The argument clients put to their principal architect probably goes like this: "We like the way you managed to get this brilliant design through planning but we don't trust you to bring the building in on time or on cost. We are worried that you will fill the building with nancy-boy features that nobody needs and nobody knows how to build. We've decided it's better if we give the work to Cheapskate & Prune, who know how to make the numbers stack up."
I understand this attitude in the case of certain buildings: burger outlets and toy store fit–outs or houses dumped on asphalt run-offs that best accommodate the turning circles of dustcarts. But this arrangement has been proposed for the building of the Welsh assembly, was used for an entire university campus and may be used at Heathrow's Terminal 5.
It is patronising to imply that architects with excellent track records don't know how to put buildings together. Architecture may be frozen music or the poetry of construction but, whatever it is, the process of putting a building together is very much part of the architect's equation. And that equation ought to be a solution that integrates the competing demands of structure, materials, services and finish.
It may be that a developer wants to commission a brilliant, but small architectural firm that lacks the resources to churn out all the drawings. In this case, I can understand a client employing an executive architect. After all, Jeremy Dixon and Edward Jones worked with Building Design Partnership on the Royal Opera House. Sir Edwin Lutyens was employed by the Midland Bank, but his firm only produced elevations, banking halls and principal offices.
It is patronising to imply that architects with track records don’t know how to put buildings together
There was no doubt about Lutyens' ability to deliver, but Midland realised that it would rather he designed the important parts of six banks rather than all aspects of two.
Industry practice is different in France, where architects are employed separately for the concept and the putting together. This might explain why French buildings, such as La Défense, can be enjoyed from a distance but look worse the closer you get. In Britain, architects have traditionally finished everything, down to the gully gratings. The National Theatre is not to everyone's taste but it is a marvellously consistent piece of design and a brilliant example of a single creative spirit at work. The Lloyd's building is a gorgeously constructed arts-and-crafts building with almost everything designed to fit. It was finished on time and to budget.
Employing two architects supposes that designing and building are not part of the same process. I cannot see how a firm employed to hack out the design of another can fail to be demoralised, particularly as its fee will be reduced to reflect the menial nature of the chore. And why not lay the blame for problems and disruption at the door of the original designer?
During the planning of the Eden Project, Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners – by then working for the contractor– were asked to redesign the visitor centre in response to a greatly reduced budget. The architect had been working on the project for years and had all the briefing information on hand. They were able to redesign the centre quickly and effectively. No other architect could have achieved this.
Gus Alexander runs his own architectural practice in Clerkenwell, London.