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conducting the orchestra

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Most architects, concedes David Trench, chairman of Trench Farrow, do not like project managers - although, adds partner Alan Moore, they would rather have Trench Farrow than anyone else. In their words, the company offers a bespoke, executive project management service - 'not trying to add on pm to quantity surveying or anything else', chips in Tom Farrow - and it has a sympathetic view towards architecture. In general, the members cast project management as filling in weaknesses in a professional team, as an extension to a client's own management, rather than a competitive, macho arena for working out professional animosities. But design is one area where they feel unable to trespass. There's a difference, they stress, between the design leader and the project manager.

Uniquely, explains Trench, architects bring creative ability; 'if he [the architect]'s weak in management, that's where we prop him up. We couldn't prop up weak design'. 'Most architects know quite well what their strengths are,' adds Moore, 'and with a little manipulation you can get them to sign up to what you want.' And what Trench Farrow wants is an attitude of 'Can do, want to do, want to succeed, time of the essence, client orientated . . . bugger the claims, we're a partnership.' It's a no-blame culture where each member of the team buys into a target and assists the other members in achieving it, with project managers 'as conductors of the orchestra'.

This state of grace exists in Trench Farrow's highest profile project, the Millennium Dome. 'The Dome's success,' explains Trench, 'such as it is, is entirely because a lot of people happened to get together and say, 'We're going to get it right.'' But 'that's what we try to put across on all our jobs', adds Farrow, giving an unconscious example of the filling in of gaps which they believe to be the essence of good project management.

Sometimes the Trench Farrow people find themselves doing 'a salvage job'; on one occasion, the client was so awful that they cajoled the team into completing a job to a deadline without letting on the full implications to the client. 'There was a helluva row afterwards,' admits Farrow, 'but he couldn't say it wasn't finished on time!' On such occasions they see their role as fighting for their team. Moore adds, 'We allow consultants to make a reasonable profit . . . and so they should.'

No such alarums on the Dome, apparently. Trench Farrow's involvement came about after successfully steering the final stages of the British Library, where an exasperated permanent secretary appointed it on the recommendation of a board member who also happened to be chairman of long- standing Trench Farrow client mepc. 'Someone must have tipped Jennie Page the wink,' speculates Trench, 'that she might have a more peaceful life if she had the 'young Turk' from the British Library' . . . 'Young Turk?!' exclaim his colleagues.

Trench has been in business as a project manager for 20 years, after working for a contractor. His first project was the Friaries Shopping Centre in Guildford. It was a time when 'project managers nicked a slice of the architect's role', says Farrow, who joined him in 1981 after a spell at Heery and Heery in Atlanta, Georgia. Once back in the uk, the skills he had learnt Stateside proved their mettle in getting Nicholas Lacey's Crown Reach built, more or less to the eccentricities of the architect's design. Moore, an engineer by training and structural engineer through experience, joined in 1988, itching to manage projects: he cut his teeth on a fit-out at Broadgate for Credit Lyonnais, before moving on to a huge fit-out for Goldman Sachs in Peterborough Court, Fleet Street. The brief went from ambassadorial to spec - even mighty Goldmans suffered in the early 1990s - requiring £20 million of savings.

Without ever being large - Paul Springgay completes the partnership; total staff is 18 and fluctuated between 24 and 12 in the last cycle - Trench Farrow has encapsulated the history of project management in Britain. The 1980s saw many developer-led projects, with Land Securities, Speyhawk, the Crown Estate and mepc among its clients. During the 1990s the emphasis moved to fit-outs - much more recession-proof - and recently it has undertaken several assessments for the National Audit Office and become involved with housing; most notably the Millennium Village, but also various run- of-the-mill estates about whose design the partners are prepared to be critical. They also have a critical eye on the construction industry, whose navel-gazing propensity, Trench points out, has led to 49 reports since the war.

The industry's most notable feature, says Moore, is the enormous intellectual capital which goes into architecture. He and his colleagues agree that the latest report, Egan's, which seeks to take this capital out of professional firms and place it with the contractors, is misguided. 'You don't need to start the model again; you can make great improvements to the existing model,' says Moore. Trench expands: 'Contractors are essentially process managers, and therefore not suitable candidates for a vibrant and exciting approach to design - those people wouldn't work for contractors.' He continues, 'Most processors re-arrange furniture rather than invent it . . . really creative people start with experiences which are transformed into processes.'

All profess more optimism about Egan's 'consortia approach', with Trench pointing out the huge learning curves which suppliers need to understand some architects' ideas. Typically these can take up one-third of the available time, uncomfortably close to the standard gross profit margin. Using consortia of designers and suppliers might be the first step in the virtuous circle of cutting time and cost while increasing quality, with the added benefits of using a supplier's knowledge in detailing, especially if the architect is weak in this area. Tapping such latent potential within the construction industry is part of good project management; it is also an approach, argues Trench Farrow, that could take project management out of construction and into mainstream commerce - a journey for which architecture's creative potential fits it too.

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