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RIBA’s new Plan of Work under fire as A-L stages are scrapped

Critics say new format undermines position of architects in construction process and ignores sustainability issues, writes Laura Mark

Next week the RIBA’s 50-year-old Plan of Work will be consigned to history. The familiar A-L work stages will be scrapped, replaced by eight new, numbered steps.

Some practices have already geared up to use the new plan when it is officially launched on 21 May. But it is still unclear whether there will be widespread take-up and the reworked workflow has come in for criticism. Some architects claim the new plan is too vague, fails to address sustainability issues and is not specific enough for architects, based as it is on the Construction Industry Council (CIC) schedule of services.

The RIBA maintains the new Plan of Work is ‘procurement neutral’, in acknowledging that not every contract follows the traditional procurement route or even the design and build route. As a result, the plan has been criticised for its alleged ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.

Elspeth Clements, partner at east London-based Clements Porter, said: ‘It is difficult to see how we will use it. The new Plan of Work is fine for larger, non-traditional projects, but not necessarily for smaller traditional ones.’

Rab Bennetts, founder of Bennetts Associates, added: ‘Updating the Plan of Work in line with CIC’s pan-industry equivalent is welcome and overdue. However, the really big issue for us has never been how the stages are labelled, but what they contain. Different architects have very different understandings of each stage and we are often surprised at how little information is produced by some firms.’

Bennetts concluded: ‘The words contained within the Plan of Work are of little value without visual material in support.

‘There should be a manual containing exemplar drawings for each stage in the same way CIBSE once produced standard drawing types for services design. Only then will the industry have a consistent benchmark with which to judge quality, fees, programme, and so on.’

Some architects also feel the updated plan ‘sends out the wrong message’ on sustainability. Although the green overlay (as it was known previously) has been incorporated into the new plan of work through sustainability checkpoints, these are optional and architects can ‘turn them off’.

Elrond Burrell, an architect at Architype said: ‘The only suitable and cost-effective approach to sustainability is to fully integrate it in the project design and delivery. It should be part of the core objectives at every stage.

‘To see it as an optional add on is not where the profession should be positioning itself today. Architects have a crucial role to play in helping the UK meet required CO2 emission reductions, in eliminating the performance gap, in ensuring an equitable use of scarce resources and in creating a healthy vibrant built environment: the Plan of Work really should reflect this.’

Robert Prewett, a partner at Prewett Bizley Architects, agreed: ‘In a week when we went over the 400ppm CO2 level and seemed headed towards the catastrophe, I am horrified that sustainability points might be turned off.

‘The message this sends out to designers and clients alike is that they are not important.

‘The RIBA is duty-bound to lead on this matter and any backsliding would not only be of regret for climate change but also a huge own-goal for the RIBA.’

The Association of Consultant Architects (ACA) has been particularly vocal in its criticism of the RIBA’s updated plan and has refused to endorse it.

The organisation, which may draw up its own updated version of the A-L stages, believes take-up could be ‘patchy’ and that ‘it might eventually disappear, but only after much pain and suffering’.

ACA president Terry Brown said: ‘Though the existing plan could benefit from some revision, the wholesale changes that the RIBA has introduced do not sufficiently support the architect’s position within the design and project team.’

The changes do not support the position of the architect within the design team

‘[The RIBA has] reduced the stages for design, thereby losing the opportunity for detailed, relevant and useful waypoints, gateways or signoffs for information exchange between architect and client.

‘The new Plan of Work seriously puts pressure on the design process, rushes design and undermines its importance in favour of participating in government initiatives involving “strategic procurement” predesign work and “soft landing”.’

Former ACA president Brian Waters added: ‘By adopting the outline of the CIC work stages the RIBA is losing sight of the purpose of the original, namely that it sets out standard stages for the design process, rather than describing a procurement process that is likely to be led by the contractor.’

Invisible Studio’s Piers Taylor, doesn’t use the RIBA’s Plan of Work, and doubts this will change with the new workflow.

