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Financial acuity is as important as technical know-how


Escalating costs. Two words which consistently undermine the status of the architectural profession.

The Richard Rogers Partnership's unseemly dismissal from the Welsh Assembly project is the most recent, and perhaps the most dramatic, example of architects taking the blame for costs which seem out of control. In the confusion which surrounds the case, one thing is clear - that there has been an appalling breakdown in communication between RRP and its client. Of particular concern is the fact that client and (former) architect cannot even agree as to where cost increases have been incurred. RRP argues that the decision to use Welsh slate has upped the bill by £500,000; Assembly finance minister Edwina Hart insists that local slate is the cheapest around.

Are we to believe that there is no documentation which sets out the comparative costs? Or that it exists, but is somehow ambiguous? Or that it is perfectly clear, but that it has not been seen by all concerned?

The parties involved would doubtless counter that, on a project such as this, the lines of communication are so convoluted and unwieldy that it is absurd to couch these questions in such a simplistic way. But these are questions which will be asked by members of the public.

And it is unlikely that they will conclude that RRP is perfectly aware of the financial aspect of the project, and that the client has got it wrong.

It is questionable whether the Assembly would have dared to point the finger at RRP, had it not been confident that public prejudice would swallow the cliche that the words 'design architect'are synonymous with a cavalier approach to cost.

RRP's plight underlines the need to put cost control on the architectural curriculum, and to ensure that architects are able to discuss financial matters with as much confidence and clarity as they talk about design.

Pointing the finger at the architect is a time-honoured means of diverting attention from political ineptitude.

But it is only effective because the architectural profession as a whole has failed to present itself as financially astute.

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