Project finance should form an essential part of architectural training
Nicola Horlick, the clever and energetic financial consultant who combines a dazzling City career with the role of successful wife and mother, is now to be seen on the new peps adverts which litter London's stations. A carefully crafted piece of marketing, the advert shows three sober faces: the confident Nicola; the young and highly groomed John Richards; and, in case John's too clever, Peter Seabrook, his cautious smile underpinning a furrowed brow and receding hairline. Personal investment is obviously so complex that you need a creative high-flyer (John), a tough and determined operator (Nicola), and an experienced old bird (Peter), to sort this territory out.
Houses, like peps, also represent big personal investments. Indeed, an extension costing £45,000 is more than most people put into an investment plan in a lifetime. So, what kind of message is put out by the 65 per cent of architects who, as sole practitioners, operate extensively in the domestic field? How well trained and how knowledgeable are they on issues of finance? What help can they give their clients in preparing or presenting the case for a loan? Can they arrange finance for that extension? What contacts do they have?
Think of all those other home purchases: television, fridge, washing machine or new car; the factory-supplied conservatory, the new fitted kitchen, bedroom or study . . . purchases as small as a few hundred pounds, through to £20,000 plus. They all come with advice upon, and easy access to, finance. No hassle . . . just sign here, say the eager salesmen. It's all part of the service.
And architects? Most of us expect our clients to find all the construction capital as well as the £3000-odd for our services without any support whatsoever when most need loan facilities even to convert the attic.
Now think of our training. How much financial knowledge does your average architect have at graduation? What does she understand of the language that lenders will speak? Can he impart confidence to the client's bank or building society that he will control construction costs, comply with budgets and ensure investment returns?
At graduation they will know nothing of books like Ivor Seeley's Building Economics (now in its fourth edition), its glossy cover showing Hopkins' Inland Revenue Centre under construction. Sixteen chapters deal, in logical, ordered fashion, with such essential subjects as 'Cost implications of design variables/Effect of site conditions on building costs/Approximate estimating techniques/ Cost control procedures at design stage' . . . and, at construction stage, 'Valuation processes/Life cycle costing', and so on. This, together with techniques of management, is of course the staple diet of the quantity surveyor in training.
The point here is that the ability to predetermine project costs and ensure satisfactory financial control is essential to any investment decision. That involves, whether at small domestic scale or on large commercial
projects, a level of skill and experience that is simply not taught, acquired, or even discussed in our schools of architecture. It also involves a concern and responsibility that is usually discouraged and frequently dismissed in the most cavalier of fashions during studio crits and seminars.
Of course those who visit the current aj small projects exhibition at the riba and exalt the talent, while marvelling at the richness of ingenuity of the work, would think all is well with our profession, especially in the small works arena. But, and without intending any slur on such wonderful exhibits, how many times do we hear in projects small and large of dazzling architectural achievements being heavily marred by unhappy financial outcomes?
Buildings represent enormous investment, and those who wish to enjoy responsibility for their delivery must complement their design contribution with appropriate supporting inputs, including monetary skills. And just think what potential exists for far greater penetration of the important market in small projects for any architects who can offer reliable fiscal advice as well as reasonable surety of financial outcome, with access to project finance.