Each profession in this industry has at least one body to represent it, which just widens the gulfs between us all. What if we set up a collective body instead?
Let me start by saying I am no longer a member of the RIBA, something I would not have expected when I started out as an architect nearly 20 years ago. However, after two decades of experience in designing schemes in the public and private sectors, I have noticed the huge gulfs between the professions we collaborate with on projects. So my question is: what is the agenda behind our professional associations? Are they open to reorganising and redefining our industry to be more holistic, or are they looking after their own individual profession’s interests?
As a sector, many of our challenges today are based around the gaps between our professions and the lack of integration across the planning, designing, constructing and operating process. And these gaps are being reinforced by our old-fashioned industry bodies that are siloed in their approach.
Clearly, professional organisations such as the RIBA or RICS are always going to protect the position of their individual members and are unlikely to actively promote the breaking down of barriers between professions. The same is also apparent in our education system where architects, surveyors and building professionals rarely mix. However, now, as the industry as a whole faces challenges due to the economic crisis, we need to look at changing this and re-uniting the professions, much as they were in Sir Christopher Wren’s day.
If we consider how Wren designed St Paul’s cathedral, there’s quite a lot we can learn from it. While he is considered the most famous English architect, the fact is he was not an architect at all. The term architect did not exist in 1669 when he was commissioned to design St Paul’s. Rather, designing and constructing buildings was something carried out by the aristocracy. At the time, the nearest comparable profession for Wren would be that of a master builder, who took on board the responsibility for the whole process.
From that period on, our industry has divided into a whole range of professions such as architects, quantity surveyors, construction managers, project managers, CDM co-ordinators, and so on.
The huge challenges our fractured industry now faces due to the economic crisis are forcing us into thinking of ways in which we can innovate. We need to embrace this opportunity and make a bold move to improve the products that we provide to our clients.
So I call for a new collective body that takes its lead from Wren; one for all professions in the built environment to collaborate, and embrace new technologies like building information modelling (BIM) that sits at the heart of the master builder ethos.
BIM is now a useable reality and our chance to start a new chapter for architecture and set the foundations right for change. All facets of building design are united in BIM, forcing the industry to look at everything together, without any gaps between designing, building and operating. BIM creates the all seeing architect, who can design the correct building solution the first time round. The architecture and engineering can be merged into one virtual model into which we can pull a range of data, including cost and time.
Our industry needs to think differently. The past decade has seen an unprecedented level of capital spending; however the amount of research, development and innovation through this time has been negligible in comparison with other sectors. We are still constructing buildings as we did 50 years ago.
Sir John Egan and Sir Michael Latham have talked about fragmentation and proposed ideas with regards to partnering some 10 years ago. However, these failed to stand and we pressed on with delivery, as the task-oriented industry we have become.
If we can react to the changes the government wants in our sector with a new body to discuss, debate and move forward, then finally we might see our professions talk more to each other and deliver what the customer wants.
Rob Charlton is chief executive of Space Group