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paul hyett

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'Good quality design is too important to be left solely to architects.' That was the warning given by construction minister Nick Raynsford during his address at last week's RIBA symposium held at the Millennium Dome.

Arguing that the design process must involve others, including clients, users, main contractors, sub-contractors, and suppliers - indeed the entire supply chain - he also emphasised the need to respect the locality and the environment. This latter concern introduces issues such as sustainable construction practices, as well as the factoring of whole-life costs.

His vision of a more integrated design and construction process could not have been offered in a better venue, for the achievements at the Dome site are, in this respect, dazzling. Indeed, the project could not possibly have been realised within the constraints of time under traditional procurement routes.

But, in this post-Latham/post-Egan era, the minister's call for a change in attitude is dependent, as he rightly pointed out, on a culture of shared objectives within the project teams.

And this, sadly, is where it usually goes so badly wrong. How often, as architects, have we found our backs to the wall as we try to maintain the essential integrity of a design against the cynical assault of those who simply lack any empathy or sympathy with the work? How often have we had to protect the architectural ambition of a project against those who, in a vulgar manner, pursue financial ambition at any cost?

And this brings me to my address to the RIBA Council the following day, when I spoke of the work being carried out under Leonie Milliner to further expand the role of architectural education to include the associated professions - the wider construction industry, the client bodies, and the public at large.

Great efforts were made to involve the contractor in the design development of our £60 million project at Heron Quays in the 80s - and indeed much was achieved. But it is extremely difficult to have a constructive and meaningful dialogue at a design stage with a contractor team whose understanding of the design process is very limited. That is why the newly emerging courses in brief and project management, such as those run at Queen's University Belfast under Lawrence Johnston and Sheffield under John Worthington, are so valuable.

The week ended with me sharing a platform with Neil Kinnock. In a deeply moving speech which launched a new hospice project, he spoke of mercy as the essential quality within the medical teams whose work amongst the terminally ill and the bereaved in the Welsh Valleys is so laudable.

His speech, of course, highlighted the need for a worthy purpose in our work - something that architecture must never lose sight of.

Mr Raynsford, as a Labour MP, hardly needs me to remind him of the importance of a social agenda in architecture; but I would proffer a warning to all who seek to achieve ever-greater expediency of building procurement that they don't lose sight of the purpose of architecture in their efforts to improve the process of its delivery.

This is precisely why Mr Raynsford's concern that project objectives must be understood and supported by all involved is so crucial.

Sadly, when Mrs Thatcher launched our Heron Quays project back in the early 80s, she presided over a scenario where the objectives of the various team members were wildly divergent and in many respects unreconcilable.

However, we did manage to complete two of the five phases which is more than would have been achieved had the temporary platform constructed over the dock collapsed, as it almost did when she walked out to make an unscheduled inspection of the work.

Designed for light loads, it literally buckled under the weight of the sixty or so people who thronged onto the deck to accompany her.

When I was shown the supporting brackets afterwards, I realised just how close she had come to disaster. I dread to think what would have become of the construction industry had she fallen into the water that day . . . .

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