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‘Architects don’t approve drawings’: Studio E associate denies signing off cladding

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The Studio E associate who took over the Grenfell project has insisted the architect was not responsible for ensuring the designs of specialist subcontractors met building regulations

Neil Crawford, who became involved in the day-to-day running of the tower refurbishment project from July 2014, was cross-examined by the Grenfell Inquiry counsel over the crucial question of overall design responsibility.

So far, the contractor, the architect and the specialist subcontractors have blamed each other, and yesterday (5 March) Crawford repeated the practice’s defence that it had shifted to a ‘consultant’ role once novated to contractor Rydon under the new design and build contract (see diagram below).

When it came to approving drawings, Crawford said his job was limited to ‘commenting’ on the work of specialist subcontractors such as Harley and checking it matched ‘architectural intent’ as set out in the Employer’s Requirements, not whether or not it was compliant with the Regs.

‘Architects don’t approve drawings; they comment on them, that’s the distinction,’ Crawford said.

The Studio E associate also told the inquiry of his surprise when Rydon’s project manager Simon Lawrence told him on a site visit the firm ‘tended not to use its architects as much as we might do’.

‘As such, he consigned Studio E’s role to being more responsive, with Rydon maintaining a greater degree of control over the design process than I would normally expect from a design and build contractor’, Crawford said in his statement.

However, the inquiry lawyer, Richard Millett QC, pointed out Studio E’s understanding of its role was in conflict with the schedule of architectural services laid out in its deed of appointment with main contractor Rydon.

This deed, which was not formalised until the end of the project in late 2016, states that Studio E was required to seek to ensure the designs complied with relevant Statutory Requirements.

Architects don’t approve drawings they comment on them, that’s the distinction

Drilling down into the workflow of how plans for the tower were approved, Millett showed Crawford a 2015 email from Kevin Lamb at Harley Facades, in which he asked for ‘approval/comment’ of a drawing.

Crawford said he did not understand this to be the subcontractor seeking compliance approval, but merely his comments on architectural intent.

‘There is common misuse in the industry between [the words] approval and comment. I think word approval is used very loosely and that’s not what it means’.

Elevation by Harley Facades annotated (in red) by Neil Crawford and stamped 'For Approval' by Studio E

Elevation by Harley Facades annotated (in red) by Neil Crawford and stamped ‘For Approval’ by Studio E

Elevation by Harley Facades annotated (in red) by Neil Crawford and stamped ‘For Approval’ by Studio E

Asked whether Harley Facades, or Rydon, would have known Studio E was merely commenting on aesthetic issues when stamping drawings as ‘approved’, Crawford said this was ‘standard industry practice’.

Pressed later on why he was not made aware of the obligations in the deed of appointment, Crawford told the inquiry it was not unusual in the industry to find projects running with ’very badly put-together contracts’ that didn’t reflect the reality on site.

It has emerged previously that Studio E did try to amend ‘onerous’ terms in its deed of appointment but then ended up signing it, with only minimal changes, under pressure from Rydon.

Asked about this, Crawford said he knew the practice was being ‘held to ransom’ and would not receive final payment for the job until it was signed.

The associate, who joined Studio E in 2009 from Foster + Partners, was also questioned over his experience, and why he was working as project lead, despite not being fully qualified.

Asked whether a role of that type would usually go to a staff member who had completed their RIBA part 3, he said: ‘Normally, but not exclusively. There are plenty of practices who have very senior people who are not fully qualified.’

Pressed by Millett on whether the practice’s lack of experience on high-rise refurb meant they were ‘learning on the job’, Crawford said this was often the case for how the architecture profession worked.

’Architecture is not, you know, pressing out the same car over and over again. Every project is unique; it has its own challenges, its own set of learning.’

Unlike his colleague Bruce Sounes, Crawford said he was ‘familiar’ with fire safety Building Regulations but explained that architects use regulations like an ‘encyclopedia’, as and when they are relevant to the project they are working on.

He said the aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding was selected before he joined the team, and was something he had never used before.

’I had seen the product before, and I understood it was a commonly used rainscreen panel type.’

