Topping out ceremonies may present builders with an irresistible opportunity to throw the architect off the top of the building, but a new code of practice may break down the barriers that prevent builders and designers from working collaboratively
It will be difficult in the coming weeks and months to talk about anything without an initial nod to the results of the EU referendum.
The impact on the construction sector is undeniable – both on the broader political environment which could potentially affect large infrastructure projects and on the already stretched skilled workforce.
While politicians and pundits continue to sift through the ramifications and plot next steps for Britain’s exit, certain issues in our industry need tackling.
I want to return to a fundamental issue within the construction industry: collaboration.
A traditional joke at topping out ceremonies is that it presents builders with an irresistible opportunity to throw the architect off the top of the building.
Ultimately, it’s an issue of culture and there’s no quick fix for that. Things are changing but too slowly
While clearly said in jest, it does expose the tension between builders and designers. We have made some progress in working towards a parity of professionalism but we have a long way to go.
True collaboration between our professions is lacking and the biggest loser is the client. As the former government chief construction adviser Paul Morrell wrote in the Edge Commission booklet, Collaboration for Change: “There is little or no integration between design, product manufacture, construction, operation and asset management; no feedback loop that increases the chances of a completed asset performing as it should.”
Ultimately, it’s an issue of culture and there’s no quick fix for that. Things are changing but too slowly – and we need a change agent.
As reported by Building in February, the former CIOB president Colin Harding has developed a new code of practice that could facilitate more efficient and collaborative working. Harding’s book, Integrated Design and Construction – Single Responsibility, offers some practical solutions to the lack of collaboration, chiefly in the form of a unified code of practice that clients can use to manage the whole process.
It’s a practical toolkit, resolving what Harding calls the construction industry’s “Management Equation from Hell”, in which the principal contractors who sign the contract with the client have no authority over the design, specification or value of their own products, yet bear total responsibility for those products’ final quality and performance.
The innovation here is in the idea of creating a legal entity that takes control of the complete commissioning, design and construction process. This clearly puts delivering value for the client at the centre, as it should be.
Hopefully the new code of practice gains traction. In the meantime, we need to explore other ways to promote a culture of collaboration. The BS 11000 management standard is all about developing strong collaborative relationships with business partners, and we have begun to implement it in the Wates Group.
The innovation here is in the idea of creating a legal entity that takes control of the complete commissioning, design and construction process. This clearly puts delivering value for the client at the centre
In addition, the Construction Industry Council serves to connect the various professional institutions in the built environment and I can envisage it having an enhanced role in facilitating dialogue and proposing new ways of breaking down the barriers between its members.
A candidate for president of one of those member institutions, RIBA, has made closer integration of design and construction a central plank of his platform. Ben Derbyshire, who I have endorsed for the upcoming RIBA presidential election, has argued: “We can only effect the outcomes we seek by collaborating with other professionals, with the constructors, with our clients and with the public.”
Indeed, how can we possibly make further progress with innovations if we do not have a joint vision from the start?
Clients, of course, are already calling for these improvements in collaboration. The biggest client of them all, the government, has set targets for BIM-readiness, to encourage the digital collaboration that BIM offers.
As the CIOB has suggested in last year’s report on professionalism, BIM will “force change” in working practices “through encouraging firms and professionals to work more collaboratively and in a more interdisciplinary and transparent fashion”.
Given the result of the EU referendum, changes of all sorts are going to be forced upon us in the coming months and years.
And as Ben Derbyshire told me, our choice is “modernise or die”. I know which one I’d prefer.
James Wates is chairman of Wates, the CITB and Build UK
This was originally published as ‘Why can’t we be friends?’