Thursday, 12 December 2013

The changing face of retail...

Being part of the construction industry we know how hard the recession has been.

There are not many industries which have been as hard hit as construction but retail must be a contender. Not only has it been effected by reduced spending but also the way people shop has changed dramatically.

This change in spending is having an impact on all forms if retail, be it high street or out of town. 

As people increase the level of online shopping the supermarkets are left with an growing amount of unused out of town square footage which is not generating turnover or profit. Their smaller local shops are growing but these deliver a smaller profit per square foot.

The non food retail sector has similar if not greater challenges. We have already seen the demise of the traditional bookstore and record shop as people have either bought books and music  online or converted to downloads. 

Book stores and music shops  still exist but now they have moved to a more specialist offer.

Clothing and electrical goods are now being effected by the growth of online trade. With lower overheads the online store can offer a  lower price for the same product.

So where doses this leave retail in the future. I think the out of town mall faces one of the biggest challenges. The retail offer will reduce  and these malls will become a destination or leisure venue. Restaurants, cinemas and coffee shops will be interspersed with specialist shops.

The out if town retail park faces the biggest challenge. Big shed shopping does have low costs but it has to compete with the Internet on price.

The real opportunity is in the high street as shoppers change their habits. Shopping has become far more local, specialist and social. Families will carry out their large shopping on line but this will be supplemented with fresh and specialist produce such as meat and vegetables. The mass produced produce will be used but will be enhanced by specialist offers

The social aspects of the high street will continue to grow. We will have even more coffee shops, bars and restaurants where people can meet. This mix will attract people throughout the day and night making the high street the centre of the community.

We have come full circle from where we were 30 years ago where the corner shop played a central role in the community.

While the high streets prosper we will see decline and change out of town. Retailers will try new ideas and concepts to adapt their existing space. We are already seeing Tesco adding restaurants and coffee shops to their stores however I am not convinced that these will provide a long term alternative to the high street community.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Education, Education, Education.

You might remember this battle cry from Tony Blair when he was elected in 1997. 

I read a really disturbing article in the Sunday Times this week which I think will have a huge impact on the future of the United Kingdom and that of our children.

On Wednesday this week the OECD ( Organisation for Economic Co operation and Development) will publish its global survey of 65 countries regarding educational standards. What this report will say is that the UK has made no progress from where it stood 4 years ago. 

It may surprise many that the UK are 25th placed for reading, 28th for maths and 16th for science. The counties who are leading are China, South Korea and Singapore. All countries who already have thriving economies and are developing an exceptional workforce for the future.

The UK is sitting behind Estonia and Poland.

The Labour governemnt did spend billions on education as well a many new school buildings however clearly this has had no impact on outcomes.

There is an arrogance in the UK which goes back to the days of the British Empire. We believe we are better than everyone  else in the world. It's a very similar situation to the English football team. Every time there is a world cup we truly believe we can win when in reality we don't even get to the qualifying rounds.

It is similar when we compete on the global stage. Not only can we not compete with those a the top of the league such  as China or South Korea they also have excellent education which will only make them stronger in the future.

In the decades ahead the gap will continue to grow and we struggle to be competitive in a global market. Our young people are ill prepared and unaware of the world they coete within. 

I am worried for my children's generation but even more so for our children's children. My generation has benefitted  from the last and have been supported by a fantastic welfare system. Unfortunately we have spent the money and we can no longer afford to provide the level of support we are used to.

What we must do is become a global power again and that can only be achieved by developing an education system which produce the best minds on the planet.

I don't see this as something to score political points over as it is too important. What I do know is what the previous government tried has failed. The league tables are evidence enough.

The issues are not only financial but also cultural.

In the UK it is forbidden to criticise  nurses or teachers. Teachers must take note of where we area in the league tables and accept it's not good enough. 

If we were a football club,we are languishing in the lower divisions and not improving. In football we would sack the manager and invest in training and coaching. If we are going to change something we need to change something.

Parents also have to take responsibility and need to invest time in their children and support schools.

This is so important as we all must play our part. The previous government thought the answer lay in new buildings. Clearly spending billions is not enough. What we need is lots of incremental change. Government, parents and teaches all need accept its not good enough.

We mist get away from blame and accept our system is not good enough and has to improve. We have to accept we may upset some people along the way but I believe this is a price worth paying as without change the future looks bleak for future generations in non league football.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Here we go again?

The construction industry has a habit of sticking to what it has always done. 

The term contracting suggests that there is a legal agreement in place and that a relationship falls between the commencement and completion of this agreement. This may be over simplifying things but I believe it is this project and contract approach which is at the root of the lack of innovation across our industry.

As we head toward the end of 2013, those working in London are thinking boom times are here again. This confidence is having a ripple effect and is starting to effect the regions also

While in recession there has been an opportunity for discussion and debate as to how we could do things differently. Building Information Modelling has been the biggest development and discussion over the last 5 years.

BIM started off in the states as the reference term for the federating of 3D geometry. However, and particularly in the UK, it has become a collective movement for the improvement of the construction industry with the focus being on a single language which can be shared openly.

Many small to medium sized companies have invested and developed skills which can take the industry forward. However the laws of the jungle come into force when capital expenditure increases and confidence grows. 

The main contractors now have projects  and cash flowing through their accounts once again. They have projects  which have to be serviced. The quick answer is to recruit skills and talent from the companies who have invested in lean times. The lure of high salaries and company cars from the prelim pot is often overwhelming for the cash starved construction newcomer.

Whilst this is to be expected  and is the law of the jungle, the down side is we become project orientated as an industry once again and don't look beyond the current project or the potential for continual improvement. 

There are exceptions however who give hope for the future. Laing O Rouke are an excellent example of a business who have invested in the future, through the development of  processes and people. Their commitment to a high tech concrete factory and its technology alone has to be admired. They have continually invested in their young people and truly nurture talent.

Unfortunately in the recession margins have been slashed and their precence in the UK has reduced. I hope that clients will look at the long term value that the investment Laing O Rouke make can have on the wider industry and employment.

