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Ex-RIBA president’s practice in £1.2m legal battle over swimming pool roof

3081081 20160621 jane duncan crop
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A Hertfordshire couple are suing Jane Duncan Architects for more than £1.2 million in damages after the practice admitted to failings in its design of a swimming pool roof

Joel and Kate Pratt filed papers at the Technology and Construction Court late last year (November 2019), claiming a range of losses following the botched project at Bridgewater House near Berkhamsted.

The Pratts said they needed to demolish and replace the swimming pool structure and had suffered ‘excessive’ energy bills from the faulty building.

The practice, which was founded by former RIBA president Jane Duncan, has admitted that it ‘fell below the standard of a reasonably competent architect’ on the project and that the pool roof was ‘not adequate to resist the ingress of water vapour from the internal environment’.

But the practice denied there had been ‘material damage’ to structural wood within the building and insisted a remedial project of about £275,000 would repair any defects. The company is contesting the level of its liability.

In January a judge ruled the case would not be heard until after the Architects Registration Board had determined allegations of serious professional incompetence against Jane Duncan Architects director Jonathan Dale. Dale was referred to the Professional Conduct Committee for unpublished reasons and was subsequently found not guilty on 23 March.

Bridgewater House is listed on Zoopla as a six-bedroom, six-bathroom house in the Chiltern Hills worth about £2.5 million.

In September 2009, the home’s owners the Pratts appointed Jane Duncan Architects – initially Jane Duncan Residential – to replace an existing home as well as to design and build an energy-efficient building to house a swimming pool.

In May 2017 – more than a year after the practice had finished work on the contract, and towards the end of founder Jane Duncan’s two-year stint as president of the RIBA – a report carried out on behalf of the client alleged the pool building was defective.

The third-party report claimed that air was condensing on the internal face of the external roof and causing water to drip on to roof timbers, leading to mould and rot. It added that heat was escaping from the interior of the building.

The Pratts claimed material damage had been caused to structural wood and that the entire pool building needed to be replaced – a job with a value of more than £1 million.

However, Jane Duncan Architects said in its defence: ‘Once the structural wood has dried out, with the very limited and immaterial exception of the ends of the rafters, the structural wood will remain of appropriate and/or acceptable integrity.

The practice added: ‘The claimants’ proposed works are not necessary in order to rectify the defects in the swimming pool building and in carrying them out and seeking to claim their cost from the defendant, the claimants would be in breach of their duty to mitigate their loss.’

Jane Duncan Architects said it was unable to comment on the ongoing case.

Pratt house jane duncan pool house before amendment to remove rooflight

Visual showing the rear elevation of Bridgewater House, Ringshall Road [from planning application 2011 before minor amendments in 2012]. Pool house highlighted in red on left.

Visual showing the rear elevation of Bridgewater House, Ringshall Road [from planning application 2011 before minor amendments in 2012]. Pool house highlighted in red on left.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Industry Professional

    I would like to know why the claimants have not at least allowed the works to be repaired first. £275,000 is a lot of repair work so it is not as if the Architect is trying to "paper over the faults" and have apparently admitted their design had shortcomings.
    I wonder if the claimants have been badly advised.
    It will be interesting to see if the Court decides that the claimants have a fair case or whether they are being unreasonable in ignoring a fair proposal. Jeffrey, an engineer - comment made via the IHS

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