Crawford followed Bruce Sounes, the original lead architect on the Grenfell refurbishment, whose evidence session was cut short on Wednesday when he fell ill.

The inquiry hearings will continue on Monday.

Grenfell feb2020 charts who hired who

Grenfell feb2020 charts who hired who

 

  • 8 Comments

Readers' comments (8)

  • Without wishing to judge without knowing the full circumstances, a very salient matter is raised here. "Architecture is the second oldest profession"....I see so many architects bowing to pressure to sign agreements they know they shouldn't, that they don't even have the ability to fulfil, often because they think they will secure the job and they get away with it and the worst will not happen to them. But sometimes it does. Their bullying clients are morally equally, if not more, responsible, but in law they have shed liability and the need for skill from themselves, to the party who is most likely to have PI running the longest. The lower down the food chain one is, the more the pressure to secede integrity. Time for the profession to stand up and be counted, and to understand the nuances of contract. PI has rocketed this year because insurers have lost faith in the profession.

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  • @Atticus.
    Largely agree.
    I would not novate to a contractor.
    I would not agree "required to seek to ensure the designs complied with relevant Statutory Requirements". What, in legal terms, does "seek to ensure mean".
    Try but not bother too much ?

    Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII) has rocketed because of worries about cladding replacement costs. Insurers are very focused.
    Surveyors for example, cannot obtain insurance to inspect and open up suspect cladding, stopping the whole process of replacement.

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  • Time for a carefully crafted code of practice for signing off work 'approved for construction' to be embodied in all design contracts - or is this easier said than done?

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  • Interesting points, I have also been asking the question today what does "seek to ensure" actually mean. The alternative interpretations are quite varied.

    I have also emailed the ACE highlighting these issued raised by Mr Crawford's evidence suggesting that a Cross Industry compatible terms of appointment should be developed. This would allow everyone to be aware of the collective and individual responsibilities held by each appointed party.
    Perhaps the RIBA and RICS could also consider their role in providing clarity to all participants.

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  • Robert, its very easy. You put "we do not approve, we only comment, and it remains the design contractor/subcontractor's responsibility to complete and / or amend as necessary the design intent to meet the specification and relevant legislation and standards, etc, etc.". And you make sure this doesn't kick back at you if you are novated. And reference it on every submittal you comment on. This is a precis, more to it than that. There are some clauses in the JCT and RIBA contracts that may conflict or overide this and this has to be clarified. And train staff to understand this, because Part III courses don't. Just as Part 1 & 2 don't teach enough fundamental Building Science and construction technology skill. Quote Richard Saxon, ex BDP Chairman and BCO Chairman "Students seem to leave University without 80% of the real world knowledge needed to be an architect".

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  • "seek to ensure" is a poor version of "make reasonable endeavours", ie its not an absolute like ensure on its own would be, which is often an impossibility. In the context here it was almost a fit for purpose clause, which should never be accepted.

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  • From a legal perspective, I would suggest that ‘seek to ensure’ is similar to precatory wording in a will. For example, if you state that you are leaving £1m to your brother in the ‘hope’, ‘wish’ or ‘desire’ that he will take care of your two nieces, the precatory wording will mean that your attempt to set up a trust for your nieces will fail. The sum will become an absolute gift to your brother.

    By the same, token the phrase ‘seek to ensure’ should fail to create any contractual or other legal obligation or responsibility for meeting the building regulations in the present context. There may be a moral imperative to do that, but the intention required for a legal obligation is not present with such precatory wording. For the separation of legal and moral imperatives refer to the ‘Hart Fuller Debate’. The ‘seek to ensure’ phrase is pure nonsense from a jurisprudence perspective.

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  • Sounds like Crawford has played a blinder under a difficult but niave cross examination. He describes industry standard practice in an accurate and reasonable way. Give the man his Part 3, if he hasn’t already got it. The alternative is that architecture practices have now assumed the role of building control, pro bono.

    Do these bloody lawyers know anything about the building industry?! Part 3 architectural professional practice training is akin to their pupillage system. It’s a chicken and egg situation in which no-one would professionally qualify if they were never given any responsibility. A paralegal is never going to progress if they are just assigned to photocopy the ‘bundle’!

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