Are we eager for Egan? Architects have been accused of not becoming sufficiently involved in discussions about the implications and possibilities of the Egan report. To remedy this, British Steel, par
Can I start the discussion by asking everyone whether they greeted the Egan report with enthusiasm, with resignation, with the feeling that we must get committed to this or that actually this is for somebody else to take the lead in?
Richard Young, senior partner with Sheppard Robson: The whole construction process costs a lot of money . . . there has to be some different way of trying to produce buildings rather than in the peculiarly adversarial way in which traditionally things have grown up. So when this report was mooted I thought it might have this in its favour. However, when it came out, design and architecture were hardly mentioned, so it began to concern me that in order to meet the objectives of the report the whole question of architecture as an art form would end up being emasculated. There's a huge need to shake up the whole process, but there's also a danger that the creative issue of producing buildings could end up by being sterilised.
Simon Murray, formerly managing director of baa's group technical services; now technical director at Railtrack: A lot of the skills that the industry has in abundance were taken as a given in the Egan report and therefore it was not necessary to comment on them. The report was about taking a fresh look at the whole process by which those skills are put to work in the service of the customer. The set of values that the industry has to adopt have to be based on what the customer wants, not on a set of independent values the industry has of itself.
One of the great challenges for architects and architecture is almost to step away. I've had 25 years in this industry, and I see architects and architecture as being self-obsessed. They work to their own standards and to the standards of their peers. The challenge of the report is to say that you should work to deliver what ordinary people want without abandoning the quality that is inherent in your training.
I know we're forever talking about the motor industry and cars. The reason for that is simple - cars are things that everybody understands. The challenge is to follow the motor industry and produce products which embody both what the public wants, and the higher aspirations of the profession. Presently the industry is driven by its own aspirations and it fails to deliver needs. I can remember years ago as a young engineer in Mombasa having one of those first Alfetta gtvs - it was absolutely fabulous but it broke down about six times - excellent design is wonderful, but it's damn-all use, unless it performs.
Roger Zogolovitch, urban consultant, developer, architect: Paragraph 17 of the Egan report says we see the industry typically dealing with project process as a series of sequential, largely separate operations undertaken by individual designers, constructors and suppliers. We have a series of very well-established cultural camps which divide different parts of the development chain.
Developers come to the architects as they do to all their professionals and try and argue down the fees. The fee arbitration or discussion is in a sense irrelevant because it's so marginal in relation to the cost of the overall development - it's certainly counterproductive. If you improve the cost in use of your building, who's going to pay for it? How are you going to get the value for cost in use? Simon used the analogy of a motor car, but the analogy which I think is closer is movie making. When you're making a movie the key participants share in the gross. Everybody recognises that there's a team at play, so it doesn't matter whether you're a guy that's actually holding up a light, you're the stars, the publicity, you're all part of the end product. The end product is about the gross. Nobody here round this table is ever part of the gross. You have a fee set-up which is actually counter-productive. It's potty.
Paul Finch: In this process just who exactly is the customer? Is it the person who is paying the bills initially? Is it the user in the case of certain sorts of building? Is it the public? In a pfi contract is it the government? Is it the next generation?
Paul Hyett, partner Hyett Salisbury Whiteley: I think that is crucially important - we all have a commitment to design and a sense of duty beyond the product the client has. I welcome the report for one simple reason which is that we can't go on as we have been - it's been going steadily from bad to worse and it's essential that there are some significant changes. In my own profession, there have to be major changes in the way we do business, and in education - what we are teaching, the way we are teaching it.
At the moment in colleges there is an increasing move towards the idea that constructional training should take place in the workplace after the end of the five-or seven-year programme. To my mind that is lunacy. You can't expect young people at 25 and 26 years to go into the field and expect to hold down any job with any kind of authority if they don't know how to do the most basic and mundane things in buildings or in the process of delivering buildings.
There's too much waste in litigation and in the rectification of faults in buildings, there are too many buildings delivered unfit or as misfits and there's too much waste in excessive competitive tendering. Our profession has suffered and we need to look at the conditions necessary for success. That's one of the crucial things which the spirit of Egan offers because I believe we should be in win-win scenarios. It's also absolutely crucial to understand better what the other parties do.
Paul Finch: Can I ask Stefanie Fischer, when you hear people talking about the woes of the construction industry do you wonder how anything ever gets built at all? Is the picture painted of the industry in your experience a mixture of chaos and brilliance or is it a general feeling that things could be an awful lot better on every contract you run?
