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Special report: design and build This month's update looks at the role of architects operating under the procurement routes of the future

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technical & practice

New design and build. New architecture. I borrow New Labour's slogan form to punch home how radically the scene is changing: the new forms of design and build are becoming the mainstream procurement routes, changing the way architects work. Out of this we are promised more satisfied clients, but the aim is to achieve better architecture too. However, that requires the profession to understand what is happening and get positively involved to ensure that new design and build actually is better value.

Following Sir Michael Latham's report, Constructing the Team, onto the prepared ground stepped Sir John Egan, who noted 'nobody is prepared to take responsibility for satisfying the client'. We had a tradition-based system of divided roles where everyone stood back in their corner, leaving the clients to ensure their own satisfaction which only the most competent could manage.

While some expert private clients turned to construction management for integration (Stanhope, Canary Wharf), the industrial, commercial and now public clients have gravitated to design and build in one of its many forms. The Treasury's procurement unit is convinced by its surveys that integrated working produces better, on-budget, on-time performance, lower costs and fewer defects. The Defence Estates' head of quality, Clive Cain, says: 'We will never hire a consultant ever again.' Cain is an architect.

The Design Build Foundation (dbf) saw it coming years ago and saw the need to break through the limit of 25 per cent of the market using design and build, a situation created by the perception of poor quality. A group convened by the University of Reading produced an excellent report, Designing and Building a World Class Industry, shortly after the Latham review. The dbf was formed to pursue the report's logic that better design and greater client satisfaction must follow from real collaboration between designers, main contractors and specialist contractors and suppliers. The dbf has started a registration scheme for design and build suppliers. Registration is a rigorous exercise carried out by bre, qualifying real and virtual companies as to their stage of development in thinking, investment, training and practice as integrated outfits. The ability to enter the process at particular workstages will be noted (aj 27.5.99).

The government has been very impressed by the dbf. The Ministry of Defence initiative, 'Building Down Barriers', has been offered to the dbf for it to take forward now that the initial work is nearing completion. 'Building Down Barriers' has been a facilitated learning experience where Defence Estates has bought two buildings from 'prime contractors', integrated supply-chain teams, seeking to improve client and supplier performance by 'action learning'. While the context of a small defence project is atypical for the market as a whole, the results have been salutary and the architects (Charter Partnership, FaulknerBrowns) profess satisfaction with their experience.

The post-Egan pattern for the construction industry is now beginning to emerge. The public sector, representing 40 per cent of the uk's £60 billion spent on construction, will move in the next few years to a 'best value' regime of buying, using (in order of preference) private finance initiatives, prime contracting, conventional design and build and traditional procurement (in exceptional circumstances). 'Best value' is defined as the optimum balance of quality and functionality over whole-life costs. The regular private-sector clients are signing up partnerships or framework agreements at a steady rate. This locks them into several years of developing relationships with teams of consultants and contractors or with integrated offerings. The regular clients in both public and private sector form the Confederation of Construction Clients, successor to the ccf, which represents 80 per cent of uk construction spending. Clients are increasingly learning best practice from each other.

The rest of the market are socs (small and occasional clients) who represent the great majority of projects by number. They will be offered services tailored to their sector by single-source firms brought together originally by continuous customers or set up specifically for the open market. There will always be a section of the one-off market which wants to choose its architect separately from its contractor; but many of these will use experienced advisers who will tell them to put the design under single responsibility - a contractor.

So where does all this place architects? This is not the end of the profession, but it is the end of the presumption that clients will normally hire an architect directly and separately from other suppliers. The direct employer of most architects will be a contractor. Architects, if they are astute, will add their 'brand value' to the team, and will emphasise their role as value creators, retaining their direct dialogue with clients and users from within the supply team and acting as design-team leader alongside the contractor as project leader.

There is no reason why architects cannot be principals and lead single- responsibility offers. Some architects will specialise in client-advisor and/or concept-design roles; migrate into contracting, specialist contracting and supplier firms as they pick up larger design roles; or enter alliances with one or more contracting firms. Consultants will need to do progressively less to create a square metre of building. Architects will, if they show they can add value, spend more time on project definition, briefmaking, value management, research and development and post-occupancy analysis. Integrated design-build will release energy and resources to tackle these other areas in great need of attention.

Richard Saxon is chairman of Building Design Partnership and of the Reading Construction Forum. He is a member of the dbf, of the Strategy Group of the Government Construction Client Panel and of the Treasury's Construction Industry Group.

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