Colin Harding addresses an open letter to the deputy prime minister, sincerely bestowing warmest felicitations on his latest achievement – and offering a few helpful hints
Congratulations on your recent election as an RIBA honorary fellow. When accepting the award you threatened to speak “controversially” about the “tremendous potential of architecture and designers to create sustainable communities and the ways of working needed” (Building, 7 May, page 10).

But why only controversially, Mr Prescott? If you are to get construction modernisation back on

track – and that’s the only way you will see your sustainable communities built this decade – you need to be outrageously revolutionary. Particularly if architects are to be in charge.

The construction modernisation that you so successfully kick-started in 1997 with Sir John Egan’s Rethinking Construction has stalled because his principal recommendation of total integration of the entire supply chain has been abandoned.

The vested interest parties who want to see construction remain as an adversarial, externally supervised industry fall into in two groups, each with their own agenda.

First, the largest contractors and supervising consultants, PFI operators and the Treasury.

This Treasury group has replaced integration with

its own 3R’s policy of regulate, restrict and rule.

By restricting public sector construction work to a small number of the largest contractors and consultants, they vainly hope they can subcontract to and supervise the whole industry. Government can then shed thousands of jobs from its procurement departments, then dump the 95% of us who do all the work – back into the adversarial morass.

The second group is the “I know what’s best for you” architectural establishment that you have so recently joined. The UK has many brilliant yet practical architects working collaboratively on well-designed, client-friendly projects, running on time and budget. But their profession, encouraged by taxpayer-funded CABE, appears to be dominated by a small number of high-profile primadonnas who want to run the industry to satisfy their own egos by creating extravagant monuments at clients’ expense.

Architecture is dominated by high-profile primadonnas who satisfy their own egos by creating extravagant monuments

Last month, when discussing the disdain of such architects for working within budgets and time limits, Gus Alexander quoted the great Billy Wilder – “Nobody ever went to a movie because they knew it came in under budget.” (Building, 7 May, page 38). Fair point, but I do recall that an awful lot of

world-class film directors were unceremoniously sacked for arrogantly going over budget.

It may be difficult, Mr Prescott, but really that’s what you should be doing to public sector project architects where costs spiral due to recklessly extravagant designs. Celebrity architects’ resistance to relinquishing their independence and monopoly on design is one of the biggest obstacles to construction integration and meaningful progress.

The significant benefits you promised (improved quality, reliability, efficiency, safety and so on) can only be realised from fully integrated teams in a fully integrated industry environment. If we were starting from scratch, we’d never dream of creating our fragmented management structures with so many people who avoid responsibility.

If you want a modern construction industry,

Mr Prescott, capable of creating your sustainable communities and modernising our transport, health and education services in a timely and affordable way, it must be truly integrated.

The government talks about lean and lovey-dovey partnering, but still places adversarial contracts separately for design, construction management and cost control, giving another generation of lawyers the certainty of jobs for life.

Stand up to the old guard supervisors and the Treasury and insist that government construction contracts can only be awarded to fully integrated teams, sized to suit the project and client. To ensure the work is spread efficiently through the industry, reserve smaller projects for smaller integrated teams.