The only way we will achieve our 2025 vision is to take a long term view and to invest in our young talent. I hope the large contractors will take some of their profits  from an improving market and invest it wisely in the future so we can develop new intelligent methods of working.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

BIM in Education.

I have to get something off my chest this morning!

I read an article in building earlier which quoted a number of universities and their approach to BIM. When reading these articles I couldn't help but feel that these education establishments were still thinking in a traditional outdated way. They were looking to bolt on BIM and Revit to what they already do.

I believe BIM started as one thing and has developed into something far more significant. For me, in the UK, it is now the name given to a movement to get the construction industry to talk with a single language rather than working in independent silos.

The importance of this single language is critical to improvements across the industry and without it we will not achieve the objectives set out in Vision 2025. Whether it's an architecture school or an engineering department they should be talking about the single language and the importance and benefits it can bring to the core of their teaching.Without this we are perpetuating professions focussed on their own outputs.

The universities need to teach the ethos and skills of their discipline but must also make reference to a common industry language and vision.

Once students have understood the common language and their own discipline they may also start to want to master the tools available to them. These may include Revit, Tekla, Archicad etc. I do think it would be helpful if the universities demonstrated the range of tools  available to help them design and deliver.

In my day we had to master parallel motion drawing boards  and rotoring pens. The options available today are far greater.

It was  also apparent that BIMCampus was not referred to. In a 12 week programme we are helping undergraduates to understand the common language as well as some basic training in software tools. The difference this few weeks makes between being employable  and not is significant.

I think the balance between academic learning and vocational training needs to be re balanced. Many courses are no longer appropriate and should be more of a mix between classroom and on the job training.

If we are to achieve our 2025 vision our educational approach needs to be fundamentally changed. These courses should support industry and outputs and work closely to provide students with the skills and attitude needed in construction.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Power of Procurement

Whilst in many industries over the last 30 years it has been technology which has had the greatest impact on progress and development, in construction a range of approaches to procurement have driven our delivery methods and product..

Procurement across construction is driven by a lack of trust across all parties from client to contractor, contractor to design team and contractor to subcontractor.

In the majority of cases this lack of trust is well founded with construction having a reputation aligned with used car sales men. We like to play our cards close to our chest and ideally get one over in the party at the other side of the contract. This is usually driven by cost or service. We get ourselves wrapped up in what we are doing or not doing rather than focussing on service and product improvement.

The contractural position is usually focussed on risk and who will be responsible . The design and build procurment process was developed several years ago as a response to clients concerns around the level of risk they were exposed to in what was a very unpredictable process. Detailed traditional contracts such as JCT were used which put the onus on the client to provide clarity and accuracy in their requirements.

This type of contract expects the design to be completes and correct. As buildings became more complex this became an increasing challenge. AT this point design and build was born and this risk was passed to the main contractor.

What this did was develop a generation of s designers and engineers who were very good at front end design with reduced skills in the delivery to completion.

The gap has been the area of contention ever since. This is the undefined risk which is ultimately a gamble between contractor and client. In good times a contractor can win big. When work is scarce the contractor loses as he increases his apatite for risk.

We now have technology which means there is no reason for a design not to be fully developed before procurement and construction. We can now achieve far greater surety in delivery to reduce risk. This moves our industry away from one based on a gamble to a one which is far more predictable allowing investment and development.

Recently I visited Mace offices in London and was shown their Business School. This is a fantastic initiative where Mace work with their supply chain to develop the Mace way together. The subcontractors have to invest in this development which has been controversial across the industry.

To me businesses which are willing to invest should be those who benefit in the long run. I hope in the years ahead procurment plays far less a role in our industry and we are able to improve our reputation for a quality and predictability

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Looking beyond BIM

No one who has anything to do with the construction industry can have failed to acknowledge the increased interest in Building Information Modelling over the past few years. Since Paul Morrell made his announcement that the Government would be mandating BIM on all projects by 2016 we have been on a BIM rollercoaster.


This hiatus has turned the industry upside down and has changed the dynamic in so many areas. BIM is not just the clever software which helps the architect look at his designs in 3D. It impacts on every part of the industry from clients through to designers and building operators.


We all know that construction has traditionally been one of least technological industries for many years. We have continued to use tried and tested methods which main contractors know and are comfortable with. Much of this is driven by the placement of risk which is largely driven by procurement routes. That is whole blog in its own right so I won’t go there.


Whilst BIM is bringing new software and techniques to the industry by default it is bringing other changes to our industry.


It wasn’t too many years ago when I would go on a construction site and there would be no IT at all. BIM has been embraced by a new generation who have joined the industry. This generation of 20 and 30 somethings have grown up with IT and embrace social media.


The uptake in the use and understanding of BIM has been accelerated through the sharing ofknowledge on twitter and blogs. The UKBIMcrew is a twitter community which has been instrumental in pushing new thinking and sharing knowledge openly.


This generation are the future of our industry. We can now share information quickly and openly across social networks. The new generation are far from scared of technology, they positively embrace it.


In less than ten years the construction industry has gone from being an industry which has been scared of technology and new ideas to one which is positively looking to innovate.


In the short term there will be tension. Technology is no substitute for experience and it is this experience which the new generation lack. There is no shortcut to experience and it can only be gathered through time.


Due to recession we have lost lots of experience and knowledge as people have taken up new roles in new industries or retired completely.


This will have an effect in the short term but also provides an opportunity for new generations to progress quickly and drive change. The young techies need to understand that experience is of huge value and the experienced hands need to believe there are new ways of thinking about construction in a changing world. If we can bring both sides together the UK construction industry has the opportunity to reach its potential.


Technology and the internet will go much further than just the use of BIM to design and operate assets. Social media is not to be underestimated and will impact upon the whole building lifecycle. A community is already established online and it is growing by the day.


As mentioned above this community is keen to share knowledge and experience in a way previous generations are not familiar with. Information relating to products is no longer obtained from the physical libraries of the past.


