In these topsy-turvey times subbies think they’re designers, QSs act like lawyers and architects let builders specify. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if we stuck to our job descriptions in 2007?
Had enough Christmas quizzes? What about a new year’s resolution instead? How about 2007 becoming the year when architects do the drawings, engineers do the engineering, contractors do as they’re told, quantity surveyors do the bean counting, and customers do the paying?
The new year’s resolution for you architects is: “This year I will insist that appointments require me to do all the drawings, detailing, specifying and inspecting”.
There’s more. “This year, the structural engineer on his professional services contract will do all the drawings and detailing and, damn it, even the engineering calculations and the specification of the steelwork”. And there’s more. “This year the mechanical engineering consultant will do all the drawings and detailing and, damn it, even the air-con calculations and duct sizes.” And there’s more yet. “This year contractors will do as they are told in all those drawings and details and specifications, and the architect will damn well check to see it does.”
“Bingham,” said one of my pals, “you must be joking. The job of the architect is to transfer the work and the risk to the next bloke. In any case, architects have forgotten how to do all the drawings and details and specifying.” So, too, engineers. But the fee for architects is too low to get them weaving on all that detailing malarkey. Hmm, well that's why 2007 is the year that customers have to do the paying.
How about 2007 being the year contractors become builders and do as they are told? The new year resolution for you contractors is to receive all the drawings and details and specifications from the 2007 architect and then gawp. At the end of the gawping period you decide two things at least: “Can I build what is on the drawings, in the details, on the specification? And if so, for how much?”
‘The job of the architect is to transfer the work and the risk to the next bloke. In any case, they’ve forgotten how to do all the drawings’
The 2007 promise is a simple proposition: the architect and engineer say what is to be built and a builder says it can build it and for how much. No promise is made by the builder to fill the gaps in the design, detail and specification jigsaw. The jigsaw, which arrives for pricing by the builder, has no bits missing. Bridges are designed by engineers and builders promise they can build them. Two separate games.
If the design and detail, or even the choosing of materials or products or systems, is passed from the architect to the contractor, it creates a hostage to fortune. “Design development” by the contractor is a mistake for the customer. Truth is, the contractor doesn’t actually fill the gaps at all. It invariably contracts out the gap-filling to the subcontractors. They too are invited to make a 2007 resolution: “I promise not to pretend I am qualified to draw, design, detail and choose materials. I promise not to promise the end result will be fit for a particular purpose – mainly because I don’t know what that means. I will instead repeat every day ‘I am a putter-upperer (a very good putter-upperer), and that’s all’.”
And what of the QSs? How about 2007 being the year for being a QS again, instead of being a lawyer? Do you remember when a QS also received all the drawings and details and specification from the architect? And do you remember, well before inviting prices from real builders, the QS got the “dim” (dimension) paper out of the cupboard? And then you QSs did the “taking-off” and the dotting-on and the working up? Do you remember poring over the standard method of measurement? And real QSs even used duodecimals! But when the architects passed the parcel the QS had nothing more to do. So they started poring over contract documents. They had suits made with pockets big enough to take a JCT63 then 80 then 98 then a 2005. The QS stopped counting. The QS has become a lawyer.
Now I have it. Everyone has been playing musical chairs.
When the music stops the subby was sitting in the chair marked “designer”. The architect was sat in the chair saying “I want no risk”. The engineer blokes were sat on the chair that says, “Let the contractor design the M&E work”, the QS is sat on the chair marked “lawyer”. And guess whose playing the music? Guess who’s running the quiz? I am not going to say … I’m rummaging in my CD case and trying to think of a 2007 new year resolution for myself.
Tony Bingham is a barrister and arbitrator