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David Cash: 'UK architects must play part on global scene'

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BDP chair David Cash, the only architect on the new look Construction Leadership Council, says practices should not ignore overseas markets even though the UK market is booming

I’m concerned by how our profession has steadily relinquished its traditional role as leader of the construction team. So I had no hesitation in accepting the invitation to join the [relaunched] Construction Leadership Council (CLC).

The council is one of the main interfaces between the government and industry. Construction remains a key sector within the UK economy and an important part of the government’s plan for increasing productivity and prosperity

It is also well known as a bell-weather for the nation’s health. Encouragingly, the industry recently saw its 24th month of continuous growth.

Co-chaired by the Skills Minister, Nick Boles and David Higgins of HS2, the CLC has been rationalised by the new government so that instead of having 30 members as was the case under the previous coalition administration - Vince Cable was the co-chair - it is now re-constituted as a group of 12.

Hopefully this will give it a sharp focus. These will be a mix of government and industry representatives including contractors (both large and small), specialist suppliers, house builders and other key commissioning organisations. As the only architect on the panel, I will try to represent the profession’s interests as best I can - if others want to get in touch, I will be pleased to hear from you.

Hopefully the reboot will give the CLC a sharp focus.

The CLC’s mission is to provide leadership to help transform the UK construction industry and position it as a driver of productivity across the economy.

Priority actions have already been identified for each member of the CLC to help achieve the transformation.

My specific area of responsibility will be for the ‘Exports and Trade’ work-stream.  This is a subject close to my heart. As anyone who has led a large or medium sized studio will know, especially those outside London, overseas work represents much more than exciting design opportunities in exotic locations.

It can provide an essential component within the portfolio of work required to keep everybody busy.

For more than 30y years, my studio in Manchester has been designing projects overseas, generally within a four hour flying time. Other BDP offices have done likewise.

The work is usually won through a combination of general design ability, specific sector expertise and relationship building – you need to put yourself in the position of a client commissioning a practice on the other side of the world and consider the amount of trust which needs to be built up for the project to succeed.

In 2008 we opened up three studios in more distant locations – Abu Dhabi, Shanghai and Delhi. This was a process I led up until being elected as BDP’s Chairman in 2012.

British design is well regarded in many parts of both the developed and developing world. We often have other natural advantages such as language and culture over those with whom we are in competition from other parts of Europe or America. The government is keen to encourage exports and, through the UKTI, can provide advice and support with specific relevance to architects. In my view, anyone seriously considering an international venture would be well advised to take advantage of this because there will be differences from the way in which we do things here and they need to be understood. These can range from legal, tax and registration issues to matters of culture.

Developments in IT and the ease with which both information and people can be transferred across the globe make it possible to do things in hours or days which once would have taken weeks or even months.

Lutyens’ biography brings home the level of sacrifice he had to make in the 1920’s, travelling to India by sea for six month periods to design the Viceroy’s Palace.

When the UK market is hot, there is obviously less incentive for architects to look for new work overseas.

However, it is in the better times, such as now, that the right judgements can best be made about what inevitably will be an important issue for a practice. Britain has always been an outward looking country which punches well above its weight on the international stage. We architects need to play our part.

David Cash, has been chairman of BDP since 2012.

  • 3 Comments

Readers' comments (3)

  • Ben Derbyshire

    Peter Murray and I argue that the RIBA should seek an appropriate balance between it's role as a promoter of architecture on the one hand and as an association of architects on the other.

    We feel that over the last few decades the architect’s influence on the construction process has waned too much; we are pleased to see that the RIBA’s own research now tells it that clients actually want the architect to take on a leadership role, something we feel is essential to ensure quality outcomes for the client, for society and for the profession. We’d like to see architects more prominent in public life – with City Architects installed at the newly devolved city regions, for example.

    David Cash, as one of the very few architects who walks the corridors of power, leads the way in re-establishing architects in an appropriately influential position in commerce and society. We need many more like him.

    Ben Derbyshire
    Managing Partner, HTA Design LLP
    Chair, The Housing Forum.

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  • We need an architect as a politically independent London Mayor like Bristol. We are a creative profession and we could make this happen if we organised ourselves properly.

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  • Exports and Trade workstream will I hope include Europe as a priority.
    For the industry to improve its opportunities on the continent an aim should be to further simplify access to European work and reduce the costs for all practices wishing to do so. One way this can be done is by seeking that the UK engage early with the establishment of the single European procurement passport (ref. Directive2014/24/EU). In addition we could be further lobbying for the raising of the EU thresholds without loss of transparency of opportunity, so that the economic costs of procurement are proportionate.
    A more detailed explanation of this and other issues can be found here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/author/analytics?trk=hp-identity-wvmposts
    I would be happy to provide further research background.

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