Why is it that the industry continues to erect buildings that aren't fit for their purpose? Perhaps it's time to start trying to get a handle on what your client needs
One of the most encouraging aspects of the construction industry is its capacity to foster debate, consensus and sometimes even argument in the name of reform and good practice. Sadly, one of the most frustrating things about it is its propensity to ignore these constructive comments and repeat the same mistakes.

Happily for me, part of my job is to provoke that debate. Indeed, after a few words to the Chartered Institute of Marketing's construction and engineering group, once again everyone is having a go at me for daring to remind the industry that clients do not always receive good, practical professional advice.

You may think that the record has stuck, but if the great and the good do not provide the right level of support, clients will take drastic measures to get the job done, and ones that do not necessarily demonstrate Egan-driven thinking.

Can I make one thing clear? Even as a lowly civil engineer I do enjoy and understand the need for excellence in design. But, as we are all aware, aesthetics make up only a small part of excellence. Good design is about how a building performs throughout its life, and how it will impinge on the business operations of the occupier and the local community. It is about ease of maintenance and flexibility for ever-changing business needs. And, with reference to Will Alsop's Peckham Library, if a client is made fully aware that it will need an access tower to change a lightbulb, and feels the design justifies the expense, then great.

I would question how many clients fully understand how their facilities will perform, because, as an industry, we don't know. We never learn the lessons from one project to the next and the myth is perpetuated that buildings are prototypes.

My concern is that clients receive buildings that are not just late, but often fail to fulfil the purpose for which they were designed. I have learned of many examples recently, but these don't grab the headlines in the same way as did British Land's failure to meet Abbey National's brief for corporate offices in Euston. More often than not, clients have had to alter their business operations to suit the building. Surely, this is the tail wagging the dog.

All too frequently, aesthetics and "clever" buying take priority over the practicalities of operation and maintenance. I know that consideration for how a building is to be cleaned or maintained is not terribly sexy, but it is essential for those who have to occupy or own the building. Admit it: how many of you have been in a recently finished building only to find the floor is like a skating rink when wet, or the taps are broken, or that it just looks plain shabby, because it has not "worn" well? We know the problems, so why can't we avoid them? Standardisation is not a dirty word; it is a practical solution. Standardisation makes operation and maintenance far easier and more predictable; unique design just makes the exercise very expensive.

One of the most encouraging aspects of our industry is its capacity to foster debate about good practice. Sadly, one of the most frustrating things is its repetition of the same mistakes

The RIBA Journal carried a short quote from Stiell, a facilities management services provider, arguing that facilities managers should be involved at the design stage of a building, as it is their role to make sure the building functions properly. This makes eminent good sense to me, but I would question why this is even being debated, and why clients are not receiving this form of advice as a matter of course.

If we can think beyond the process to what is being delivered, then the construction programme itself might improve. In many ways, we are too close to the process and we cannot see the wood for the trees. If everyone involved stepped back a little, reassessed their roles and even considered measuring how effective integration is between the client, its advisers and the supply chain, then it might be clearer why the end result leaves so much to be desired.

It is a simple message really, and one that even our industry could not disagree with. A lack of appreciation of the client's business needs and operation leads to designs with poor functionality and high maintenance bills. A better understanding of the client's requirements would mean that they receive the right design advice, leading to the construction of a facility that not only meets their needs, but exceeds them.

Client advisers must pay more attention to understanding their employer's business demands in order to provide the right level of consultancy and so deliver buildings fit for their purpose. They can only do this if they deliver a constant level of advice right the way through a project – and that means focusing on after sales service, too.

Clients are not perfect, I think we would all agree. Indeed, they must be able to fully understand and articulate their business needs to their supply chain. In return, they must gain sound advice, not just about a building's construction, but about its performance. My role at the Confederation of Construction Clients is not to blindly champion clients, but to encourage members to work in a way that raises standards and drives best practice. If I am to succeed, I need the rest of the industry to respond constructively and apply the lessons already learned, rather than allow errors to be repeated.