Clare Melhuish reviews Do It Differently's rallying cry for best practice
A few years ago, Kenneth Frampton produced an important study arguing that constructional technique and materials were as much part of the essence of architectural form and expression as spatial organisation and aesthetics.
The book, Studies in Tectonic Culture: the Poetics of Construction, was not received with much interest by the construction industry - even after the efforts of the Egan Report and the Rethinking Construction initiative which it generated, leaving architects constantly frustrated and infuriated by the cultural chasm between the ideals instilled by architectural education and the predominant lack of idealism in the construction industry.
Indeed, the latter largely exhibits a blithe lack of interest in the intentions of the architect, except insofar as they may be deemed unrealisable, and present possibilities for serving contractual claims. Clients, meanwhile - even those who claim to have an interest in promoting architecture - happily play a complicit role in setting architect and contractor against each other, insisting on appointing contractors on the basis of the lowest tender, regardless of skills and ability to execute a design, in the knowledge that the blame for inefficiency, incompetence and lateness can be laid at the feet of the architect at the end of the day.
No wonder architects are under pressure. These unfortunate middlemen in the vicious haggling that goes on behind the scenes are open to every sort of threat and accusation, and know that the pursuit of vision and quality makes the prospects of ruination, wrought by their so-called 'partners' in industry, all too real.
None of this is directly mentioned in the exhibition Do It Differently, which sets out to encourage innovation and 'best practice' within the construction industry. In fact, the presentation of this little showcase of projects from the postEgan landscape seems determined to take the poetics out of not only construction, but also architecture, couching the whole process of design implementation in the most prosaic and nearmeaningless jargon of project managementspeak. Although the 12 schemes are all of high quality, the architecture itself is scarcely visible, mediated by the language of customer focus, quality driven agendas, supply partnering, defects and ultimately - we hope - turnover and profit.
The integration of design and construction is an important, indeed urgent, issue, if the 'effective delivery of 'best value' construction projects in the future' is to be achieved, but this exhibition provides very little concrete information about the innovations taking place in the contractual and supply processes and how these actually work in practice while, seemingly, reducing the concept of architecture itself to less than a postscript.
Do It Differently: Integrating Design and Construction in the 21st Century, sponsored by Rethinking Construction, CABE, the RIBA Constructive Change Committee, and Emap, is showing at the RIBA Florence Hall until March 29. It is due to travel to Manchester and Bristol