It was a different year for different people. For many it was a lengthy punch-up. For others a sleigh ride through a forest pursued by wolves. For one or two, it was a chance to emulate Napoleon at Austerlitz. So, use the next 10 pages to jog your memory, after which we’ll be asking questions …

2004 revisited
2004 revisited

Personalities of the Year 2004

Ken Shuttleworth

Architect Shuttleworth wins top place for surviving Norman Foster’s attempts to delete him from the nation’s consciousness. Relations between the two were sundered forever when Foster’s former right-hand man set up his own practice, Make, and ousted Foster from the Elephant & Castle regeneration. After denying Shuttleworth any credit for the Swiss Re tower, Foster Photoshopped him five metres to the left in a group photo. Unfortunately for Foster, the dodge backfired when the injustice was picked up on the BBC’s Have I Got News For You.

Denise Kingsmill

Kingsmill was an unlikely entrant to the construction industry this summer when Ray O’Rourke appointed her to head an advisory board to his ever-expanding empire. Kingsmill, who is a former deputy chair of the Competition Commission, says she can help Laing O’Rouke to reach a £5bn-plus turnover. With a track record of success in trade union law, employment rights and salmon-wrestling, few would bet against her.

Will Alsop

It hasn’t been a great year for architecture’s answer to Ken Russell, but it has certainly been headline-grabbing. Things began badly when construction on the architect’s Victoria House project was delayed, prompting accusations that the scheme was overly complicated. Later his designs for Liverpool’s Fourth Grace project were thrown out for being too costly. Allies and Morrison’s Graham Morrison then denounced the doomed project as “a blob dressed up as art”, which led to a row between the two designers. Alsop’s year finally ground to a halt with his practice losing two directors and being bailed out of receivership.

Tony Pidgely

A few eyebrows were raised in July when Berkeley Homes’ Tony Pidgely announced plans to scale back housebuilding in favour of urban regeneration. But placing a huge firm in a niche market appears to be paying off: Berkeley took three titles at Building’s inaugural Regeneration Awards, and Pidgely took Regeneration Personality of the Year.

Alan Ritchie

Elected as the head of UCATT in September by a two-to-one majority, Ritchie has established himself as a fiery leader. His first act of office was to pledge a crackdown on the exploitation of migrant workers with a campaign to ensure fair wages and training. Ritchie is no stranger to these issues – in April, when he was UCATT regional secretary for Scotland, he launched a high-profile attack on the treatment of immigrant workers on the Scottish parliament project.

The cover story


  • 9 January: Building kicks off 2004 with the industry’s hopes for the year. Dermot Gleeson tells us his resolution is “to stop calling my PR by my wife’s name, and vice versa”.
  • 16 January: Do construction executives eat and drink too much? We conclude that they do. Get yourself down the gym, fatty!
  • In the news: The All England Lawn Tennis Club lodges a planning application to put a retractable roof over centre court, thus ending Cliff Richard’s impromptu concerts.


  • 6 February: This cover indicates that we reckon that Jarvis has got itself in a spot of bother. Nothing gets past this mighty tome.
  • 13 February: Smiling Simon says he’s going to win the London mayoral election. Sorry mate, you’re a Lib Dem and will therefore finish third.
  • In the news: Ken Livingstone unveils his London Plan, which seeks to create homes and jobs for 800,000 people; John Smith sparks a police investigation when he claims in his column that he has illicitly obtained a CSCS cards.


  • 12 March: Is the dream over? Is the Peabody Trust winding down its developments? Director Dickon Robinson says: “No way, José.”
  • 19 March: Building dons bulletproof vest, hops into an RAF Hercules and goes on site in Basra. Early warning signs of kidnappings and bomb attacks on British and Iraqi contractors are discovered.
  • In the news: The Barker Report into the undersupply of the housing market is released, including proposals to introduce a land tax; executives at the UK arm of architect HLM Design International organise a management buy out.


  • 2 April: Keith Clarke starts off his interview with the unpromising greeting: “I’m really dull; I’m a really dull person.”
  • 23 April: Ni hao! Building checks out China: Beijing’s populous is so excited about the £20bn of preparation for the 2008 Olympics that even the pandas are randy.
  • In the news: Plans for the Paddington PFI Healthcare Campus are scaled back 15% to reduce the cost to a manageable £800m, but the project doesn’t even reach the market by the end of the year; the Department of Health halves the number of large hospital schemes it intends to take to market over the following year to half-a-dozen.


  • 7 May: Shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin hints that the Tories will set up a ministry for procurement if the they get back in power. Sounds like a vote winner.
  • 28 May: Our guide to Euro 2004 includes vital information such as the Portuguese for “gutted”, which chateado.
  • In the news: Balfour Beatty adds £227m to its war chest with the sale of US subsidiary Andover Controls to French power group Schneider; Hertfordshire contractor Fitzpatrick is snapped up by Dutch group VolkerWessels.


  • 18 June: We just lurrrve our heels over here at Building. As they do at The Economist, which used the same cover image that week.
  • 25 June: Everyone doubted him, but Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava delivers the Athens Olympics with 50 days to spare. Shame there was no roof over the swimming pool, though.
  • In the news: Contractor Montpellier issues a £20.7m interim and gets threatened by animal rights protesters over its Oxford University laboratory project; Richard Simmons joins Cabe as chief executive, Sir Stuart Lipton leaves it as chairman.


  • 9 July: Foster, Rogers, Grimshaw, Farrell, Hopkins - you boys are getting old! So who are the heirs to their thrones? Succession plans are exposed.
  • 30 July: Talking of Laing O’Rourke, former Building editor Adrian Barrick finally gets an interview with Ray after chasing him for three years.
  • In the news: Jack Pringle is named the next RIBA president; chancellor Gordon Brown’s Comprehensive Spending Review adds an additional £1bn for housing over the next three years.

