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KCA speaks out over design and build process on defective Hackney block


Karakusevic Carson Architects (KCA) has spoken out over the design and build process on its troubled Hackney block after a report revealed fixing construction defects will cost £6 million

Last week Hackney Council told the 41 families living in Bridport House in Hoxton they would have to move out within 12 months as the building contained ’potentially combustible insulation’.

The borough is set to decide next week whether to spend £6 million replacing the insulation and fixing the building’s ’series of serious defects’, and a further £2 million rehousing residents – or whether to demolish and rebuild the block.

The council has said its preferred option is major remediation works to install missing fire barriers, fix flawed brickwork, balconies and windows.

’The prospect of redevelopment only makes sense if the building could not be fixed, or if there are potentially significant benefits above remediation, and this is not the case,’ the report explains.

The document, to go before Hackney’s cabinet next Monday (16 September) explains how the design team was novated to the main contractor on a design and build contract, ’which places all design responsibility with the contractor’.

The council has said it will be taking legal action against contractor Willmott Partnership Homes.

Karakusevic Carson Architects told the AJ it was ‘deeply saddened’ to hear of the upheaval residents were experiencing. 

The practice added: ‘From a wider advocacy and lessons learnt perspective, we feel that the culture of ‘value engineering’ and value erosion in design and build contracting prevalent 10-15 years ago is slowly changing.

’There have been too many examples of clients not receiving value for money and the buildings they have paid for having significant problems and bearing little resemblance to the planning permission.’

The architect said that most of its council and housing association clients were now insisting on a range of measures to ensure quality design translates into high-quality buildings.

These include detailed planning applications at Stage 3+ and Tender at Stage 4A, with full service appointments and design team retention, along with regular site checking carried out alongside a clerk of works. 

KCA said it also recommended clients use design review panels in the later detailed design stages to ensure design intent and quality is retained.

The block, part of the wider regeneration of Hoxton’s Colville Estate, has suffered a number of problems since it opened in 2011, including falling roof tiles, crumbling bricks and flooding.

According to the council’s report, in 2017 the council ordered an investigation into ‘significant concerns’ the brickwork façade was cracking.

A report produced by architect PRP found nine defects, the majority of which it said had arisen as a ‘result of the methods and materials used to construct the building originally’.

It also found insulation material in the wall cavity that the council claims is combustible and ‘limited to buildings under 18 metres’.

The report states: ‘The eighth-floor part of Bridport House exceeds this height, meaning that the use of this material could not have been compliant with Building Regulations, leading to an immediate concern for the safety of the building.’

The type of insulation used on Bridport House – confirmed by the council and contractor as Kooltherm K12 – was signed off by Hackney’s own building control team at the time.

However, the council claims officers considered the fire-safety of all elements of the walls as a unit despite the insulation being non-compliant, a view the council said would not be upheld today.

Willmott Partnership Homes has firmly rejected the claim, insisting the insulation was ‘widely accepted’ as complying with Building Regulations when it was installed.

A spokesperson for the company said previously: ‘This is an extremely complicated matter, significantly exacerbated by various aspects of the Building Regulations recently being reinterpreted following the Grenfell tragedy.’

Hackney Council and Willmott Partnership Homes were approached for comment.  

Image: Google


Readers' comments (4)

  • There is a litmus test for insulation material: does it burn or doesn't it? If it does then it will not comply with Building Regulations in respect of cavity wall construction in taller buildings. Specifiers need to be extremely careful about this, and builders who switch specified materials with non-complying substitutes should be jailed.

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  • Well said Paul. "Value Erosion" is an apt interpretation of "Value Engineering", on much the same level as "Project Management" by people quite innocent of the reasons for iterative and all-embracing evolutions of a design, and its embedded aethetic and technical multi-dimensional web of macro and micro decisions. Might the RIBA one day fight back in promoting the central value of its Members' core skills and responsibilities? I fear not, until the Grenfell Tower Inquiry fully displays the blindingly obvious.

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  • Well said Paul and well said Robert....

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  • Alan Crawford

    Reducing the design and specification to the lowest common denominator has been going on under D&B procurement for as long as I can remember.

    At the time D&B was introduced, it was seen as a panacea within public procurement for regulating the supposed very high costs of architects' 'fanciful' and 'expensive' design proposals by bringing these impractical designs 'down to earth' with more pragmatic and less expensive materials options proposed by the D&B contractor.

    The tender process was documented by an 'Employers Agent' more often than not from an estimating background who issued tenders containing the 'Employers Requirements' following which the 'Contractors Proposals' were then received back as a tender. This process allowed for 'equal or approved' substitutions of materials, form and structure, across the board (without the participation of the original designer who was inevitably sidelined within a novation process) with many changes that were often camouflaged within the extensive documentation and geared to presenting appealing competitive prices to the client that then facilitated the reduced quality of finished product whilst enhancing contractor profitability.

    Has this changed - very little it seems from the published report!

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