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Hopkins and Arups grilled over cost of MPs' offices

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Delegates to the British Council for Offices conference in Glasgow last week slammed the design process behind Portcullis House, Michael Hopkins and Partners' parliamentary extension, dubbed the most expensive building in Europe.

Ove Arup faced a barrage of questions in a workshop about the decision to plan for a 200-year life, yet include seemingly inflexible concrete partitions, as well as selecting the notoriously expensive bronze facade.

Francis Ives, chairman of qs Cyril Sweett, said that even after ignoring vat and fitting out, he calculated the building cost to be £2200/m2, yet it functioned no differently to an ordinary office block, which would cost £1600/m2. 'Does the longer life cycle justify that difference?' he asked. The facade was also blamed for the high cost, because it had to be bomb-proof. But Ives said even then he would not have specified bronze.

Blame was passed back to the client by David Selby of Michael Hopkins. 'Parliament was very clear about what it wanted,' he said. Suggestions by Stephen Hackaday of Bovis that involving contractors earlier in the process would have led to cheaper techniques were also dismissed. 'The client wanted the whole design ready up front at the start,' said Selby. 'There was no way to involve others early.'

Several members of the workshop asked how such a long lifespan and concrete internal walls were justified when there was so much uncertainty about the constitution even five years ahead. 'We have already seen devolution, the House of Lords may go and we may face big changes through use of high- technology,' said one.

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