Specifiers, contractors and clients now get their information from the internet via a search. This means search engine optimisation is critical. Not only can a product be found online but its cost can easily be found and compared.


In the future it is likely product performance and reliability will be highlighted in a very similar way to trip advisor. Customers and users will be able to provide real time feedback on the performance of their favourite air handling unit or door closer!


E commerce will also become commonplace allowing buying to be carried out online with deliveries going direct to the construction site from manufacturer. Only a few years ago online shopping was the exception not the rule however Amazon is now one of the biggest retailers in the world. An Amazonfor construction is not unrealistic.


So whilst many may be tired of BIM as a concept, be aware that BIM is a disguise for a completerevolution in construction. BIM is driving change and forcing the industry to adapt and change to new technologies. This change is being pushed by a new generation of construction professionals who are passionate about their industry and making it better.


We have never experienced a more challenging period as now however I believe at the same time ourindustry has never been better placed to lead the global market in construction.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Holiday Reading

As ever a big part if any holiday is the reading material. On this trip I have a couple of particular recommendations.

All the books I read are business related and my favourite is a good business biography. I really like the stories behind business and their people.

I have found a coupe if great stories on this break....

The first is the Tesco Story. This is a recently published book and tells the story of the company through a series of individuals recollections. This means the book ends up being a fabulous social history through the last century.

It does tell the story of Tesco but also shows how society has changed over the decades. 

The second book was or I couldn't put down. A Colossal Failure tells the story o the Lehman brothers collapse.

It is written by a trader who was on the inside. He is able to explain how the collapse occurred in very simple term.

The reality is the sub prime mortgage scandal is the biggest fraud the world has ever known. After reading the book is is clear how it occurred and how greed was at the bottom of fraud.

There is lots to learn from both books and I hope we done make the same mistakes again however somehow I think we will.

Holiday heaven

It's that time of year when we head off to our favourite place in the works....Italy. We have been coming to the same hotel for the past 10 years. I never thought I would return to the same place time after time however the familiarity means it is easy to relax and unwind.

Italy is an interesting country. One thing which has struck me on this trip is how purely Italian Italy is. This is not a cosmopolitan society. 

As someone who spend a lot of time in London which is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world there I a sharp contrast. There are certainly no Starbucks in Garda. It's the one country Starbucks would never venture. There are no Burger bars,Indian restaurants or Chinese takeaways.

Everything here is very Italian. You can get as much gelato or pizza as you like. It is even a challenge to get a non Italian wine.

It give te place authenticity and without doubt attracts the tourists. However I wonder how such a closed view effects global trade for Italy and its place on a world stage.

I guess only time will tell....

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Weekend retreat ....

A few months ago I bid in an auction for a week in George Clarks caravan which featured in amazing spaces.
It was one of those things were everyone wins. We regularly go to the lakes anyway so the charity may as well benefit.
We can't fit a week in but headed over this weekend with my daughter and here friend.
We could not have picked a better weekend. Whilst the caravan was interesting it was totally upstaged by the location and weather. 

the lake was in,y a few minutes walk away and we spent the weekend playing in the water with all of the other families.

I've posted a few pics....

Sunday, 23 June 2013

The impact of Innovation.

I've just returned from a weekend at Bamburgh on the Northumberland coast. For those who don't know it, this is a beautiful village and the home of Bamburgh Castle. Our family stayed in a cottage which sat alongside workmen's huts from the 19th Century.

You may ask what all of this has to do with innovation. The link lies with William Armstrong, or lord Armstrong, who was a famous Victorian industrialist. He deisigned and built armourments on the Tyne and became incredibly sucessful and wealthy.

He lived at Cragside in Rothbury. This house was the first house in the world powered by hydro electricity.

He also was responsible for tje design of  the hydraulics for London Tower Bridge and employed thousands of men in his factories across the North East.

Whilst fabulously wealthy he was also a philanthropist. He gave away his Newcastle home in Jesmond Dene to the people of the city when he moved to Rothbury

He bought Bamburgh Castle at the end of the 19th century following his wife's death to give him a project. He was in his eighties at the time.

His vision was to convert the castles ruins into a convalescent home for his workers. Unfortunately he didn't live to see it completed. His estate passed to the second Lord Armstorng who was his great newphew. The third lord spent his inheritance and Cragside ultimately had to pass to the state to pay taxes.
The fourth Lord didn't have children and adopted a son and daughter who now own the Castle and estate.

When my family spent a lovely day at the castle it struck me how much of an impact one mans' genius can have on so many people for so many years. 

The people of the north east continue benefit and love the Dene. Many also visit Cragside and its fabulous grounds

The castle is still one of the regions most significant landmarks. The cotage we stayed in for the weekend was built for the stonemasons who worked on the castle.

I'm currently reading his biography and it has struck me the impact one mans innovation can have on so many people for so many years. It therefore strikes me that our country needs to create an environment which provides the opportunities for people to innovate and bring forward new ideas.

Whilst the individual may amass wealth it is likely the wider community will also benefit.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

A company to aspire to.

I've just spent a few days in Puerto Banus with my wife to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. Cant believe it has been 10 years. We chose Marbella as it was close enough for a weekend as it is the first break for us without our 8 year old daughter.

Normally architects would visit places to look at buildings. I am however also fascinated by people and culture. Marbella is a special place. I have never come across somewhere where displaying your wealth is so apparent. It's all about showing off your car or boat. 

Evenings are spent parading your assets be it your Ferrari or your fake boobs! I We found the whole experience fascinating.

While I was away I was able to read a couple of books. Interestingly they came from a very local and global perspective for me. Firstly there was Eric Schmits new book. Eric Schmit the CEO of Google and this is his view of the future. I have to say unfortunately I found the book disappointing. His vision of the future is nothing more than what we already know. It reiterates what most of those who have a remote interest in tech Already have already anticipated. 

