Construction costs pervade everyone's thinking long before projects take architectural form; budgets are often in place before the design team. This can be entirely reasonable - we would otherwise waste time on the most vague of opportunities. What is unreasonable is when budgets are in place before the brief.
Even then the situation can be recovered, assuming the project can be remodelled. Then the design team can ride in on a white charger and compensate for a dodgy financial model with ideas of density, use and programme. The team must remember who first messed up and remind everyone - not too often, of course - that they are merely trying to save the day.
The problems that will affect your PII, and that of the design team members, occur when you fail collectively to interrogate the budget and the brief. Or when you interrogate but conceal your discoveries and play along with the client's incorrect financial model. This is the stuff of legend: building costs doubling during design and again during construction. There can be two major reasons for this escalation.
One is that cost has increased because the project programme, time, use or even location have changed - it is then simply about an audit of a report. The more alarming reason is that the job is out of control: a monster where client, design team and contractor are all talking, but not to each other, about different costs and programmes; retreating into a world of denial.
A brief study of Lord Fraser's findings on the Scottish Parliament confirms my suspicion that this project suffered from both of the above.
It will, however, prove good value in the long term. In that sense the work of Eric Miralles (a 'deceased wayward Spanish architectural genius', according to Fraser) compares well with that of his compatriot GaudÝ on the (also) posthumously constructed, and still-to-becompleted, Sagrada FamÝlia. What Fraser fails to recognise is that the persistence of Donald Dewar and the incompetence and fear of civil servants actually ensured the quality of the building: 'Whenever there was a conflict between quality and cost, quality was preferred'. Is he damning or congratulating them? The real scandal is that as we devolve power back to the regions and forward to the EU, we are left with a husk of a parliament at Westminster inhabited by citizens of the other two parliaments passing laws that affect the unrepresented of England. Architecture cannot offer a solution to these problems, only a monument to political ideas; it, therefore, suffers from the vicissitudes of politics.
The need at Westminster was not for more expensive MPs' offices but for a commitment to parliament. Simultaneously, while nationalism suggests we will have more parliaments not less, we are witnessing the construction of monuments to a new government of Europe that will either supersede these showpieces or themselves become redundant. Either way, there will be many follies to political arrogance.
In this context, the task of driving down out-turn costs to meet a mean benchmark of fantasy procurement appears irrelevant.
Yes, look at shape and wall-to-floor ratio early, as these create the cost model, and we can do more to eradicate waste and improve quality and delivery mechanisms. But by far the greatest cost will be that of the building in use over time. If it is to age well, it will cost more money. If it is not to last, this must be recognised from the outset - yet so much temporary architecture becomes permanent. If your buildings survive, whatever you did with the budget will be forgotten. Despite your best efforts to create good value through innovative delivery, if you don't offer delight, you will be pilloried. The greatest waste, of course, is in the creation of buildings superseded before completion. Unfortunately, in architecture, as in life, the best things are rarely free.