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Low fees for architects killing off design flair

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Fee levels for the majority of mainstream practices are still too low.The design and build industry depresses fees and the profession is undertaking far too much front end design work for little or no reward.


This is serious because it leads to a devaluation of the single most important process where the architect adds real value - the ability to solve problems through design flair.


Private finance initiatives have compounded the situation and many practices are having to undertake large amounts of work at risk if they want to be in the significant end of the public sector market.


Fee bidding for projects being advertised in the OJEC Journal is absolutely lethal; we know of some practices bidding as low as 2 per cent for highly complex, lengthy medical building projects requiring a level of professional input which this sort of fee cannot possibly provide.


Both parties are irresponsible in this instance - the consultant for whom the bidding is suicidal and the client body for accepting his price knowing, cynically, that the consultant will lose money, or, worse still, fail, but complacently believing the authority has driven down its initial costs and satisfied standing orders.


Best value bidding may go some way to alleviating this state of affairs but I doubt if the conditioned reflexes of some audit-driven hospital trusts and university estates departments will understand the criteria or bother to apply them.The concept of ‘partnering’ on a long-term basis to improve the quality of the built environment will take many years to break down the arbitrary financial rules that public authorities have erected around themselves.


The MOD and the Public Audit Office are encouraging new approaches and we are getting involved in the ‘Building Down Barriers’ initiative with its emphasis upon prime contracting based upon trust, sound supply-chain management, longterm partnering arrangements and cost in use criteria.


This could lead to a healthier industry and a better built environment eventually, but it will take time to bring about the attitudinal changes required in the collective mind.


As Cedric Price once said: ‘The poor countries are short of money, but the rich countries are short of time, and it is the latter which may turn out to be the more serious problem’.


Tim McArtney, Crampin Pring McArtney Architects, Nottingham


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