HOK Sport’s Olympic Stadium Vol-au-vent is merely the hors d’oeuvre. We’re about to tuck in to a rich feast of design excellence at reasonable cost. It’s a victory for common sense

Full marks to the Olympic Development Authority for standing up so successfully to the “throw money at it” school of “good” design over the Olympic stadium. By winning the battle of the Vol-au-vent, the ODA has brought some much needed practicality to the 2012 Olympic construction management and procurement process. Only the aquatics centre remains design-led but most likely it will be design and build by the time the sole remaining bidder, Balfour Beatty, accepts the contract.

When I was secretary of my university’s film society in the early sixties, I remember promoting the French New Wave of Francois Truffaut & Co. The excuse for raving over their somewhat impenetrable, low budget, yet beautifully scripted and photographed masterpieces, was that they were all about form rather than content. The argument from what is now a minority of high-profile architects still promoting complete design freedom from cost restraint, is similarly one of style rather than budget.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with throwing money at style when you’re working for bankers or billionaires. They are knowingly buying the notoriety and publicity that such wow-factor edifices bring with them. But it’s different when those architects try to impose their extravagant design ideas onto normal clients in the public and private sectors – clients that have no choice but to keep within sensible budgets.

This is precisely what they have been doing. Construction Research and Innovation Strategy Panel (CRISP) published in 2005 a well researched report, Value Of Design, explaining the long-term advantages to clients of investing in good all-round design.

Unfortunately, the message of the report has been distorted by the “design-led” lobby which is bent on having us believe that you can only get “good” design if you pay through the nose for it. This obsession with promoting extravagant style has been one of the factors that pushed up construction costs at double the rate of inflation for the past 10 years. Another factor is the increasing cost and unnecessary waste created by the adversarialism that is a direct result of the fragmentation caused by the design-led process.

With the Olympic stadium in particular the ODA has set an historic marker by sticking with the brilliant design and fixed cost of the Vol-au-vent produced by the integrated team of Sir Robert McAlpine, HOK Sport and Buro Happold. The project demonstrates that with design and construct forms, we can deliver design excellence for a guaranteed cost.

Alison Nimmo, the ODA’s design director, was recently quoted in Building as saying “an iconic design such as Norman Foster’s arch at Wembley would not have fitted with the ethos of the stadium. Do you invest in so-called big names in architecture or do you ensure legacy by taking a more fundamental approach”.

Architects working for billionaires shouldn’t try to impose their extravagant design ideas onto normal clients in the public and private sectors – clients that have to keep within sensible budgets

The Greeks, looking at their three-year-old, already derelict, stadium in Athens, must wish that they had applied such a common sense approach.

The ODA’s stance has set the precedent that the majority of Real Construction advocates have been waiting for since the publication of Rethinking Construction in 1998: a public sector-funded organisation insisting on fully integrated design-and-build construction.

On the back of that precedent, Real Construction must insist that the government changes its procurement methods to single responsibility design and construct forms for all public sector construction work. That will be sufficient to pull the unconverted part of the private sector into full design and construct mode.

Competition for prestige projects on special sites can still be held, but they must be from design-and-construct integrated teams. The results will be judged not just on style, but the in-depth quality of the full design, and most importantly on the maximum fixed price of the overall bid.

It’s the only way we are going to seriously restructure construction into a modern, self-reliant 21st century industry, offering the best in design for guaranteed prices. Clients can then choose content rather than form and budget rather than style.

The ODA now has to face the bigger problem of mega political interference, but that will wait until next year.