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Building in value

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Increasingly the construction industry and its clients are concerned about value. But the term value is quite imprecise. Building in Value: Predesign Issues (see below) consists of 23 chapters written by a range of different authors and it shows how broad the subject is.

For the UK construction industry value shot to the top of the agenda following the Latham and Egan reviews, although it was an issue worrying many clients and architects before. As Roger Flanagan, from the University of Reading, points out in his foreword to this book it is not a new issue - Apparently in 1256 Henry III complained of financial damage caused by builders.

Today it is the chief executive of BAA who has the profile to drive home the issue.

The thrust of this book is that it is the 'pre-design' phase that needs greatest attention, as this is when the strategy for the project is set and key decisions about the direction of the project are made. There are three sections to the book, with the first looking at the concept of value, the second discussing a range of analytical techniques to identify value and the third dealing with the mechanics of building procurement.

From the viewpoint of clients and users, value must ultimately lie in the ability of the building to allow users to perform their activities yet it is the needs of those users that are so often given little attention. Spending sufficient time during the pre-design stage is therefore vital for exploring those needs as well as deciding on the most appropriate options for meeting them.

Whilst time spent at this stage is crucial, many projects probably still drop out of the 'ether' as preconceived solutions and arrive on architects' desks only for them to find the chaos of conflict, indecision and client changes because the objectives, priorities and needs were not clearly defined early on. This muddle becomes far harder to sort out as the project develops and everyone involved suffers.

The authors note that there is a shift in thinking from capital cost to life-cycle costing, but what they call the 'capital cost fallacy' still 'remains one of the biggest obstacles to achieving value for money during the pre-design stage of construction projects.' They hope that the current pre-occupation with sustainability will encourage more whole-life cost thinking. To some extent in the UK this is happening already, with both the private and public sectors engaging with the sustainability agenda. However, for local authorities, the jump from decisions based on capital costs to those based on whole-life costs, over say 25 years, is harder because of their culture and the way the institutions are funded. In his chapter on The Capital Cost Fallacy, Craig Langston of the University of Technology, Sydney, suggests that whole-life-planning should be used as a framework for cost management rather than an estimate of actual cost.

He argues that accurate prediction is very hard to achieve and this is compounded by the lack of historical data which, when available, depends on its context and so may be useless in other circumstances.

The book looks at a range of issues that affect value in various ways, and includes chapters on functional use analysis, procurement strategies, and environmental planning, among others.

The book brings together a wealth of information and research. Almost all of the authors are academics, and while this is reflected to some extent in the style of writing, generally the book is accessible. Although some chapters may seem more relevant to project managers they will be of interest to architects as well. The contributors are from the UK, Australia and Asia but the issues are relevant across national boundaries.

Building in value: Pre-Design Issues, Edited by Rick Best and Gerard De Valence, Arnold, £29.99

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