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
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.
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