The second book was of far greater interest to me. The book is the story of Greggs the bakers written by Ian Gregg the retired chairman and son of the founder. The book follows the story of humble beginnings to its national presence today.

it is of personal interest as the business has developed in Gosforth, Newcastle where I currently live. The story takes you through the key steps of the business growth and is honest about the challenges and mistakes they made. It focusses very much on the people who helped shape the business.

What is particularly apparent is the genuine interest Greggs have in the communities they serve. They have built an exceptional business whilst holding firm to the founding values of the organisation. this can be rare in a public company which has a focus in shareholder return. They have their own foundation and have given away millions of pounds over the years.

Their staff seem very loyal with many of them working for the business for may years. 

This has to be in contrast with Google who started off with storing ideals but are being criticised for a centralised taxation approach. Whatever the rights or wrongs Google are not supporting the communities they serve by giving something back.

I think Greggs is an excellent public company with true community commitment and one which I would aspire to emulate in the years ahead.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Ground Hog Day!

Last week I attended the building Future Education Conference at Park Plasa, Westminstrer, London. The whole event did have a ground hog day feel even though its been a number of years since I last attended the event and alot in the world has changed in that time.

Around 2003 we attended our very first BSEC (Building Schools and Education Conference) in Harrigate. This was the first time the event had been held and was in response to the growing market developing on the back if the governments building schools for the future programme.

Due to the increased capital spending the event grew to a huge size. It moved from Harrogate to Manchester and finally Excel in London.

At the time all of the discussion was about transformational education and we all experimented with new learning environments. The average school at the time was costing around £2200-£2500. Some even cost up to £3500!

With a new government and the cancellation of BSF this discussion hit a brick wall. We all enjoyed the debate about pedagogy and the influence of space. Some of these schools developed in this period are fantastic.

However the world has moved on. It is now clear the money wasn't their and we were all living the dream. We have now bumped back down to ground.

After a very quiet few years there is a new policy direction for developing schools. However we now have a much reduced budget. We have a maximum of £1450 per square meter

What was amazing about BFE was the fact that some of the same characters were there saying the exact same things. The world has changed but they seemed to be oblivious and were living in their idealistic bubble. It seems that architects are the worst offenders of not teaching any cognicence of the world at large.

The discussion about how we shouldn't deliver these sub standard spaces for out children continue and I couldnt help but think here we go again.

I am sure the £1450 school would be a much appreciated by the student and staff in the leaky 1960s clasp building.

The discussion moved to the the elephant in the room as it was referred to. The reduced cost and the link between attainment and space. This has been an ongoing debate and as I see it neither side has any research based evidence which is conclusive.

My view is derived as a parent, an architect and a taxpayer. I don't believe BSF provided value. It provided profit for consortia and nice projects for designers.

The reality is it is not the space which has the greatest effect on learning. In reslity the environments influence is actually very small.The elephant in the room for me is the fact that that learning is mainly affected by the quality of teaching. We have some fantastic teachers in this country but we also have too many who are not motivated or are totally committed to teaching young people.

I think the buildings are obviously important and a new school can give a shot in the arm to any team. The fact that it is new, doesnt leak and provides the right light levels and tempersture are sufficient to make an

The priority has to be leadership within schools and the quality of teaching.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

If I were a king for the day...

A Manifesto for a New Construction.

I know it is never going to happen but if I was, apart seeing Newcastle United beat Manchester United on the last day of the season to win the Premiership I would change a few things in the construction industry.

I would look at construction with a new set of eyes and encourage all parts of the industry to think differently about everything they do. If I could I would wipe the hard drive clean of many of the people in the industry. I would re install the skills but would install new information about culture and approach.

First and foremost in the construction industry we are completely infatuated by process. We focus on procurement and project management. We have flow charts for everthing from design management to procurement. Im not saying these are not required but sometimes this means we miss what we are actually doing.

What we overlook is the product. This is well down our priority list and sometimes forgotten.On time and on budget is our proud mantra! the fact that is does give the client what they want seems to be irrellivant.

All the individual parts of the process protect their own risk,be it design or construction but who takes responsibility for the product?

The designers will blame the contractor and revert to the contract if anything goes wrong. If there are issues with the building on completion the contractor will blame the consultants. This leaves the client not knowing where to get answers from and more importantly leaves them disgruntled with the process and the product.

Provided everyone sticks to this approach the individual parts will be ok. It is a cartell of mediocrity where everyone is protecting there part of the process without taking responsibility for the product. As soon as someone breaks from this circle it may change the thinking of the entire industry.

_space group are a relatively small organisation in term of the construction industry so we will always find it difficult to change the industry single handedly but we will put our money where our mouth is. We are developing a range of building products via our volula brand. we have spent time designing a range of building products including houses, lodges and schools at present. We put our energy into the product off site rather than process so that we can maximise value for the client. The proof of the pudding is in the eating but we are confident we can deliver a 3 bedroom house which has no energy bills for around £80,000.

This brings me onto how we define value. We are fascinated by two key performance indicators in our industry, cost and time. Both metrics are easy to measure. We even have a profession dedicated to measuring cost via our cost consultants or quantity surveyors depending on how old you are.

Value for a client is dependant on more than just cost and time. It will vary from client to client with some focussed on cost and time but what about lifecycle, energy, cost in use carbon or user satisfaction. All of these metrics are important and together will generate a true picture of value. As an industry we need to understand this more and be able to demonstrate the interrelationship between them all.

I would also change the way we approach design. I spent 7 years learning to be an architect. I was encouraged to believe that every building should be an award winner and I would be judged on my original thought and creativity. This is reinforced by the profile the RIBA give to the Stirlng Prize and many other award ceremonies across the profession.

At University we never discussed business or client needs. I am not saying we should lose the creative side of architectural education as I think it does give a great foundation for innovative thinking.However we must realise that the world we operate in is real and we need to be better prepared for what we face in the construction industry.