Stefanie Fischer, partner, Burrell Foley Fischer: There are undeniably achievements but I think there is a malaise throughout the construction industry. When I first read the Egan Report I thought it highlighted the most significant problems across the industry. I do, however, have reservations about whether it is right to move forward on the basis that every single recommendation in the Egan report is directly applicable to every part of the industry, because the industry is diverse.
There are large projects that are fairly proscribed in their requirement and are being commissioned on a repeat basis which lend themselves to the processes described in the Egan report. There's undeniably an opportunity for architects on those projects to engage creatively in research and development in improving those products. My worry is that the members of the Egan task force were primarily large companies - there were no representatives of the medium-small scale of the industry, and I wonder how the recommendations sit alongside government policy on brownfield development.
What happens if you implement the recommendation in the Egan report to steer away from operatives who are trained in a particular skill and look at training multi-skilled operatives who assemble components? What happens when you're dealing with an infill site in a city centre? What happens when you're dealing with a listed building? Would it be to the ultimate benefit of the industry if plasterers and joiners became as rare as thatchers?
But, notwithstanding that, I do think it highlights a lot of problems which need to be addressed and I think it offers a lot of opportunities for architects to participate in improving quality and reducing waste.
Rab Bennetts, a director of Bennetts Associates: I was one of the architects that Sir John Egan consulted. I got the impression that Sir John was on the point of saying 'don't go to an architect for your first port of call - they're a wasted profession, they've really got it completely wrong, go to a contractor, they'll bring in an architect, then they'll sort it out because they control the whole process'. As it happens the report came out with quite a lot about designers in general - the word 'architect' is not used but the word 'designer' is, and I think that is very positive because the designer isn't being marginalised - they're being seen as quite a central function. I think the word designer is used deliberately so as not to distinguish between architects, engineers and various other types of designer, which I think is good. And it invites architects among others to get in amongst the bullets and take over as a central controlling generator of the design process because nobody else is actually doing it and it seems like a tremendous opportunity for us.
So I was quite fearful of the report before it came out but when I read it I thought it was very positive. The message, which is relevant to discussions about who the client is, is that architects are self-absorbed, they often think the clients are actually their peers. If architects can somehow use their rather generalist powers rather than specialist powers to exercise a degree of orchestration over the whole process, if they can see themselves more as a master builder first and a fine artist second, that would be a positive move. The industry is crying out for architects to get their act back together and get back in the centre of the action rather than being a peripheral subcontractor. If we don't do that we will have lost any influence we would have had, and I can't see who else would replace us. Nobody is in a better position to control or orchestrate the process, and yet we're failing to do so because we're so self-absorbed.
Roger Zogolovitch: Look at the people who have made gains under this report and the exemplars they put up. Tesco's for example is talking about having already made 40 per cent gains both on productivity and on cost. Tesco is a great expert client - an occupier, non-speculative, repeating exactly the same facility, rolling it out site after site. It has the funding in place and it is entirely within its interests to get the productivity gains. It can't do anything about the land cost but if it can reduce the construction cost against its own specification, then that improves the balance sheet and improves profitability. Now Tesco doesn't care what the architectural profession thinks of it. As far as Tesco is concerned its involvement with the architectural profession, like its involvement with any other part of the building process, is only part of the necessary requirement of rolling out that part of the project.
We might find the visions of these boxes on the edges of our cities unhappy, uncomfortable, appalling, but that is the product that they want to sell to their customers. But at the other end of the scale we have lots of clients who are far less articulate, far less expert, who might never have done a building before - they're looking for a lot of leadership. The difficulty the profession faces is that it comes from a traditional belief that it leads a professional team. But in this context it has to define that product for the client, and it finds it impossible to do so. This comes back to Paul Hyett's point about education - we do not have the skills generally within the profession to know how much or what part an improvement in the cost of construction or an improvement in productivity will have on overall cashflow or the overall development - it's a fundamental skill.
Rab Bennetts: Part of the reason for that is our own education as architects. We're trained to design art galleries or civic buildings, but 90 per cent of the buildings put up in this country don't need qualities of fine art. If you look back through history many of the great buildings were done through fabulous concern with execution rather than fine art skills. We've got to be multi-skilled.
Paul Finch: Simon Murray, do you recognise these conversations as anything you've heard before - anything that surprised you? Or annoyed you?
Simon Murray: There seems to be a feeling that change is going to be something that happens to other people - we're going to be architects and carry on deploying our skills. If this report is about anything it's about rethinking the whole process, the whole organisation. I do believe that if we're going to grasp this opportunity, one of the first things we're going to have to let go of is this concept of professional silos. One of the most dangerous things in the construction industry is the notion that all the silos of architects, structural engineers, civil engineers, quantity surveyors are somehow cast in stone. I say that as a chartered civil engineer. Those bastions have to give, and I think that training has to change. I would not for a moment suggest that architectural training should abandon the fundamentals of design, but what we've got to do is take those fundamentals, train our people to think laterally, encourage them to break out of that narrow professional silo and create a whole new generation that actually wants to do better.
