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Quantity surveyors and architects must learn to get along, writes John Boxall

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A colleague recently returned from giving a talk to a group of architecture students with a rather dispiriting story

Speaking about the work of quantity surveyors, she described a palpable sense of hostility and a reluctance to believe that a QS can bring anything positive to a building project. It was clear to her that the students perceived quantity surveyors as philistine bean-counters with no understanding of, nor sympathy for, architecture.

To find such negativity in those so early in their architectural career is depressing, and suggests that hostility towards quantity surveyors in the architectural profession and academia runs deep. Among some surveyors, of course, the feeling is mutual. Go to a typical gathering of cost consultants and you are bound to hear unflattering tales about architects. Why the mutual antipathy? It cannot be healthy. Why does the mention of one bring out the urge in the other to reach for the garlic?

The answer lies, partly, in bitter experience. But no doubt those experiences themselves arise because of unwillingness among some architects and QSs to understand each other properly or work together.

But there is an alternative approach. At Jackson Coles, I’ve found working hand-in-hand with architects from day one of a project pays dividends, both in terms of building outcomes and in maintaining relationships across the architectural profession.

Let’s be clear: good design does not necessarily cost more money. But it will, unless cost consultants have a clear understanding of architects’ intentions. Working alongside architects at the core of a construction team is vital. At Brockholes nature reserve in Lancashire, for example, we worked with Adam Khan Architects to produce an exquisite building that is faithful to the design objectives and the client’s needs. A floating visitor centre built on a flood plain would send many quantity surveyors running for the hills (and bumping up the contingency).

But collaborating with Adam from the start enabled us to understand the project fully and identify how best it could be delivered without compromising his architectural vision. In turn, Adam gave us the space to do our job properly. We’re all delighted with the result.

Projects can get into difficulties because of clients’ inexperience; understandable when most only procure a building once in their lifetime. Even with experienced clients, understanding of the development process is invaluable, and architects and quantity surveyors can work together to steer clients through the complexities and challenges of their project.

By working collaboratively and using our commercial savvy, we have completed projects as diverse as the Tea Building (an east London creative hub) with AHMM and a gallery for Hauser & Wirth with Selldorf Architects and Eric Parry Architects. Any adversarial approach within the team would undoubtedly have had a detrimental effect on these widely admired projects.

It is in consultants’ interest to get to know the architectural profession better, and we are particularly keen to support emerging architectural talent alongside our more established partners. We have supported what was the London Architecture Biennale and is now the London Festival of Architecture since its inception seven years ago.

We made friends with Studio Weave when they were students in 2004 – they are now valued colleagues on projects. We happily spend time and effort in helping younger and smaller practices. Through our work on the AJ Small Projects awards we see, and hopefully reward, some examples of fantastic architecture.

At project level, the QS must understand what the architect is aiming to achieve. How many of the profession have thought about presenting to the rest of the design team to clarify their ambitions for a project?

I like to think I can identify the architectural heart of a project and work to ensure that, whatever the challenges to budget or time, we retain that essence. But in this we need architects’ help.

So the next time you are about to react to negative preconceptions that the QS on your project is getting in the way of good architecture (go on – admit that’s what you’re thinking), then embrace your inner QS, and take some time to explain things. You never know – it might just make the project more successful all round. 

John Boxall is a partner at Jackson Coles and has judged the AJ Small Projects since 2008. Jackson Coles are construction consultants providing project management, cost consultancy. They will celebrate their 30th anniversary in 2011


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