and specs and they don’t have to think about the owner or design.  When builders cross over to design, some practical and efficient design concepts can get misunderstood and sometimes unintentionally compromised.

Looking back, the 1970’s saw alternative building procurement methods emerge, apparently introduced with the goal to reduce time and costs.  Achieving this goal for a specific project may or may not be achieved and additionally, building design likely can suffer.  Nevertheless, alternative procurement methods are common today and seem to be used more frequently than the traditional method. 

With alternative procurement methods the architect no longer leads design.  The reason for this could be put down largely to two faults of architects in general.  The first is that architects tended to lose control of project costs, and second, architects tended to let their preference for aesthetic novelty interfere with building performance and cost.  Fix these two faults (and it’s not that difficult, the detail of which is for another discussion), bring back traditional procurement and bets are on that the industry gets back to better health and owners and occupants can once more feel like they are being looked after.

The solution is not regulatory (we are already are overwhelmed with regulation), it is contractual.  Produce good plans and specs (based on a good design of course), get a good builder to build off these, and have a checks and balance system in place with the architect doing full contract administration and perhaps a clerk of works engaged on larger projects.  Time can be saved perhaps with separate early works contracts being let for things like demolition, bulk excavation, site drainage and the like. 

Due diligence is another very important thing to consider.  We are all professionals and capable of making good decisions.  Due diligence is necessary in the building procurement process, but it will suffer when speed and costs reductions become a primary focus.

Our modern society has created a hectic pace of life which can cause excessive stress and sometimes breakdown.  The building industry is no different in this regard and we are seeing the breakdown.  There is something steady and comforting about working on a project which is traditionally procured.  Maybe its time to ease off the accelerator and concentrate on quality rather than quantity.