It's official. Architects are now on mingling terms with the residents of Number 10. But was last night's shindig simply an exercise in collective professional climbing, or a real indication of changes to come? As might be expected, much was made of Blair's personal commitment to improving the quality of governmentcommissioned buildings.What was surprising was the extent to which he appears willing to be pinned down as to exactly what this 'commitment' might entail.
The report unveiled at the reception draws heavily on the familiar M4I mantra - integrated teams, measurement of efficiency and waste, performance review, whole-life costings - and suggests that PFI is here to stay. Speaking at the event, Stuart Lipton expressed confidence that CABEwould be able to work with contractors to improve PFI buildings without additional cost - the consensus seems to be that effort should be concentrated on dispelling its bad reputation, and proving that it is as capable of producing quality buildings as any other form of procurement.
Perhaps the most important message to come out of Downing Street this week is the understanding of the importance of the client in bringing about these improvements. Each government department is to have a 'design champion'to ensure that proper procedures are taken to get good designers and good designs, marking an acceptance that acting as an effective client demands commitment in time, expertise and - crucially where taxpayers'money is at stake - accountability.
Press coverage of the Dome and Portcullis House showed the extent to which public buildings need a spokesman.Where life-cycle costs are prioritised over capital costs, and short-term economy is not the driving force, the client needs a thorough understanding of the project; justifying and explaining decisions becomes an increasingly complex task.We should applaud Blair's acceptance that it needs to be formalised throughout government departments. Hopefully more private sector companies will appoint design champions once it becomes apparent that playing a key role in procuring a decent building could be enough to make not only a political, but also an executive, career.