He said: ‘Most of our projects can’t be neatly slotted into the RIBA’s rather prescriptive and unimaginative scope of work and find it’s an excuse not to think in an original and appropriate way about each project.’

But a number of practices, including Austin-Smith:Lord, EPR Architects, Architype, and Peter Morris Architects have said they will be using the new Plan of Work 2013.

Austin-Smith:Lord partner Maggie Mullan said: ‘It has started coming through in bids. We have commenced our in-house training to ensure we can hit the ground running.’

The new Plan of Work will explain my services as an architect in an easier and less complicated manner

Gabrielle Omar, Apprentice star and founder of Lolli & Square, also praised the new plan. She said: ‘I look forward to using the new Plan of Work, which will help explain my services as an architect in an easier and less complicated manner. It is more straightforward and comprehensible in its language, as well as more concise in highlighting the benefits of using an architect.’

However if the new plan is to catch on, it needs a greater groundswell of support from the profession. The drive has already been hampered by a lack of communication about the changes to its members (AJ 25.10.12).

And for some, including John Flinn of Cheshire-based small practice Davenport and Flinn Architects, the new Plan of Work is just another case of the ‘usual hogwash that the RIBA pushes out’.

Tom Hart, director at RG+P added: ‘It has to be architects that push the use of the new Plan of Work so that we can become instrumental in the construction process once again.’

The RIBA meanwhile sees the implementation of the new plan as a three-year process, and does not expect practices to take to it straight away.

‘It will only really be adopted if architects support it’ acknowledged RIBA director of practice Adrian Dobson.

Further comment

Dieter Gockman, EPR Architects:

‘EPR Architects considers the publication of the re-formatted and flexible 2013 Plan of Work to be a very positive initiative by the RIBA. The new work stages are a much better reflection of current procurement practice and are more suited to the reality of the way we are delivering services to clients.

‘At EPR Architects, we are already raising awareness of the new plan across the practice and have seminars planned to coincide with the plan’s launch to demonstrate how our architects can use the plan online and tailor it to their needs. EPR Architects’ standard schedule of services has already been restructured to reflect the new work stages and is ready to be used to accompany all of the practice’s fee proposals from the 21 May.

‘I hope the profession unites behind the new plan and proactively encourages the industry to do likewise. Through the publication of the 2013 plan the RIBA is providing us with an opportunity to reassert architects’ position as design team leader, an opportunity I hope we should not squander’.

Peter Morris, Peter Morris Architects:

‘I am excited about the changes to the RIBA plan of work. The language used is simpler and easier for clients to understand. It is now more relevant to a diversifying architectural profession, in a time when innovation and diversity is key to our future.The only regret is the omission of the word ‘Tender’. Choosing a partner to take any project forward to completion is an extremely important part of the design period process and deserves it’s own section in the Plan of Work.’

Roger Fitzgerald, ADP Architecture:

‘There are both opportunities and threats in this new structure. The work involved in preparing a compliant planning application is much more involved, and this new plan gives the opportunity to charge more, earlier. However I can see some clients claiming that they don’t need a “Technical Design”, and there needs to be more definition of the distinction between that and “Developed Design”. Feedback from the “In Use” phase will be valuable to all, but I’d be very wary about attributing too much fee to that phase.

‘We have a lot of historical data about where the time gets spent on projects which relates to the old workstages, so we are looking at how to update that information to the new Plan of Work’. 

Luke Tozer, Pitman Tozer Architects:

‘The new Plan of Work is a worthy exercise to integrate the myriad of tasks in a project into a ‘simple’ set of stages but one that needs road testing. The proof of whether it works and is scalable for projects large and small I assume will come but it would have been helpful to see some actual projects mapped in both old and new plans of work. The bespoke sections are the most interesting aspect and where I would like to see examples. First impressions are that it seems driven by BIM and aligning with other established industry models (CIC) to promote the currency and influence of the RIBA plan of work in the industry and big practice rather than its usefulness for RIBA members and small practices with refurbishment work. Who knows any architects who use the term “Close Out”…?’

