Why we must heal the rift with the QS
It was a sad day when, on 13 May 1834, the newly formed Society of British Architects disqualified 'architect surveyors' from our profession, as the paths of designers and measurers were irretrievably set on separate and diverging courses. These activities should, of course, have remained united, for building costs are inextricably linked to design and specification: architects must therefore be centrally involved in the money process, and committed to issues of economic viability and financial control.
Conversely, these concerns are worthless if the built product is unwittingly compromised, and it is for this reason that qs training needs close scrutiny. If that profession wishes to assume the leading role that it so obviously seeks, it must also accept responsibility for outcomes; something it shirks all too often.
Last week's story of 'treachery' underlined the common rift between the quantity-surveying profession and the other consultants, which is apparently still growing. Indeed, over the last two decades many qs firms have even sought to define their position outside the design team. Opting to 'manage' rather than 'do', they prefer, in lieu of their traditional role, to establish project objectives and processes, and to monitor performance - reporting on the problems and alleged failures of everyone but, of course, themselves. Have I got this wrong? I think not. But with influence comes accountability, and this is where the qs profession should reflect on its own training in relation to such ambitions. For how can it possibly be accountable for what it doesn't understand?
I recently learned of a commission where a qs, acting as project manager, had so muddled the processes that the client's interests were put at severe risk. In an effort to shift perceived costs and liabilities from the client, this aspiring 'team leader' had transferred responsibility for structural design, building-regulation applications and party-wall awards to the builder, while simultaneously shortening the lead-in time and the construction period. Disaster inevitably struck when building work was subsequently suspended through lack of structural information, statutory consents, and extended party-wall negotiations. In short, his knowledge, aptitude and training were hopelessly inadequate for his new-found role.
Another qs, the ink on his degree certificate still wet, recently applied to an architect for a job as a project manager. Unfazed that he hadn't heard of Lutyens or Charles Jeanneret, his prospective employer was disappointed that he didn't know of Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, or Frank Lloyd Wright, surprised that he hadn't heard of Farrell, Gough, Grimshaw or Hopkins, and positively shocked and appalled to be told by the applicant how much he admired Norman Foster's Lloyds building.
Quantity surveyors should surely have better knowledge than this. It is essential that they understand the process of design and construction sufficiently well to contribute to their successful execution, and the product sufficiently to ensure that their contribution sustains - even enhances - intended architectural objectives.
It will take a major review and overhaul of training procedures before the qs profession can responsibly undertake the role that so many of its members covet, but the greater empathy that will come through such improved understanding will lead to better buildings and, hopefully, some alleviation from the conflicts which Mr Egan has again identified as endemic to our industry.