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Constructing Excellence: ‘Accountability is good’

Don Ward, chief executive of agent for change Constructing Excellence, talks about architects getting an uplift for successful schemes

Constructing Excellence is about achieving efficiency through collaboration; are architects good at collaboration?

I’ve come across outstanding and bad examples. In poor cases, the attitude is that architects lead the team and operate a command-and control regime. Overall, architects are perhaps better than most because of the wider perspectives offered by architectural education to include urban planning, whole life, sustainability, etc.

Should architects benefit from a project’s ‘uplift’; namely take a cut of any long-term profits generated by the scheme?

The idea of a value margin and not just a profit margin was discussed in our 2007 report ‘Be Valuable’, authored by Richard Saxon, then of BDP. For me, the more ‘skin in the game’ held by members of the design and delivery team, the better. It drives an alignment of commercial interest between client, operator and delivery team by incentivising the creation of more value for the client/operator.

Should architects be penalised for failed schemes then?

The same desirability of ‘skin in the game’ leads to this corollary. More accountability is good, and we need to learn and feedback more on the business performance of buildings in use over their lifetime, not just their energy and environmental performance.

As an example, which scheme had excellent collaboration?

One of my favourites was the Academy of St Francis of Assisi in Liverpool, designed by Capita Symonds from 2007/8. We focused on its sustainability credentials, but it also featured collaboration between two clients not known for getting on well – the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. The curriculum focuses on the environment and uses the building as a teaching aid. The building has made a major contribution to regeneration in the area, and rose to the top of the government’s league tables for educational uplift.

What could the government do to improve procurement?

Mandate a small number of standard approaches which drive early supply chain involvement, or conversely outlaw old-fashioned approaches which create silos of design as something separate from construction or operation. There is much evidence that the latter fail to deliver acceptable levels of value-for-money on anything but the simplest projects.

Would the industry be more collaborative if there were more women working in it?

The industry would be more collaborative if there were more people with ‘softer’ skills such as communication, empathy and teamwork. Women aren’t the only people who have these skills, but it’s another argument in favour of greater equality.

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