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Demonstrating the many arts of architecture

While the Reichstag building drew the world media to Berlin this week, in Britain we took another step along the road to an improved architecture of the everyday, under the influence of the Egan report. More information came out about the 'key performance indicators' by which demonstration projects, chosen to reflect the virtues of the Egan approach to building procurement, may be judged.

This is turning out to be a fascinating exercise, the conclusions of which are by no means foregone. Reading University, coincidentally, is conducting research into whether partnering, which lies at the heart of Eganworld, is in reality a better way to achieve construction efficiency than the rigour of building contracts. If you are falling down on the job, is there not a natural temptation to invite your partner to share in the agony, rather than do something about it before penalty clauses kick in?

Apostles of the partnering doctrine are forever telling us how well this way of working operates in Japan; recent experience of massive corruption and official lying about everything from economic statistics to the individual performance of banks, casts this paradise in a slightly different light. Frankly, some of the suggestions as to how our public bodies should partner with elements of the construction industry would, not so long ago, have landed both parties in jail on corruption charges. There is a thin line between rational long-term business relationships and sweetheart deals which encourage bribery, between sensible co-operation and cosy cartels.

It is nevertheless a tribute to the Egan Report that it has prompted the sort of discussions now under way within the industry, and it seems generally the case that a broad cross-section of people within it believe in the doctrine of better working methods to benefit the customer, and in the need to look afresh at the virtues of what I hereby name 'smart assembly' buildings - prefabricated of course, but who needs the baggage that goes with the name? More of this next week.

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