Rebecca Rees discusses the need for procurement reform, workforce diversificiation and her love of the Eden Project biomes


Building magazine is 180 years old this year. What lessons about the built environment should we take from the past?

That what we build now will impact our children more than it does us: sustainability isn’t just about embodied carbon or reduced waste – true sustainability comes from thoughtful and meaningful design that ensures each building serves the community within which it is placed for decades. The past has shown that a building that does not need to be demolished after 50 years OR that proves to be a catalyst for anti-social behaviour is the most sustainable one.

Who or what has had the most positive impact on construction in the past couple of decades?

The long line of collaborative procurement trailblazers, from Egan to Latham through to Mosey and Farmer – those who recognise that the long-term success of a project should be the driving force for the team.

Rebecca Rees

Rebecca Rees, head of procurement, Trowers & Hamlins

What does the construction industry do well and why?

Rise to occasion: looking at Heathrow T5, the Olympic Games infrastructure: these projects were focussed and delivered via programme teams that drove innovation and modern methods of construction (in its broadest term) through from concept, on to site and beyond.

What does construction industry do badly and why?  

Learn from its mistakes: the UK has so many successful projects under our belt that are not replicated across the sectors. Lessons learned, project reviews, digitally-underpinned design and feedback-loops should be mandated to ensure we capture all of the learning, innovation and positives from a project and turn it into everyday practice.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen during your career in construction?  

Diversification of the workforce, particularly to harness the benefits and wider skillset that women bring to the sector. Furthermore, the embracement of social value in all of its forms and the recognition that the construction sector can be a driving force for good in terms of creating positive and lasting community impact.

What do you think will have changed by the time Building celebrates its 200th anniversary?  

Not one for small targets: I would like the entire contracting business model to be replaced by one that is not underpinned by “race to the bottom” tendering, adversarial behaviours and an ensuing sense of mistrust between all parties.

If there is one thing individuals and firms could do to improve construction and the built environment what would it be?  

How we tender for contracts: we need to ensure that the procurement process is not rendered a complete fiction (at worst) or a barrier to achieving safe and quality outcomes.

What is the best thing government can do to support the industry?  

Support and publicise (on a more granular basis) best practice in the sector. Provide funding on terms and time-scales that encourages clients to focus on the life-cycle benefits of the built environment/piece of infrastructure rather than simply the CapEx (lowest) cost of the asset at the point of procurement.

>>See also: Full Building the Future Commission line-up unveiled

>>See also: Click here for more about the project and the commissioners

What do you hope the Building the Future Commission can achieve? And what role can you play?  

We are in the midst of dealing with a safety crisis in the construction sector at a time where skills and volatility in the supply-chain are at risk of diverting attention and resource. Achieving safe and quality outcomes needs to be personalised to each and every one of us – so that we all play our part in making sure that recent tragedies are not repeated.

What is your favourite building/piece of infrastructure and why?  

The Eden Project biomes. I was involved in a small way with the construction contracts for The Core and other projects in the chalk pits.

Being a part of the team (even if it was just as the lawyer(!)) let me experience a truly collaborative project, with a fully engaged and passionate client where its values were clearly stated and relentlessly pursued by all involved. Truly aspirational and sustainable.

Tell us one thing you are passionate about outside of work  

My family.

Rebecca Rees, partner, Trowers & Hamlins  

Building the Future Commission 


Coming up on the Building the Future commission:

In the coming weeks we will:

  • Host our first regional roundtable with our partner Constructing Excellence in the East of England region in mid March
  • Convene our first commissioner panel meeting at the end of March
  • Investigate the potential of building performance rating system NABERS as an alternative to Part L for the energy and net zero stream
  • Interview two big hitters in the world of infrastructure for the infrastructure stream
  • Examine whether the qualifications landscape needs to change and assess whether more flexibility is needed for our education and skills stream
  • Visit the University of Salford to assess the eHome2 concept for our energy and net zero stream
  • Investigate how for-profit affordable housing can deliver the homes we need for the housing and planning stream
  • Assess a new model of procurement used by the Ministry of Defence for the project delivery and digital stream
  • Look at models of flexible working in the industry for the workplace, culture and leadership stream

About the commission

The Building the Future Commission is a year-long project, launched to mark Building’s 180th  anniversary, to assess potential solutions and radical new ways of thinking to improve the built environment.

The major project’s work will be guided by a panel of 19 major figures who have signed up to help guide the commission’s work culminatuing  culminate in a report published at the end of the year.

The commissioner include figures from the world of contracting, housing development, architecture, policy-making, skills, design, place-making, infrastructure, consultancy and legal.

The commissioners include Lord Kerslake, former head of the civil service, Katy Dowding, executive vice president at Skanska, Richard Steer, chair of Gleeds, Lara Oyedele, president of the Chartered Institute of Housing, Mark Wild, former boss of Crossrail and chief executive of SGN and Simon Tolson, senior partner at Fenwick Elliott. See the full list here.

The project is looking at proposals for change in eight areas:

>> Editor’s view: And now for something completely positive - our Building the Future Commission

>> Click here for more about the project and the commissioners

Building the Future will also undertake a countrywide tour of roundtable discussions with experts around the regions as part of a consultation programme in partnership with the regional arms of industry body Constructing Excellence. It will also set up a young person’s advisory panel.

We will also be setting up an ideas hub and we want to hear your views.