Even men with hearts of iron have reason to be concerned about whether a sale to Aecom would make financial sense

Two topics are dominating industry conversations right now: the general election and what effect it might have on the market, and what’s going on at Davis Langdon. The rumour mill has been churning out details of the QS’ takeover by Aecom, an American engineer about 18 times its size. The firm itself has maintained radio silence. That’s its prerogative and is not unusual in these circumstances.

What we do know is this: an awful lot of construction folk would be sorry to see it follow Faber Maunsell down the maw of a US-based transnational – or any other big corporation for that matter. It evokes the same blend of affection and nostalgia in the industry as did Cadbury during its sale to Kraft – or what we might feel if some Chinese underwear giant took over Marks & Spencer. But that nostalgia has a rational basis. Davis Langdon is not just a damn good QS, it’s the architect’s friend, it’s an important source of industry research and it sits at the top table of all the major developers. Its phone is the first to ring when anyone wants a flagship building, from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new home at Stratford-upon-Avon to Hampshire council’s groundbreaking headquarters. Its very expertise is a magnet for overseas buyers and it has been widely courted over the years. In other words, it’s a national treasure, and its loss would be a loss indeed.

A hardnosed business person might respond that all this concern is mere emotion (although some may argue that emotion has its place in business); but even those with hearts of iron have reason to be concerned about whether a move would make financial sense. Davis Langdon may be having a tough time – like many businesses at the moment – but why couldn’t it simply retrench until things improve? And if partners are tempted by the cash, surely this is exactly the wrong time to sell. If a merger is driven by the belief that firms must have global reach to grow, then why not create alliances?

If Davis Langdon were to join Aecom, then wouldn’t it lose its independence and its identity, and with it the goodwill that it has accumulated in the 91 years since Horace W Langdon opened up for business in Holborn? Would that be compensated for by the chance to work on a big slice of Crossrail, or to tackle a suite of nuclear power stations? Richard Steer clearly thinks not, and Sir Stuart Lipton and Peter Rogers seem to agree with him.

Davis Langdon is at a crossroads: the decision of those who own the firm – and not just the 100 or so partners in the UK, Europe and the Middle East, but those running its slightly separate businesses around the globe – is a monumental one. If any firm is going to make a decision to sell based on what it judges to be best for the business going forward, rather than the short-term financial gain of the partners, we can be fairly sure it’s Davis Langdon. But like Lipton and Rogers, we might not agree with it.

The triumph of quality design

Want to cheer yourself up? Look no further than our project of the year shortlist and feast your eyes on 16 beautiful buildings. All are vying to be crowned Project of the Year or Public Building of the Year in this year’s Building Awards. Looking at the line up, our judges certainly have a challenge on their hands. The quality of the finalists is also a mark of how important good design has become in the procurement of public buildings. The dark days of lowest-cost-design-and-build that characterised much of the past 15 years must stay behind us – no matter how tight the public purse becomes.

Denise Chevin, editor