Alinea Consulting’s Iain Parker gives his impression of the British Council for Office’s annual conference in Madrid

Iain Parker

After a fantastic evening dinner at Galeria de Cristal and further valuable fundraising for the Willow foundation, we all awoke to the sound of rain although it soon brightened up in anticipation for today’s first session – Breakfast with the Contactors, featuring a formidable line up of Brookfield Multiplex, Mace and Wates.

Themes here were largely around procurement routes, supply chain management (the industry continues to worry about financial stability of organisations, and rightly so) and the need for greater collaboration across the board to allow a more efficient industry. To answer some of these points, the word “trust” surfaced several times and the need for the London Market to deepen it’s gene pool in terms of choice of trade-contractor and main contractor. The panel also reminded the audience that generally speaking their business models are based upon relationships rather than projects, which means that they will decline opportunities if they see no long term benefit in taking on a project – watch out you one off clients …

The final session of the day – a return to days gone by with Mr Architect having the final word - saw a line up of Rafael de La-Hoz, Simon Allford and Glenn Howells putting themselves in the spotlight under the banner of “Architects: Celebrity Chefs or Good Cooks?”. The session was very well chaired by Paul Finch, chairman of Design Council CABE.

There was acknowledgement that sometimes buildings try hard to get noticed, which is fine, but how far does one go before things get silly. An example being a current client having no interest in his plans, merely the CGI’s of the exterior! Don’t forget Tower 42, the floor plate shape mirroring the Natwest logo, now generally viewed as inefficient. Other architects talk of the need to design the building inside out, or is their a middle ground?

So, upon reflection, are we all leaving Madrid any wiser and do we feel like “A brave new world” is upon us? In only just two days here, it is somewhat evident that the local people are fairly pessimistic about prosperity and the body language is not one to naturally lift spirits, but what’s surprising about that? If the conference had been held in Portugal, Italy, Germany, France or anywhere else in Europe for that matter, would we have experienced a different mood when chatting to the locals? I doubt it. The point being that Europe is going through a fiscal recalibration and whilst I don’t profess to be an expert in either economic policy or politics – I can’t help but feel that the stakes in the latter are frustrating the former.

A brave new world – does it feel new? Well, not since 2007. Do we need to be brave, you bet. I am reminded of the immortal words that fortune favours the brave, so let’s not be scared in taking the opportunities that do exist, even if that does mean making the toughest of decisions, or even starting a new business.

Iain Parker is a founder and partner of Alinea Consulting