My favourite analogy to illustrate this is Formula 1. Formula 1 is the catwalk of the automotive industry and is where much of the research and development is carried out which will feed into the cars we all drive every da6. Not everyone in the car industry ends up being a Formulat 1 engineer. The vast majority will join Nissan or Ford and will not expect to design the next Ferrari.

In architecture we are producing hundreds of aspirational Formula 1 engineers every year who are ill prepared for the world of construction. We are taught that every client wants a brand new formula car every time. it needs to be designed from scratch and it is a dreadful crime to use last years engine even though it won the championship.

Whilst Zaha Hadid and a number of other UK architects have the opportunity to design Formula 1 cars on a daily basis the rest of us mere mortals have clients who want a reliable Audi A4. There is no shame in this and Audis are a fantastic lesson in engineering, value and reliability.

There is one final lesson we can learn from the automotive industry. They really understand the benefits of a true supply chain. We claim to understand and manage supply chains in our industry however they are more of a list of people we work with regularly. Main contractors have moved to sub contract as much work as possible to move risk downstream. This does reduce risk for the main contractor but makes a project even more contractural and removes the commitment to the end product and places the focus on process.

In the car industry they have truly joined up supply chains.For example surrounding the Nissan site in Sunderland there are dozen of suppliers to the main factory who have signed long term agreements based on mutual investment and reward. Nissan do not change their engine supplier every 6 month because someone else can provide one £50 cheaper. They understand value and not just cost.

By understating value they have been able to continually improve their product whilst also reducing cost. For the same money their customers were paying 20 years ago they now benefit from power assisted steering, air conditioning, electric windows etc etc. We are still delivering the same product in construction yet asking our clients to pay more.

The pressure of the recession has only demonstrated the reality of our supply chains across the construction industry. We have all heard the stories recently of the contractor who has extended the terms of their supply chain to 120 days. This is hardly an integrated approach and is only pushing the challenges further down the supply chain and is not using any innovation or fresh thinking.

15 years ago partnering was the answer to everything in the industry. At the time I was an advocate but now I realise it is a flawed concept. It relies on people and does not structue the industry in a way which will provide long term benefit. When partnering works there are many positive lessons to be learned however the issue is there is no commercial basis or infrastructure for investment.

A fundamental move away from process is required with more of a focus on product. we need to innovate and look at standardised approaches which are constantly improving. We do not need to design everything from scratch and should use the lessons learnt from previous projects. If it is taken to its extreme there could be standard building such as the volula range or as easily a mixture of components and modules.

In todays environment much of this is possible. The tools are there as are the fresh new minds to make it happen. We are thinking far more about digital solutions now and with the advent of Building Information Modelling there is no excuse not to collect the data.

As our clients start to understand BIM they will also start to ask more questions of us and we need to be able to show as a an industry that we are at least one step ahead if not 10!

Friday, 12 April 2013

Postcard from Cyprus

I'm sitting around the pool in Cyprus after a strenuous game of table tennis with a bunch of ten year olds. I had hoped to be getting a certificate this evening but I was beaten by a particularly talented Scottish child!

The fears about Cyprus being in chaos were unfounded. The businesses here still have day to day banking issues but they are getting through. You can't help but feel sorry for the people here. They have been badly treated like so many others in Europe. When you follow the history if Cyrus it has clearly suffered from poor leadership for hundreds of years.

It's clear that Cyprus has been struggling for some time. There are many empty shops but most of these look like they have been closed for a number of years. What Cyprus needs most of all is people to still come and spend their money. It is a beautiful island and the people are really nice.

I have been working my way through the usual holiday book list. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find the type of book I really like. These are usually business biographies but there are not many out there I haven't read.

I have had to go back a few years to find nee material and came across The life and times of Henry Ford. What an amazing book. He was such a visionary and determined in his thinking. The book must be nearly 100 years old and yet the majority of what he says is still relevant today.

Obviously there is a focus on manufacturing which happens to be a current interest of mine. There are also a number of chapters about his views in society which are enlightening.

I have also read several books by Seth Godin and Daniel Pink which I may comment on in future blogs.

As I have been looking into the past for inspiration I decided to re read the Latham and Egan reports. It's proved very interesting in that in reality the UK construction industry has only managed to achieve a small part of what was recommended 20 years ago.

The Egan report which was written 15 years ago is incredibly relevant to what I believe is required in the industry today. I'm all for a relaunch of the report for the current market! How about a 2013 update?

I have ended up writing down my thoughts on the two reports which has ended up being a report in itself.i haven't found a home for it yet but I hope I can share it somewhere.

I have found strangely on this holiday that I have been drawn to write as well as read. I'm not sure if this is something which comes with age. Who knows the next project may be a book!

Monday, 1 April 2013

A Major Government Project win for BIM Technologies

Construction technology specialist secures prestigious government contract

Leading Building Information Modelling specialist BIM technologies have secured a prestigious contract with the UK government to assist in the temporary relocation of the Palace of Westminster .

Following confirmation in 2012 by the House Committee that the Palace of Wetminster was to be closed for a 5 year period to allow for the £3bn refurbishment of the Pugin designed building.

Following a detailed feasibility study to look at relocation options the House Committee has decided to refurbish the existing facilities and temporarily relocate to new accommodation in Milton Keynes

The BIM technologies team were initially appointed to carry out a detailed point cloud survey of the external facade. This information was subsequently converted into a detailed digital model.

This information will be used for the refurbishment project however the data will also be used to produce an identical replica of the Palace using the latest digital printing techniques

BIM technologies have combined this printing with their extensive offsite construction knowledge to allow the building to be manufactured if site and assembled on the Milton Keynes site.

Whilst the new building will have all of the appearance of the origional 1850s Pugin design it will comply with all of the latest building regulations and will be fitted with the latest environmental technologies.

Lord Sewel chairman of the committee commented that " BIM technologies have been able to mix the best if gothic architecture with the most stringent of current building standards through the use of the latest technology"

The government are already looking at uses for the facility once the refurbishment project is complete. Studies are already being carried out to turn the building into a luxury 5 star hotel with the chamber being a themed events venue.

