It had to take four valuable pages of Building to produce predictably stereotyped, polarised views. Although Bennetts and Harding were very civil to each other (Harding uncharacteristically so), the arguments of one were not going to budge the other one jot. Which is a pity.
The debate ebbed and flowed about which "side" (architect or builder) should control the design-and-build processes. There is ample room for either route in our diverse industry and with our diverse clients, who have to make some difficult decisions in choosing the right way for them. Neither Harding nor Bennetts emerges with much credit for advancing the debate.
Bennetts claims the high ground in arguing for the appointment of the independent architect, who is above the nasty money-driven builder. Right in principle, but less sure in practice. His professional institute, the RIBA, still sees its members primarily as a collection of learned professionals who have been known to put the greater social good above their duties to their clients. This is okay if the appointed architect is honest with his client - but are they all? Bennetts claims that architects have delivery targets and care about cost. Hmm. I search in vain in the RIBA standard conditions for any duty to complete the design on time to parallel the builder's under a JCT form. References to a duty to design within a budget are equally elusive.
Understandably, Bennetts plays down the stereotypical image of the inability of architects to manage a large design team. Strangely, Harding does not pursue this. Bennetts claims, rightly, that only his profession can manage his own process but is vague on the wider management functions.
So far, Harding is winning the argument. His defence of a totally design-and-build world would result in a one-stop responsibility, strong management of the total process, a seamless join between design and construction, strong cost control and perhaps a better promise of completion on time. Too good to be true? Probably. The commercial drive of builders dictates that they build what is easiest to build (that is, the cheapest). There is not much altruism in the construction world. We would have many more buildings that would disappoint their users, both in design and construction. There would be many more bland buildings.
Harding dislikes novation. I can see why it is unpopular with builders and architects. The former because they get saddled with a process largely settled without their involvement, and for which they have to take responsibility, and the later because they are denied the chance to achieve the standards they specified. Yet, handled sensitively, both sides can achieve the best features of the two routes.
But which of the two won the argument? Too close to call.
Malcolm Taylor, Lancaster