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RIBA report reveals 'critical difficulty' between architects and contractors

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A new survey has shown widespread dissatisfaction with architects’ services from contractors, compared with other clients

The new report, What Clients Think of Architects, found that only half of all contractors said they were ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ satisfied by the architect they used, compared with 76 per cent of private domestic clients and 73 per cent of commercial clients.

In particular, only 16 per cent of contractors reported satisfaction with their architect’s commercial understanding.

However, not all the responses were negative. Three quarters of private and commercial clients were satisfied with their buildings.

Architects also achieved higher client satisfaction ratings than non-architects in all performance measures, particularly for developing and interpreting the brief.

Explaining the problems with the relationships between architects and contractors, the report said: ‘There is consistently a significant gap between the average satisfaction ratings by contractors compared to all other types of client.

‘Clearly, there is critical difficulty in the relationship between architects and contractors.’

For the overall design and aesthetic ratings, the proportion of contractors rating ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ satisfied was around 10 percentage points less than other clients.

That divergence grew to between 15 and 20 percentage points for ratings of architects’ process management.

Stephen Hodder, client ambassador for RIBA, said: ‘Novation might be skewing results. The briefing process is often largely concluded by the time architects are novated to the contractor. Another issue is to do with clashing motivations.

‘While architects are minded to consider a wide spectrum of concerns, contractors’ contractual focus is narrower. Perhaps it’s a matter of speaking your client’s language. After all, their objectives ought to entirely overlap.’

Picture from riba client survey 2016

Picture from RBA client survey 2016 by alice masters

Source: Alice Masters

Picture from RIBA client survey 2016

The survey also found that about a third of clients are dissatisfied with the value for money provided by architects.

The RIBA concluded that this could be down to clients forgetting design work because it happens earlier in the process, or that architects’ weaker process management skills overshadow their design prowess.

Clients reported unhappiness about post-design care, with one complaining that it had been abandoned as soon as the practice had photographs for their website.

Incoming RIBA president Ben Derbyshire said: ‘Since this report tells us that after-service care adds to clients’ satisfaction ratings, surely it can be translated into value that deserves commensurate remuneration? We should discuss POE early, include a minimal service as part of the basic offer, and present the potential advantages of more thoroughgoing POE as bolt-on options.

‘Done comprehensively and in collaboration with other professionals, word-of-mouth endorsement is sure to follow.’

Architects selected through personal recommendation or because the client had used them before, the survey found, were rated significantly higher than architects selected in other ways.

RIBA president Jane Duncan said: ‘I am cheered to see many good ratings in the results, but it is the anomalies and poorer ratings that provide the clues we need to adapt to develop our future relationships.

‘Contractors are a distinct market segment, but their satisfaction ratings for our process management skills fell below our self-imposed baseline. The next step is to respond positively with training and support.‘

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