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Now we're motoring - but you can only drive the role model so far


From Le Corbusier's declaration that 'je ferai des maisons comme on fait des voitures'to John Egan's repeated exhortations for the construction industry to learn from the automotive sector, the car industry has been held up as a benchmark for efficient production.Foster and Partners'McLaren Technology Centre (Building study, pp24-31) brings the two worlds together.But have we learned the lessons that Egan or Corbusier had in mind?

The success of the motor industry is generally attributed to the reduced labour, research and design costs associated with standardised production.Yet many of the most profitable companies concentrate on exclusive products which are highly labour-intensive and dependent on constant innovation.

The trick is to offset or recoup - rather than reduce - unit costs.The McLaren building has demonstrated, not that buildings can be put up on the cheap, but that architecture can benefit from the basic rules of sponsorship - that suppliers can be persuaded to shoulder the cost of product development in return for association with a prestige project.The strategy of sponsorship or 'partnering'bought suppliers into the design process at an early stage, replicating the strong control and dialogue which characterises car manufacturing rather than the more fragmented relationships of the construction industry.While this reinforces Egan's edict that the construction industry should aim for greater collaboration, it suggests that strong leadership is more important than convoluted partnering. There was no doubt who was boss.

But if there are lessons to be learned, the McLaren building, like Grimshaw's Rolls-Royce factory (AJ 5.2.04) and Weedon's Aston Martin factory (Buildings, pp44-47) underline the fundamental difference between buildings and cars - that the former is site-specific, the latter are not.Each of these clients demanded a building which is highly individual and enjoys a particular relationship with its surroundings.How telling that each of these three forward-looking companies describes their building as a contemporary take on that most traditional of building types - the English country house.

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