Rob Charlton chief executive of BIM technologies commented that he was delighted to be involved in such an important project and his team looked forward to starting work on 1st April .

Monday, 25 March 2013

The Lead Consultant....

When Sir Christopher Wren designed St. Paul's cathedral in 17th century there was no such thing as an architect. Wren was infact a mathematician. Back then it was the gentlemen of the time who were involved in the design of buildings. Such gentlemen would design the building, carry out the structural engineering and even provide all costs and project management of the build.

Sometime after this the term architect was used and the Royal Institute of British Architects followed in 1834. Over the following years buildings become increasingly complex as new materials and technologies developed. The development of steel, concrete and glass gave greater opportunity to the architect. The structural engineer developed and began to specialise in the complex calculations required. As society developed there was an increase in regulation and buildings needed to comply. Calculations were needed for all aspects if a building design to prove compliance.

With the development of electricity and the telephone in the late 19th century building systems started to become commonplace.The discovery of North Sea gas in the 20th century allowed the development of more complex heating and ventilation systems. This would then mean that a specialist was required and the mechanical and electrical engineering profession was born.

Along the way quantity surveying developed as a profession when building costs were increasingly made up of components and materials. The complexity of projects meant there was a role for the project manager and an increased interest in heath and safety meant the requirement of the CDM coordinator.

We have also seen the development of fire engineers, acousticians , interior designers and landscape architects.

Throughout all of these changes the architect has fought hard to maintain the Sir Christopher Wren position of total control of the build. Such a view is embedded in the universities where the architect is the single point at the centre of the construction process with everything controlled by the profession. The most recent evidence is the development of the specials role of the project manager. Architects faught hard to hold onto this role however specialist could easily show their value to clients.

As buildings have become increasingly complex the ability of the architect to control everything has become impossible. New procurement routes have moved away from a traditional approach toward design and build, which is driven by the need to apportion risk.

At the same time as buildings becoming increasingly complex architecture schools have focussed less and less on the technical aspects of construction and have placed emphasis on the art in architecture. The focus in the art is probably down to the fact that building are so complex it is difficult for the schools to give an appropriate level of understanding.

All of the above is very interesting but you may be wondering what this has to do with the present. We are currently in another period of change. The architect has always had the title of the lead consultant. With the development of Building Information Modelling there is a justified argument to challenge the architect as lead consultant. The title of lead consultant may infact be devicive. Is there still a need for such a title or role?.

There is no doubt that the architect has a central role to play in the early stages of the project and is expert at bringing all of the parts of the process together. This includes the briefing design and planning. In the current environment this is very complex and requires huge investment.
As the project moves beyond stage C there is a need for coordination and technical input. This is where the architect starts to struggle with more complex projects.

With the adoption of BIM, the design team will have produced information digitally and included geometary. Instead of trying to coordinate two dimensional information such as drawings of a three dimensional building, a computer programme will carry out the review and identify all of the issues.

The lead consultant has always had responsibility for coordination. A new role has developed in the past few years. The BIM coordinator is a specialist in the use of proprietary software and has an excellent understanding of how a building shold be assembled. The ideal training for such a role is as a project architect or technologist. It is a specialist role and requires specialist skill.

It is an addition to the project team and the glue which can bring a project together. The architect will put the case that this is their role and is what they do. I would agree with the argument and certainly some do have the skills. However it is no different to the development if the role of the project manager or CDMc. The architect can carry out the role but with a large complex building they often do not have the focus to commit. . On smaller projects it is possible to be lead consultant and project manager. But on large inner city projects with complex planning issues the reality is the architect doesn't have time to carry out the role.

Coordination is therefore done with a light touch and even though no architect would ever admit it the risk and coordination is passed to the main contractor and trade. This can and does work however it is expensive and can be advisarial. Ultimately and most importantly it is not providing value for the client investor.

The BIM coordinator can take on the role of coordinator but also model and data manager. This role has to be established at the outset of the project if the maximum benefit is going to be derived from the model and data. As with any database it is essential, the outputs are understood at the outset and are controlled throughout.the BIM coordinator will establish and maintain the protocols throughout the lifecycle of the project.

As buildings have become more complex with increased systems and fabric it is no longer possible to comprehensively coordinate all elements of a building with confidence in 2d. Software is available which will allow the modelling and visual coordination of the building geometry in a virtual environment.

The three main aspects of a building design are brought together into a single geometry and further software has been developed to identify issues in the model.

The computer power and sophistication of the software can assist in resolving issues.

Architects still are keen to retain this role as it is a further erosion of the lead consultants duties. The reality is there are new skills required to understand and operate the software. Coordination of buildings is now so involved that it justifies a separate role. The architect can carry out the role but does need the specialist software skills. The other main issue is that coordination need to be given an appropriate priority. Unfortunatley the architect had so many conflicting responsibilities that coordination can become a low priority.

The BIM coordinator/ model Manager can also add value to the building lifecyle beyond this. If appointed at the outset data sets can be agreed and the information monitored throughout. The information can be used for scheduling through to costing. The as built data also has as yet untapped potential in operation.

Whilst an architect may have the skills to carry out this role it is not sufficiently important to be a role in its own right. This is no different to how the role of project manager or engineer was developed for that matter.

The majority of architects work on small projects and operate as sole practitioners. On such projects they can carry out a wide range of services. However on more complex and high value projects there needs to be an acceptance that there is a requirement for specialisms in a number of fields.

The architect should focus on the areas where he adds the most value and has unique skills. This is usually at the outset of a project resolving the conflicting challenges of briefing requirments, complience and planning.

For the record I am a qualified architect and my views are developed over many years in pat active where I have witnessed the challenges across project delivery.