Every time we do a building we innovate randomly, so never actually learn, never actually understand what it was that caused that customer to get pissed off because we've innovated everything. What we can learn from other industries is a much more disciplined approach to design in construction
Stefanie Fischer: For the recommendations of the report to be implemented everyone needs to sign up to them. You've suggested that around this table the people don't think that the recommendations impact on them, and I'd like to suggest that key to engendering a positive and thoughtful response is an attitude that the skills of all the participants in the process are respected and can be embodied within it.
What you're saying has echoes of attitudes on Latham task forces where there was an attitudinal approach of not referring to anyone as professionals - there's no such thing as an architect, an engineer, a civil engineer, we're all designers - I don't see what the problem is with saying there are a number of different players needed to create a good product and they all bring different skills to the table. I don't think one should try and downgrade that and say there's no difference between what an architect does and a designer for, say, a mechanical or electrical subcontractor. People do have their different and specific skills and I think it would be helpful for those to be recognised.
One of the key skills that an architect as a designer has is co-ordination. They have been trained to look at the implications for an overall design of advice that is coming in from other specialist consultants, and incorporating that in a design that should meet defined client need.
Simon Murray: I think it's very important that people are trained as architects and engineers. But once an architect is released into the big bad world I'd encourage architects and engineers to develop their role to the full and not to be limited by professional silos. I'll pick up your point on architects having skills of co-ordination, it's what a lot of people have said to me over the years. It strikes me as a slightly defensive comment. If architects want to sustain their position as coordinator they'll have to develop a whole new set of skills because the co-ordinating role has become much more complex. Maybe the solution is to have in universities initially individual, professionally based training but thereafter to encourage there to be far fewer institutions and a far broader development and maybe a development into broad-based design.
Roger Zogolovitch: I think the big thing that the Egan report misses is that the industry for development or for buildings is partially land- based and partially product-based - if you look at the workload of the bulk of the architectural profession it is on projects which aren't built, and that is because a key value for the client is the obtaining of the planning consent or obtaining the statutory consents. A lot of the work of the profession is based around the transformation of the piece of land or a building into the idea for the next part of the chain. And I think the danger of this report is that it ignores all that. It is very interesting if you look at housebuilders, they employ a ratio of 6:1 land buyers to designers, because they consider the land is by far the more difficult element.
Paul Finch: I know you're all much too polite to have mentioned that word fees, but to me one of the intriguing things about the Egan proposition is that the way architects should be rewarded is to get away from fuddy- duddy fees based on project value. Is what is implicitly being proposed that people should be paid on a value system which relates to time, toovalue added to the project?
Richard Young: You could argue that the whole basis of our fees is upside down, that architects are paid the least for the amounts of time and skills at which they are most adept and which the public is looking for. The front-end skills of understanding the client's needs are actually what he's employed for and for which generally speaking architects are paid least. It's a bit like buying a Picasso by the cost of the wood in the frame and not by the intrinsic creative aspect.
Paul Finch: Can I ask Rab, let me posit the nightmare scenario about Egan where everything goes hideously wrong and what comes out of this is that everybody says 'let's sign up to Egan'. Architects as independent operators vanish because they'll all be employed by contractors as the first stop in the big process for serial procurers of buildings. The pfi will be done without design competition but with fee competition to bring appropriate architects on board. The entire process of delivery will be design and build - the idea of life-cycle costs will be discounted because that will be pushed onto a niche facilities-management company which will be brought in somewhere along the line. What you'll in fact get are very cheap buildings, not particularly well designed, delivered on time, not very good in terms of energy and sustainability and long life, and who cares whether it's particularly good for the users. What it really means is just cheaper for clients in the first instance. Now that would be a harsh view but is it overly cynical? I hope it is!
Rab Bennetts: I think that the fact that Egan pulled back from that was a sign that he and others on the task force realised that he can't do without the architect in a fairly central position. I can't see that there's anybody else who's in a better position to deal with those general strategic directorial decisions about design than the architect. I'm an optimist and I want to keep on building and I think that's the only way to do it.
The biggest problem we've got is actually an excess of architects for the demand - not enough good architects but there's an excess of general architects compared to the demand for them, so we simply can't command a good price in the market.
