Architects' ability to take the holistic view makes them good project managers. But not everybody appreciates the fact Put aside your pencils
One of the less obvious losses resulting from the Arts Council's undermining of plans for Bristol's Harbourside Centre was the opportunity to see an architect act as project director for such a high-profile project. Two candidates were shortlisted for the role, both originally qualified as architects. Tony Bartho, who had only recently set up his own project- management consultancy had been told he was the preferred candidate and that his appointment only needed Arts Council approval. This, of course, never came.
'I felt as if something had died,' Bartho said. 'The reason it would have been such a wonderful job is that the people who would have worked on it all believed in it.' He thinks that the Arts Council's criticisms were hugely exaggerated, and that any existing problems would have been dealt with. For instance, he planned to insist that the architect, Behnisch, Behnisch & Partners, team up with a local practice and that more use should be made of local skills across all the professions.
Bartho believes that architects make very good project managers. 'They are quite cheap,' he said, 'they are extremely well qualified, and they are very flexible thinkers.' But if they are to succeed, they must be committed to this path. 'When I employ people,' Bartho explains, 'I ask if they are prepared to put their pencils down and never pick them up again. They usually want to do a bit of design.'
He, however, believes it is essential to separate the two activities. 'That certainly holds true on the big projects. Even on a small project it still affects you but you can't do otherwise.' The problem, he says, is that as a design architect you are trying to create something beautiful and 'you are designing a lot for yourself'. This, he says, is where 'architects have failed time and time again, particularly on costs, on building monuments to themselves'.
It is fundamental, he says, that 'a dispassionate project manager will want things purely from the client's perspective'. They can try to sell a vision to the client, but in the end must go with the client's judgement - or budget. Once they understand this, however, architects can excel in project management because 'they have a more holistic view of the whole business, which they are likely to put to the client. The client will end up with a better-value-for-money building, rather than a cheaper building'. In contrast, he says: 'the worry is that you get too many project managers who don't have any appreciation of design, who understand cost and not value. They may not let the architect even speak to the client'.
So, if architects want to become project managers, and are willing to set aside their pencils - or rather their cad packages - what do they need to learn? 'Architects traditionally have been weak on money,' Bartho says. 'They need to brush up on their financial skills, on financial control.'
In his own case, this knowledge came from putting himself through an rics-approved Diploma in Project Management while working for Stride Treglown's project management company. Having studied architecture at Bristol, his career path was determined by the fact that he 'realised quite a long time ago that there were people who were a lot better than me at design. It irked me to spend my whole career doing something that I was second- best at'.
So, after a brief period in private practice, Bartho joined the Property Services Agency in 1974 where he developed expertise in computer systems and also carried out some major feasibility studies for the Ministry of Defence. He went to Stride Project Management in 1982 at a stage when it was first pursuing public-sector work, and gained his project management diploma in 1994. He learned, he says, a lot of the business mba skills such as reading a balance sheet and motivational skills.
With this training and experience of running about 200 projects for Stride, he has become even more convinced of the value of the dedicated project manager. 'A project has got to be managed,' he says, 'and the best person to manage a project is someone with management skills. Even an architect with good skills is obviously not as good as a dedicated project manager.'
When he left Stride in March, Bartho did so with the intention of running his own business. But the Harbourside job was such a wonderful opportunity he could not ignore it. He would not of course have been the project manager, but as project director he would have been the client's representative, dealing directly with the project manager, interpreting the client's needs. One of his intentions was to create a web site with weekly updates on the project - instructive for anyone interested in the running of a major project. Now he is not sure whether he wants to find employment on another major project or to get his own business going. 'I have about three major irons in the fire,' he says. 'At the end of the day it is up to you to make things happen.' Not a bad philosophy for a project manager.