Reflecting on school design & procurement

We need to think hard for the sake of our children

School building is always controversial. I was at the House of Lords last week, ( just slipped that in) to see a presentation by a number if year 10 students showing 200 adults how to use the latest BIM software. It was a very humbling experience.
At the event Lord Knight made a speech. You may remember Jim Knight as the labour Governments Schools minister. During his tenure I listened to him on many occasions. He was the minister with responsibility for the BSF programme.
Several years later and now in opposition he has had time to reflect. In the speech he made at the House of Lords he all but admitted that the Labour government had achieved little when it came to education despite throwing "everything at it. "There seemed to be no shortage of spending or resources at the time yet the outcomes were poor.
So what does this tell us.
First of all we wasted millions of pounds of taxpayers money procuring and building unique education facilities. This is very generous if it can be afforded but if the teaching and learning is not right we are wasting our time.
The great and the good of the RIBA will test your conscience and tell you that every school should be designed individually for that location. They also make us feel guilty if we are perceived to short change our young people.
I have an alternative view. By choosing the easy ( and profitable)way and delivering unique schools every time we let down thousands of other students who are still stuck in buildings which leak or are falling down and not fit for purpose.
We overspent and focused on all of the wrong things. The easy route was to assume that all of the issues with our education system were down to the crumbling estate. Whilst this is part of the problem I would argue that it is the culture of what goes on in schools which is fundamentally flawed. Clearly this is much harder to change and I'm sure it was hoped by providing new facilities new cultures would develop. It is clear this hasn't worked.

As an example space architecture designed a fantastic school which was an outstanding environment to allow new methods of learning.On a recent visit it was clear the building is not being used as it had designed and the discipline in the school was poor.

Another good example is a school in north Tyneside which was built around a sports hall. The heads idea was the students would learn in 15 minute bursts followed by exercise.
Some might argue this was very innovative but I wouldn't want this experiment carried out at the expense of my children. Worse still several years on the head fell out with the local authority and moved on. His personal experiment remains in place with others trying to pick up the pieces.

The construction industry sat back during this period and just delivered what the government wanted. They took there large margins and passed it back to shareholders. No one questioned what we were doing or if there was a better way.

We certainly acknowledged the process was wasteful but didn't look at any innovation in design or construction.

I have to pick out one company however. Laing O Rouke identified the waste and invested millions in developing a concrete factory. They trained all of their people in new thinking only to be caught out by the recession.

We have now started to build schools again, in some cases half the cost of BSF schools. Our duty as an industry is to use what we have learned to build as many high quality schools for as little as possible. We can't short change our young people with an inferior product but likewise we can afford to indulge ourselves.
The new Priority Schools Building programme is set up to deliver innovation. We need to look at standardization in our schools and invest in energy conservation to help the long term revenue challenges faced by schools.

These building can still be exciting and inspirational but may not have the "wow" factor which was always pursued during BSF.

There is no evidence that innovation or great learning his linked to a wow environment.Many of the successful organizations of recent years such as google, Facebook or apple all started out in modest spaces.

We have been working with google recently on a number if building projects. Whilst their current spaces are filled with exciting furniture and systems the environments are simple and flexible. There is also a huge difference in that google have massive cash pile behind them.

At space group we are putting our money where our mouth is. We are absolutely convinced that we can deliver excellent schools at a fraction of the capital and revenue costs if the past. Over the last two years we have taken all of the learning from BSF and the recent learning from PSBP to develop scola.
It specifically focuses on the Private finance schools and maximizes the use of offsite, BIM and sustainably to allow as much of the capital to be invested in the product rather than the process.

You will be able to see scola at BFE and we hope it will encourage debate about what part the construction industry can play in the development if our young people

Thursday, 28 February 2013

The story of school procurement...

For the last 10 years at space architecture we have been fascinated by school design and construction.
We have been involved in the development of hundreds of schools over the past decade with a wide range if procurement routes. In the early 2000s we were involved in the PFI programme. Schools were built quickly and cheaply and the investors realised there was money to be made in the financial structure of the deal. Design and construction quality was of little importance to the consortia.

The response to this was BSF which was a capital programme which seemed to have no end of resources. Schools were being built at an average of £2500 per square metre with some in the capital costing up to as much as £4000 per square meter. These were the good times and the only way was up. The only  feedback from the schools was whether they were on the programme or if they were going to get a swimming pool
There was lots if discussion about Transformational Learning and al ot if experimentation.
Some fantastic learning environments were delivered during this period, everyone unique and usually designed specifically to the head teachers requirements.

The academies programme was developed at a similar time to deliver schools which were not going to be part of a local Education Partnership.
These schools started at around £2200 per square metre but as things became tough the figure was reduced to £1850. Procurement was more straightforward and the buildings more restrained in their specification..

Michael Gove was appointed  education secretary as part of the new coalition Government and promptly scrapped the BSF programme and instigated the James Review.
The James review was mainly made up of common sense but probably not what the construction industry wanted to hear. The Government had been spending billions and the industry helped them along the way
The James Review suggested the Government was paying too much for its school buildings and was delivering an inconsistent product with little standardisation.

There is a place for unique and one off design but for all of the extra pounds we were spending to satisfy the requirements of individual head teaches we were letting down the children with the leaky roofs and windows who were not part of the programme..
The Goverenmentt usually procures building which will have there value written down over a 30 year period much like a supermarket. The building will have no paper value at this point and may be demolished. There is therefore little justification for expensive enhancements when the building is an asset or tool to deliver learning

In contrast when designing a commercial tower in London this is very much an investment. The construction may cost £100 million but may be worth twice that when complete.

These issues were overlooked in the boom times and there was justification from architects that we should be spending £3000 per square meter on our children. Of course we should but not if we cant afford it. The government lost site of the long term programme. The architects and head teaches all played in our conscience. This is our future. How could we short change our children?

However in my opinion it was the students and staff not on the programme who were short changed We could have delivered twice as many schools in half the time if we had been clear about the requirements in the first instance.
Many of the architects who designed these expensive schools have moved on from the market and are designing expensive commercial buildings across the globe. £1450 per square meter is not of any interest to them.