I'm not frightened, personally, by d&b - if the builder has a respect for the architect and the architect has a respect for the builder and there's mutual trust, anything is possible. I really haven't got a problem with these moves to a greater integration between contracting and other engineers and the life of the architect - I think it's perfectly alright to do that.
Our main problem is supply and demand. We have to prove value in the early part of the process and be able to charge for it. Our value is being diminished by fellow professionals undercutting us all the time, doing schemes for free, entering competitions which are a waste of time when they shouldn't even touch them in the first place - it's not the clients that are the problem.
Paul Hyett: Look at the history of our profession. It is not a static profession in terms of training. The kids coming out of school nowadays - heaven help them in because the training is useless - it's so far from technology, construction administration - how can they manage what they don't know about? The difference between them and the qs is that the qs has the arrogance to try and do it but the architects haven't.
I would like to see architects qualified at the end of Part I. We should produce people with a general education in Part I, about the city, the way it works, the organisation of buildings, the general shifting and manipulating of space, and then Part II needs to be a series of master specialisms - you can move up into urban design, into planning, into facilities management, a host of territories. There are simply not enough jobs for the architects who are training - we've tripled the number of students going through. We've got other professions imposing on our territory and imposing themselves in our territory, we've got new communication technology, reducing the need for architects - what on earth do you think all these architects are going to do? We shouldn't worry about protecting the profession and protecting 66 Portland Place, what we should say is we all are active but some of us work for contractors, some of us work for sub-contractors, some of us work for suppliers, product design, fantastic, but we're all members of the riba and we're all concerned about the environment around us.
Rab Bennetts: Buildings are so complex, I think the idea of specialising after just three years is the last thing that architects are going to do if they are going to then go on and build buildings as well. Specialisation has often been said to be a fragmentation rather than a concentration of knowledge, making you less able to deal with a total building project than if you carried on doing general training. The thing that is missing is the notion of apprenticeship, where you learn to craft your way through the building process for the first 10 years or so after qualification. It's no surprise that most architects don't produce decent buildings until their 40s. It's a function of experience and power to manipulate the whole process - you can't do that when you're 25.
Roger Zogolovitch: But how many masterbuilders are there within any generation? There are never more than five, so in a sense this is where I agree with Simon that our peer group is the people that we believe in and the magazine. The belief we put into students is that 'I can be a masterbuilder' - we're a bonkers profession and we don't actually accept that by specialisation we actually get legitimacy and some degree of strength. We fundamentally misunderstand intellectual property in architecture - because it is that front-end thinking that really does add value and we give it away for nothing. What we're giving away is vast millions of pounds in real terms.
Simon Murray: You fritter away intellectual property and allow yourselves to use it to chase volume work - you sell far too many low-grade man hours in this profession. And you are so wasteful - you have so many bright young people coming into architecture, and the structure of architecture is more like the structure of the arts than it is like a profession or a business. The number of architects who struggle away being paid a pittance and being given no proper training is an indictment - you're going nowhere as a profession.
Paul Hyett: : Imagine going to a barrister and saying, through the solicitor, we're going to invite you to submit on five sides of A4 your strategy for dealing with our case. We may or may not go ahead with any one of you, we won't agree the fees beforehand - you wouldn't even get a submission.
Roger Zogolovitch: It is the greatest area of waste in our profession, and because we don't value it and we give it away we don't have any resource. Other risk profession, such as surveyors, get a very high reward when their risk comes through - we put all the risk in and get no reward.
Simon Murray: Look at merchant bankers. One of the things we've had conversations in baa about is the need to reward people for those ideas that really contribute to our business. And I think clients have got to hand out big cheques as they do in other fields - if a merchant banker brings a big deal in, you sign a cheque for £500,000 or whatever and everybody feels good. If that's to happen in architecture, in engineering and in construction, the real essential is that the industry addresses the real needs of the customer - nobody is going to hand over a cheque for £500,000 if you produce a wonderful Post-Modern building that gets a big write- up in the aj, but if you really solve one of our problems, then I think the mindset is beginning to move in that way.
Roger Zogolovitch: You're missing the land connection. Our intellectual property does not move. Every other piece of intellectual property, whether you're a band or a writer, an author or a merchant banker, is portable.
Simon Murray: I don't agree with that. What would happen if, for example, one went to one of the architects who's recognised as having excellent skills in designing with steel and asked them to design a kit of parts that other designers could draw on in building buildings on other sites. I think that would help to improve the qualities of mass-produced architecture, which at the moment is only drawing on mediocre design skills. It might improve the design of retail sheds, of supermarkets, of all sorts of things which haven't been given sufficient thought.