Performance pedants offer us progress in a straitjacket
The impact of time and cost on architecture has inspired thinkers and pedants alike.
Think Cedric Price for the former: 'Design is concerned with the conscious distortion of time, distance and size.' Think of those who drink at the shrine to innovation known as 'Rethinking Construction' for the latter.
'Rethinking Construction' answers a government obsession with statistics via a misdirected plethora of new measurements of performance. We are bombarded with supposed successes - jobs finished on time and budget - because we still use historical tools that entrench anachronistic thinking.
Measurement remains a straitjacket, focusing on cost, not value; quantity, not quality; and the short term. There is no satisfactory method for measuring the long term. Little is done to explore the allocation of risk; we remain focused on the cost of procurement.
There is much subterfuge in the presentation of the 'facts' of construction. If an extension of time is granted under clause 25, is the project to be acclaimed as 'on time'? If delays are incurred and liquidated damages are levied under clause 24, are these deducted from the final 'out-turn cost', thus delivering a project 'on budget'? Clearly there is scope for manipulation to ensure favourable headlines while undermining intelligent criticism. The lazy sections of the press accept dubious information far too easily as they bury their snouts in the dustbins of supposed failure.
Setting aside press and promotion, extensions of time are contractually difficult.
Not only are we advocate, judge, jury and executioner, but also the accused and the witness. Our models of professional detachment are increasingly difficult for others to understand and for us to pursue; analysing design-team delays eventually involves us in identifying consultant culpability. If delay is down to the architect, it leads to conflict with our responsibility to our professionalindemnity Insurers. I am not suggesting that others are better positioned to deal in what are usually muddy waters, but you can see why some clients seek the supposedly detached position offered by project managers, even if they are often less informed. New contracts, such as PPC2000, seek to resolve disputes by promoting mechanisms of consultation, of risk and reward, yet they often confuse further.
Increasingly, we work in new relationships between the design team, the client and the contractor; a world of incentivised fees, framework agreements and risk registers. It locates us in new situations where we deliver products for sale, not service to a client; where our assumptions of independence and detachment are irrelevant; a sometimes dull world of sound bites and acronyms. But is all of this really new? As a septuagenarian architect in my office remarked of key suppliers in the supply chain: 'We used to call them nominated subcontractors.' Schemes once acclaimed as on time and on budget, but redundant before paid for, are numerous - you need only look back at recently demolished mass housing. Which is why PFI and PPP remain a concern: a continuous gravy train of bad fees and sad products. Contrast this with Alexandra Road and Trellick Tower, once fiercely criticised in respect of cost and time. We have heard little of that since they were listed and their apartments rocketed in value.
So next time you read of the delivery of a building, consider the reality of time and budget and whether either was well spent.
Until a system of life-cycle costing becomes the norm, you can only guess. Good clients and architects have an intuitive understanding of the possibilities of future value and I'm not sure measurement will ever improve on that.
But we still need progress in this area because the good are likely to remain a minority.