All of this brings me up to date and the current Priority Schools Building Programme. The Government have now been clear about their requiems which are sensible and pragmatic. The schools however will all still have excellent quality if light, air and space. They all have excellent acoustics and are safe places for the staff and students alike.
The environments are still inspiring for the young people who use them. The schools are still consulted however their requiems are moderated. In an environment were there is little resource they are delighted with their new school building.

The capital cost of these schools is £1450. This is a huge step forward. The finished product is still to the highest quality and there is little difference  to be seen between  the academies schools or even some BSF.

If the product is largely the same as it was before the question is where did all of the money go?

I don't have any science to back this up my theory I'm afraid but my view is it all went in the process. There were so many consultants and advisers on all sides. This added little value to the completed building in retrospect and certainly did not help the young people who would be populating the building.

The PSBP has removed all of this additional  and in my opinion unnecessary input and used the learning of the last 10 years to deliver schools which are right for today's learner and are flexible for the future.

I think however there is further to go. The PSPB does still focus on process. With some of the extended batches there is the opportunity to put a greater emphasis on product.

There is still a large amount of bespoke design in every school. We don't require this level of individually when buying a car or a house. Only the very wealthy can afford to have an architect designed home. Most of us mere mortals are pleased if we can change the colour if the kitchen units!

Why then do we as taxpayers accept the bespoke design of every school in the country.I suspect it is because the cognicente have managed to convince everyone that every school should be individual. I just don't buy this!

We have spent the past 2 years at space architecture refining scola which is our standard range of primary and secondary schools. They use all of the learning from the past 100 schools we have worked on whilst also considering offsite manufacture and BIM

We also took on board what we learned from the EFA during the development if the north east batch of the PSBP.

Typically in construction we look at cost. We have been keen to look at value whilst also challenging every aspect of the process.The capital cost of scola is £1300 per square metre. Our energy costs are £6.50 per square meter with life cycle replacement of £10 per square metre.

We have been able to use the data from the BIM to accurately predict the soft FM costs at £15 per square metre and the hard FM costs at £9 per square metre.

This is far more data than would normally be provided at the end of a construction project let alone at the beginning.

All of this helps with the PF2 funding model and will have a significant impact on the unitary charge over 30 years.

Scola considers PSBP not as a process but the delivery of an ever improving product where quality goes up and costs go down. Why have we been able to achieve this with motor car and not our schools.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Architecture: Process or Product?

Now there is a question to think about.Is architecture a processor a product?

In recent weeks it is something I have been giving considerable thought to. Most of my regular readers will know about my frustration at the construction industry and its cartel of poor performance.

We will certainly have lots of debate about whether architecture is a process or a product,however ,for me,I have a very clear view. I'm not really interested in the discussion. What I think is we should be more interested in is the product itself.

In design and construction we do get very involved in the process. In reality all that matters is the product. We seem to overlook this in our industry . The architects are keen to get the killer photo for the website. The structural engineer is long gone and onto the next job. The M and E engineer is really pleased he has got away with producing a performance specification and passed the hard work onto the sub contractor.

The main contractor has packed up and is working on the next job. His commercial manager is working on the final account and trying to make some money by not paying his supply chain.

Meanwhile the client and building user is trying to understand what they have bought. They are not sure how much energy the building will use and they are waiting to see how the building performs on a hot day and a cold day.

They also have to deal with the regular problems such as the flooding toilet and the leaking roof.

This is all because everyone focused on the process and not the product. There is no overall responsibility for the product. The contractor blames the architect. The architect blames the M and E engineer. The M and E engineer blames the sub contractor.

What we are very good at in the construction industry is pointing the finger, avoiding responsibility and understanding contracts.

While all of this is going on is anyone thinking about the customer, their business or the product they have just bought. All of this is embarrassing for us all and a sad reflection on our industry.

We must focus on the product and its performance. We must look to continually improve buildings and their performance.

There is no one simple answer but I think the move towards intelligent and useful data through design and construction will go a long way. We can now be clear where issues lie and quantify them. There is nowhere to hide and we can see issues before we commit to site.

Building Information Modelling has provided us with some fantastic tools but we must ensure we don't continue to do what we have always done but with better tools. We must use these tools and the information it provides us with to improve our products and deliver a better long term result for our client.

A car manufacturer who produced cars which overheated or leaked would not last long!

Monday, 7 January 2013

New Year Break

Today is my first day back after my New Years Break. This week in the sun is important for lots of reasons. It gives me the chance to recover after the festive excess and eat some good quality food.I also stay off the booze and every year commit to not drinking for the rest of the year.

It also gives me the chance to reflect on the previous year and look toward the year ahead. I always find it is easier to do this without the day to day distractions which happen in a normal working week. 2012 was a year of change and we now have greater clarity as to how the future will pan out.

I always finalise our strategy for the coming year on this break and start to put the plans and communications is place. It is always useful to use the work produced during this week as a benchmark for the year ahead. Its good to review which plans worked out and which needed to be changed.

Holidays are also a time for reading.I had saved up some great books for this trip. I managed to get through quite a few.

Firstly I read the book by the British CEO of Olympus who resigned after he found some accounting irregularities.A great story and well worth a read.

I then read a great book by Stephanie Shirley called Let it Go. Hers is an amazing story.From a Second World War refugee to multi millionaire.The best part of her story is how she has given away over £100 million in her lifetime.

What I find interesting about business biographies by women is that they are far more open than stories written by their male counterparts.They seem to include far more about personal pressures and the struggles they have had.Other good examples are Hilary Devey and Rachael Elenough. I would exclude Karen Brady from this who seems to have more of a masculine ego.

In contrast to Let it go which is about Philanthropy i read CityBoy which is a humorous read.It is the story of the excesses of the city during the boom. it tells us of all of the things we thought and several which we didnt.

The other books included the new Richard Branson book which is a good short stories type book. I also read Eddie Jordans book as I was intrigued to find out where the money came from. The story is relatively straightforward with it all coming from his passion for motor racing. Not of a great interest to me!

I am writing this on the very early train into London looking forward to 2013! Happy new Year everyone.