• 30th November 2018

Building Design Live 2018

This post was written by Mark Nagle, Associate Director, about his experience of attending Building Design Live 2018.

So, BD Live 2018, where do I start?

Charlotte Northam and I had a great day! We started off with networking and then listened to informed debates about some of the key challenges and top issues facing the UK Construction industry.

The level of content throughout the day was extraordinary. I will be drawing on my notes from the day across three separate articles around my personal highlights.

BDonline 2018 - Building Design Live 2018


Is there a future for the Executive Architect?

If you have seen today’s BDonline, you will have seen Rab Bennetts’ forthright views on the trend of Executive Architecture, describing it as ‘anathema to excellence’. I often hear that Architects say they want to stick with projects from conception to completion, however Executive Architects are becoming more and more recognised. Our debate linked closely with this trend, with the Hackitt report and the New London Plan recommending that Architects stay on a project throughout their commentary.

The assembled panel included architectural leaders Rab Bennett and John Robertson, plus key individuals from Berkeley Homes, the GLA and Kingspan. John Robertson commented on how his business had fallen into Executive Architecture almost by accident, as Richard Rogers didn’t want to work directly with a contractor on a key scheme. So with JRA engaged by the contractor to lead the project delivery, the success of this relationship saw great mutual dividends, most recently with the two businesses pairing up on schemes, including the Stirling Prize nominated Neo Bankside.

You may have therefore expected John Robertson to be all for the Executive Architect model, but he did see the commoditisation of the RIBA scale as being a key issue of today’s market. With the increase in clients commissioning Architects to work upon individual RIBA work stages, this could lead to different Architects carrying out the feasibility, concept and technical design stages, losing the authenticity of the original idea. Architects overseeing the BIM model across the design teams, coordinating all specifications and gaining stronger collaboration with contractors, were all areas of positivity.

Robertson stated that “In order to make the Executive Architecture model work, it is imperative that the relationship and communication with the Design Architect is strong.” John Robertson gave the example of their present collaboration with Stanton Williams on a £350m scheme in Canada Water, where JRA initially overviewed Stanton Williams and then the roles reversed in the project delivery stages. Opportunities for the model and the industry overall included learning from other industries, with the work of Boeing held up as a pioneering business model that construction could learn from.

From a product perspective, Kingspan Insulated Panel Technical Director, Tony Ryan, spoke of how his business’s technical support team was taking around 20,000 phone calls from concerned Architects. Lots of these calls contained duplicate enquiries. Quite often these same questions featured exactly the same aspects of the building’s insulation panels but from different design teams operating on the same projects. Ryan’s view on more consistency in BIM standards, how it is used by different practices and a more embracing approach to the use of technology were areas that the industry as a whole will benefit from. His preference being that design teams are retained on projects from start to finish, which complements the viewpoints of the Hackitt report, and that when this doesn’t happen, key information is often lost throughout the design process.

After 45 minutes of debate, did the panel draw a conclusion as to whether there is a future for the Executive Architect? The answer to this was not conclusive but the panel did agree on many areas, in particular on the issues of a ‘race to the bottom’ that Hackitt had also raised as a concern. The industry cannot produce quality on ever-decreasing budgets and after under-investment in construction and building control, the problems of the fragmentation of responsibilities has seen lines of accountability become increasingly skewed. It was agreed that specialists are needed on projects ranging from glazing systems to acoustics, but ultimately the Architect must get back to being the ultimate conductor of the construction orchestra.


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