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