Blair stressed that he wanted to improve the quality and design of public buildings through the Rethinking Construction principles of integrating the construction process.
Until then, support from the prime minister for the architects’ campaign for design supremacy was seen as their trump card to keep them safely above any involvement in Rethinking Construction. Surely such an architect-friendly leader would defend the profession’s divine right to design independence and save them from the ignominy of having to partner with philistine builders and subcontractors.
Having successfully sidelined another group of privileged people in the House of Lords reforms, the PM was clearly in no mood to prop up the centuries-old tradition of design dictatorship. The clear official message is that architects must modernise like everyone else and be part of New Construction. They must earn their place within the integrated construction team by providing a lean, defect-free, quality design service at the right time and within the client’s budget.
The architects conceded defeat at last month’s Movement for Innovation conference when it was made known that the RIBA now fully supports the Rethinking Construction reforms.
But stop. It is churlish of me to portray this change as a defeat. It is a triumph of common sense, business acumen and statesmanship. Outside New Construction, architects would have struggled to make a living. As equal partners in the Rethinking Construction movement, they can help shape the industry to ensure that the design principles they so passionately defended become part of the integrated process, and much more.
Only when we have real integration can we think about attacking the targets of increasing standardisation (production of components) and developing lean construction (product development and project implementation).
The PM was in no mood to prop up the tradition of design dictatorship. The official message is that architects must modernise
In the mean time, we should all be using more standardised products or prefabricated systems. It is much more efficient to design with standard, well-proven products rather than, say, to reinvent the window on every job.
Lean construction is delivered by avoiding materials, systems and people who do not add value to the finished product. The philosophy demands that each management task is carried out only once, right first time, whether it be the measurement of materials, costing, specification, design or construction.
Much of it will happen without tears as part of the integration or partnering process, where everyone is brought in earlier in the construction cycle and is responsible for their own supervision – avoiding the duplication caused by the secrecy of the competitive process.
We are not necessarily putting jobs on the line, just realigning and making them more effective. Site managers are not going to disappear because we want to standardise components. Nor will architects when they have to integrate and partner. We are talking about changing roles, not abolishing them.
At the Movement for Innovation conference, it was left to chairman Alan Crane in his conclusion to speak up on behalf of construction’s silent majority of small and medium-sized firms. The major firms – contractors, consultants and specialists – and to some extent the government would love it if we just stood back and let them take over the new style industry. They can see the potential. SMEs have to muscle in and join the new Movement for Innovation supporters club at any one of three levels and then enter demonstration projects in the next round.
So, whether your firm is large, medium or small, whether you are a client, consultant, constructor or specialist, you are not excluded. If you want to be part of New Construction and help to integrate the industry through the Rethinking Construction principles, join the Movement for Innovation and go out and partner.