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The disturbing rise of 'copywrong' and how we architects must fight it

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'Copywrong', the antithesis of copyright, has emerged as a significant threat to both architects and architecture in recent years. Initiatives to curtail this miserably corrupting process are long overdue and it's high time our profession woke up and took some action. Why has this crisis emerged so suddenly, and who is responsible?

Copywrong (yet to find its way into any Oxford dictionary) is the by- product of the arrogant meddling with the processes of design that has become the hallmark of the hack-end of the construction industry.

Copywrong involves the wresting away of a design concept from its author following inception, the violation of that proposal during working drawing stage, and the further fouling of design intent during manufacture or construction. It often occurs when a quality project is taken from the concept designers and handed to others for development, usually within the design and build process.

Copywrong continues when wretched building managers interfere and further damage an architecture during construction.

Thrice recently I have been approached by major architects distraught about the consequences of copywrong. Sidelined by the developer's decision to appoint a d & b company following planning permission, one architect watched helpless as her work was corrupted by hacks. Her anguish deepened when she saw the results of the so-called project manager's interference with the design during 'co-ordination' of the production information.

Architects must protect themselves from such abuse. It can devastate their reputations, and may have adverse implications for those who use their buildings. Indeed we rely heavily on built work to enhance our reputation, and successful projects are essential to the securing of new commissions. Where the products of our imagination are corrupted during gestation and delivery, our interests are threatened.

Of course, in the days when architects were routinely appointed for the entire duration of a project - from sketch stage to handover (riba Stages c-l) - copywrong was relatively rare. In these circumstances the architect was able to develop and refine his design concepts through the working-drawing stage and, through his authority, safeguard designs under construction. All that is now increasingly undermined by the incessant attempts of others (qss, project managers, contractors) to hijack procurement processes and compromise design objectives in order to satisfy their rude agendas.

We must address these problems by finding new ways of improving modern procurement processes - calls for the exclusive return to traditional appointments will find little favour, and indeed they shouldn't.

But such new ways must involve a concerted willingness by others to resolve problems of copywrong. Government, clients, and the growing numbers of naive and ignorant champions of the cheap and tacky, who have gained so much influence in the quantity-surveying and contracting companies, must all wake up to their responsibilities in this respect. It is also essential that architects don't surrender their interest in detailed design and the preparation of production information and specifications. That is why Chris Wilkinson's talk at the aa last week, given in another outstanding series of lectures running under Mohsen Mostafavi's successful chairmanship, is so important.

Artist he may be, but Wilkinson has a deep understanding of technology, and his architecture is informed at concept stage, and characterised at delivery, by his thorough understanding and love of construction. Disparaging in his criticism of architects who fail to master the art of detailing, he believes that the colleges are under an obligation to ensure that technology is properly integrated into the teaching programmes. Only by maintaining their skill in and knowledge of construction can architects resist the copywrong - the cause of so much of the 'architackiness' that surrounds us. Meanwhile, how long until some architect launches the first legal claim for damages arising from 'copywrong'?

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