Atkins this week becomes the latest British firm to reveal it has fallen victim to Chinese fraudsters
Identity fraud is a scam that is all too familiar to anyone who has had their credit card ripped off in far-flung corners of the globe. But the wholesale cloning of companies is an altogether different proposition.
In a profession where intellectual property can hardly be bottled, the creativity and copyright of architects has always been a driver of debate, and this has only increased as emerging economies have begun to produce copycat buildings set against peculiar backdrops that are not as well thought-out or as expensive to build as the original.
The opportunity for legal recourse is limited, laborious and complex, and, critically, the nature of the crime is mind-numbingly difficult to prevent
What’s changed now is that there is a criminal fraternity in the mix, taking the competition facing Western firms to new heights, with the potential to impact directly on trading.
Worryingly, the opportunity for legal recourse is limited, laborious and complex, and, critically, the nature of the crime is mind-numbingly difficult to prevent. It also comes against a backdrop of thousands of architectural students and practices emerging each year from a conveyor-belt education system hellbent on creating grandiose designs and fuelled by the ambition of a powerful governing state.
Atkins says there has been no impact on its business on this occasion, but for companies such as Broadway Malyan, which relies on international clients for half of its work, and firms looking to make a name for themselves in emerging markets, the stakes could not be higher. And with anecdotal evidence of this kind of crime spreading to eastern Europe, it’s surely time to take a quick look over your shoulder - whatever discipline you’re operating in.
Where others have boldly gone before …
You’ve heard the basic principles before. From Latham, Egan, BAA, Constructing Excellence, Alan Crane, Andrew Wolstenholme, angry subbies, highly paid consultants and countless industry lectures the length and breadth of the country. Now it’s the government’s chief construction adviser, Paul Morrell’s turn to attempt to re-educate the masses. Under the cloak of a Whitehall-backed report on moving to a low-carbon economy, the former Davis Langdon boss has stressed once again the importance of collaboration and smarter working practices.
So what’s different? Well, for starters, Morrell’s report does propose to inject specific measures from the sustainability agenda into the spine of public sector procurement and it will be remembered for that. It answers the industry’s complaints about the government’s failure to commit to securing low-carbon work - and sets the tone for all types of public sector procurement as we move into the new year.
And where other industry reports have set out guidelines for best practice, but failed to understand that much of the industry needs to be forced to get on with each other because they fundamentally don’t like each other, it does seem that Morrell’s recommendations have been set with a view to being implemented. Note the recommendation for penalties for failing to force through the Green Deal elsewhere in the report.
But therein lies the problem. If mandatory standards can be mooted for one aspect of the 230-page report, then why can’t we hear the same tough approach to the other recommendations? The fear that this will end up as just another talking shop has not been entirely dispelled. But then, you’ve got to start somewhere, haven’t you?
Tom Broughton, brand director