Alfred Munkenbeck, Munkenbeck and Partners:

‘The new Plan of Work was not created by the RIBA. It precisely follows the plan of work produced by the  CIC entitled “CIC Scope of Services Handbook”. The CIC decided to simplify the RIBA Plan of Work by inter alia collapsing 4 pre-tender design stages (C-F) into 2 (called stages 2 and 3) and to use a 1 through 6 numbering system instead of letters. The RIBA has now simply adopted the CIC system and added a second pre-design stage 0 at the beginning and a post construction stage 7 at the end.

‘Sadly, the RIBA has gone AWOL in becoming much more concerned about stages before design as well as stages after construction.  Ironically, these are not areas where architects ever will have very much to contribute. At the same time they have reduced the stages for design thereby losing one of the detailed waypoints for information exchange between architect and client. They are effectively rushing design and undermining its importance if favour of participating in government initiatives involving “strategic brief” pre-design work and “soft landing”, post-completion feedback/analysis. They have tossed out the baby with the bath water… collapsing a time honoured design process.

‘There is no indication when you go to planning, building regs or tender. These are the major milestones which matter and which clients care about’.

Jon Greenfield, NPS Group:

‘I warmly welcome the changes. The 1963 Plan of Work was getting very out of date and the CIC Plan would have taken over in substantial portions of the construction industry, undermining the RIBA’s central role.

‘In short I feel that the new plan of work is much better adapted to the kind of appointments architects receive today – particularly because the plan of work changes depending on key project parameters. The old Plan of Work has become embedded in architectural parlance, so it will take a while to make the change, but it will come’.

Brian Waters, ACA:

‘By adopting the outline of the CIC work stages the RIBA is losing sight of the purpose of the original, namely that it sets out standard stages for the design process rather than describing a procurement process likely to be led by the contractor.

‘The majority of projects are, for clients, one-offs. They rely on a standard programme for guidance. They are not interested, nor is it often in their interest, to appointing the whole team before there is a signed-off brief, or design or even a planning permission.

‘The current Plan of Work needs refreshing to allow alternatives to the conventional tender process and the RIBA is right to seek that but, as Alfred says, the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater. The idea that there is a contractor before there is a planning permission for an approved design strongly suggests that the architect becomes a subcontractor and so loses his professional role with the client.

‘That this happens already with PFI etc may have to be accepted but is to be regretted. Why should the RIBA encourage it?

‘As to the timing of the planning permission, it is no good the RIBA just responding that we can make upour own bespoke version; planning committees have at long last adopted the alphabet of the PoW and often seek the assurance of a detail design they describe as ‘Stage D+’, meaning Stage D with a bit more committed detail to ensure they can enforce the quality of design they are permitting’.

Maggie Mullan, Austin-Smith:Lord:

‘The revised plan of work aligns more closely with trends in procurement – particularly the slightly more expansive Stage 3 which has taken on board the increased input expected at this stage to mitigate construction risk. Although the plan refers to both BIM and Soft Landings, there is still a gap in both the understanding and provision for the increased liability these initiatives impose on architects.

 

 

Readers' comments (1)

  • Kevan Shaw

    As an Architectural Lighting Designer I have found the old plan of work becoming increasingly f=difficult to reconcile with the current project management and procurement methods. We have found ourselves engaged much later than is best value and best input to the project. I think the new plan of work is much better suited to current practice and much easier for us to adopt wholesale. I agree with Rab Bennetts' suggestion that a standardised drawing example set should be developed. We do see very wide variation between different practices as to what is currently submitted at the old Stage C and Stage D. Standardisation makes it much easier for us sub consultants to integrate our services and our fee proposals with the general workflow

    Sadly the success of this new plan of work is probably more in the hands of project managers than architects in the current climate. We also need to ensure that it is not used to reduce fees for architects and designers. We still need to do do the same quantity of work no mater how the work stages are set out and named.

    Kevan Shaw

    Unsuitable or offensive?

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