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paul hyett

My parents were reasonably relaxed about my wife and me living together before marriage, but mum did not want Auntie Gladys to know although my nan was in on the whole affair from the beginning; she loved young people, but then again, she encouraged smoking as well!

Pre-marital sex was the subject of a recent television documentary which explored the changing social habits of the past 75 years.

Obviously the trials, uncertainties and disruption of war had impacted heavily on otherwise 'acceptable' behaviour patterns but it was extraordinary how so many of the older people interviewed - particularly the women - talked of the taboo and risk associated with pre-marital sex right up to the early '70s when my relationship was testing values within both our families.

But what I found most disturbing in the documentary was the interview with a pair of teenage 'men'who challenged their grandparents' views on the merits of premarriage celibacy. 'Crazy, ' said one - 'why would you sign up without trying out the goods first?' Such hard-nosed consumerism is, of course, common to most aspects of today's living, but even the most ardent supporters of consumer protection policies would hold that such attitudes are hardly applicable to the precious institution of marriage.

Many architects suffer similar problems when beginning relationships with prospective clients. Time and again those clients are unhappy with references, past examples of work, even method statements and extended interviews. Instead, they want to see an indication of the architect's design response to their project, and push to 'try out' the service before signing up. You know the line - we don't want much - just first ideas, just a simple sketch, all that nonsense.

As I have said before, try asking six barristers to set out their skeleton argument for a case in competition - no chance! But architects seem ever willing and ever daft enough to give away their most precious skills for nothing. Often, they don't even pre-agree the appointment terms.

When will clients learn that the design response to a particular site is dependent on the quality of brief, and on close collaboration between client and architect? Indeed, the more ambitious the client, the more complex the briefing process and the closer the collaboration that will be necessary. 'First responses' to a site have little value: design proposals should evolve through processes of testing and refinement and should be informed by carefully prepared design briefs.

And here we get to the real rub. Effective collaboration between architect and client cannot take place outside the parameters of a trusting relationship. Where an architect believes that the client may freely take ideas from a variety of schemes, and 'mix 'n' match' them - even pass them to their friendly designand-build contractor - they are hardly likely to want to share them openly. And anyway, why should an architect invest such extensive time and skill without a fee commitment? We all know that when architects do provide such services freely, it is their staff who suffer.

Furthermore, how can this profession maintain appropriate standards and regain decent pay levels for its members, if it gives away its most valuable services freely?

Clearly, it seems to be a symptom of the age that 'consumers', be they patrons of architecture, or prospective marriage partners, all want to sample the goods before making any commitment.

But such sampling doesn't seem to lead to better architecture or happier relationships between clients and their consultants, any more than it leads to happier or longer marriages. Indeed divorces are at an all time high, just as criticisms of architectural services and professional indemnity claims continue to rise.

I am not suggesting a return to conventional methods of professional selection any more than I am proposing a ban on pre-marital sex - and anyway, neither are deliverable. But, just as with the selection of a 'life'partner, less greedy, less exploitative and more responsible selection process would be fairer and better for all concerned.

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