But is an iconic building more prone to failure than any other? Sadly, there is no lack of unprepossessing buildings that go wrong, yet are of no interest to anyone beyond their owners and users. With depressing regularity, fires spread through supermarkets and factories, and new homes suffer from damp and noise penetration. And let's not forget that the most calamitous British building failure since the Second World War happened when the system-built Ronan Point flats collapsed in 1968, killing three people. That was hardly an iconic structure.
No, far-out architecture itself is not itself the problem – provided, of course, that its technical design and detailing is done properly. Poor workmanship and supervision on site, on the other hand, are a cause for concern. And there are other danger signs. One is poor communication between concept architect and executive architect or design-and-build contractor; another is splitting a contract into separate, uncoordinated trade packages; a third is compressing the time devoted to design and construction to the point where mistakes are positively encouraged.
All this means minding the gaps that open up within any project. Of the project manager's holy trinity of cost, time and quality, the third is the one that counts if a building is to remain defect-free. The more a building project is split up and speeded up, the more vital it is to appoint a single firm to co-ordinate the profusion of design inputs and works packages. And that means a reliable architectural practice. If a building doesn't hang together as a project, then it may well fall apart as a finished building. And that's hardly playing safe.
20/20 hindsightIt’s telling, is it not, that right after Dennis Lenard told us that we were stuck in the 1980s, we learned that Hackney’s futuristic Clissold Leisure Centre may be demolished. So, does the Constructing Excellence gadfly have a point? Well, if his aim was, through the sheer power of irritation, to get people talking and thinking about the industry’s use of technology, then he has succeeded magnificently (pages 42-45). If we are to take what he said at face value, then he has some explaining to do. For a start, the acme of 1980s technology was the fax machine, which, if you recall, was to revolutionise construction by making it possible to ping a drawing instantly anywhere in the world. Now the fax is rapidly becoming redundant, and we have computers that can design structures that we would not have been able to imagine, never mind build, in the 1980s. All we need now is to get our hands on the robots to put them up perfectly …
Martin Spring, architectural editor