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CLIENTS NEED PERSEVERENCE, DEEP POCKETS, UNFLINCHING CONFIDENCE AND BALLS OF STEEL

OPINION / TOM BLOXHAM

Being a client has much of the satisfaction of being an architect - but without the need for the seven years' hard training or (in my case) any particular talent! In many ways it is the easiest thing in the world, like being a big kid, playing with a full-size Lego set. But being a good client isn't all plain sailing.

I have never owned a boat, but friends of mine who have tell me boat-owning guarantees two days of happiness - the day you buy it and the day you sell it. In many ways, a building project is just the same. The early days of any project are very exciting - there are few things more enjoyable than exploring creative ways to transform what is often wasteland into a great scheme.

Take Urban Splash's New Islington scheme in Manchester.

It was a joy to establish a masterplan and work with Will Alsop and Christophe Egret to produce drawings and models exploring ways to turn this tired and largely abandoned council estate into a wonderful modern place to be. But, as with any other project, there are a huge number of obstacles to overcome before we realise these dreams. These include:

? Signing JV agreements with Manchester City Council and English Partnerships. Once the lawyers become involved, the pile of these supposedly simple documents ends up being taller than me.

? Obtaining planning and listed building consents and negotiating with the numerous local interest groups, who appear to be competing to see who can adopt the most conservative stance.

? Meeting every single resident living on the estate and trying to satisfy all their (sometimes conflicting) desires.

? Persuading British Waterways to link in our new canals with the existing system (you would not believe how difficult this can be).

? Coming up with a land remediation strategy.

? Devising a marketing plan to persuade a somewhat sceptical public, not to mention the bankers (no it's not rhyming slang) that what was once one of Manchester's most notorious council estates will be transformed into a great place in which to invest and live.

? Persuading the architects - who (I am pleased to say) want to build their life's monument with Urban Splash's money - to do so within budget. Or near enough.

? Then, finally, getting on site, seeing tenders come in over budget, contractors go bust on you and the inevitable inclement weather cause delays.

Why does building work almost always cost more, and take longer, than you think?

But despite all the trials and tribulations, the joy of seeing beautiful buildings where once there was nothing is fantastic. So clients like us may not have the talent or the patience to design buildings, but we need perseverance, deep pockets, unflinching confidence and balls of steel to overcome all the obstacles and realise our architects' dreams. And hopefully make a few quid.

If you have any suggestions as to who I should donate this month's fee to then please send an email to the address below.

Tom Bloxham is the chairman of Urban Splash. Email:

ajcolumnists@emap. com

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