  • August
  • 13 August: Construction marketing expert John Cowell admits his younger brother has no dress sense.
  • 27 August: Chris Eubank wants to tell everyone about his plans to save Brighton’s historic West Pier, but he gets in a mood and blows us out. Building decides not to argue.
  • In the news: A study by Arup shows that global warming could lead to temperatures inside a 1960s office block hitting 39°C by 2080; the RICS warns that construction growth is set to halve in 2005 because of a sharp drop in key public sector markets.

  • 10 September: A 14-year-old Osama and his family pose in their 1970s gear for a holiday snap.
  • 17 September: Finally, Lord Fraser delivers his verdict on Holyrood: it went wrong.
  • In the news: Alan Ritchie elected general secretary of UCATT by a two-to-one majority; Multiplex hires ex-Sun editor David Yelland to improve its media image in the UK.


  • 15 October: A Scottish political drama group performs a play on the PFI - Hamlet it ain’t.
  • 29 October: Those crazy, crazy quantity surveyors are partying all over the world. Even Wales.
  • In the news: It emerges that the HSE is to stage mock corporate manslaughter trials in 2005; prime minister Tony Blair calls on the housebuilding industry to embrace reform.


  • 5 November: Building visits Libya and finds lots of pictures of Colonel Gadaffi.
  • 12 November: Contractors are getting angry! Rah! Framework deals are naff!
  • In the news: Students will be offered the chance to take a GCSE in construction and the built environment from September 2005; directors start leaving Alsop Architects after the practice is forced into receivership.


  • 3 December: And you thought the Scottish parliament was a debacle? £360m over budget and five years late, we finally get to peek inside the EU’s headquarters in Brussels, the Berlaymont building
  • 10 December: Paul Drechsler used to work for ICI in Brazil; now he works in Leatherhead.
  • In the news: Bovis Lend Lease boss Adrian Chamberlain dismisses rumours that the Australian parent group is looking to sell off the UK construction firm as “a load of bollocks”; the RIBA, the RICS and the CIC call for construction to be consolidated in one government department.

Buildings of the year

Two iconic erections, two important trends and one chilling thought

Scottish parliament opens at last

After six years of delays, spiralling costs and the untimely death of both architect (Enric Miralles) and patron (first minister Donald Dewar), it was eventually enacted and duly received royal assent in September. So was the Scottish parliament worth the waiting, the scandal and the elevenfold cost increase? Well, it’s unquestionably an architectural masterpiece, as befits Scotland’s prime building. But this applies only to the main internal spaces – the grand debating chamber beneath its acrobatic display of timber trusses and the MSP’s lobby beneath swirling skylights like upturned glass boats. Elsewhere it’s a muddled building – in external views, internal circulation, and – oh yes – in its procurement. This can’t help but reflect on the Scottish parliament as client, and on executive architect RMJM, quantity surveyor Davis Langdon and construction manager Bovis Lend Lease.

Gherkin takes office design to dizzy heights

Is it a gherkin? Is it a cigar? Is it a rocket? Or is something a bit more earthy? Aided by the general fascination with its ambivalent symbolism, London’s latest skyscraper carried off this year’s Stirling Prize for architecture. And well it might: as designed by Foster and Partners, the Swiss Re building is curvilinear office tower that is instantly recognisable from a distance. At its midriff, it bulges outwards to fit in more lettable space on a tight City site. And on the inside, it is neatly parcelled into manageable rectilinear spaces by six triangular lightwells that spiral up around the perimeter. Not least, openable windows make it a green, low-energy building. It was built by Skanska, with Arup as structural engineer, Hilson Moran Partnership as services engineer and Gardiner & Theobald as cost consultant.

Clever clogs go back to schools

Dangling some £2.2bn in cash incentives, the government has this year exhorted schools to throw aside their shabby hand-me-down uniforms and dress in style. Top of the class is Kingsdale secondary school in south London, which kept its strait-laced 1950s exterior but jazzed up the interior to the delight of its pupils. Fledgling architect de Rijke Marsh Morgan and contractor Galliford Try have brought its large open-air courtyard in from the cold by adding a geodesic timber auditorium, upper-level walkways and, to top it all, an innovative ETFE fabric roof that automatically grows darker or lighter to control solar gain. Earlier in the year, 11 of Britain’s brightest architects were commissioned to dream up hypothetical “exemplar schools”, but these have not led to the real commissions that were anticipated.

Polish prefabrication

Or, to use the politically correct jargon, modern methods of construction. This is seen by deputy prime minister John Prescott as the cure for Britain’s chronic housing shortage, as it offers speed, efficiency and high-quality – albeit at a price. Now Hyde Housing Association has stepped in, with Polish module prefabricator BUMA Group and London-based PCKO Architects, to build eight key-worker flats in south London in just four months. More significantly, efficient Polish tradesmen working at one-sixth of UK rates brought down all-in construction costs to just £1260/m2, well within the Housing Corporation’s budget. Meanwhile, Britain’s modular pioneer, Peabody Trust, has moved on to prefabricating bedsits aimed at short-term key-worker occupiers.

Lest we forget …

If our spirits are still on a high over the year’s iconic architecture, we mustn’t forget that building design can be a matter of life and death for those who use them. Four people died at Terminal 2E at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris in May when a walkway collapsed. However, Paul Andreu, the celebrated chief architect of Aéroports de Paris, was exonerated by a French government report, which put the blame on steel struts that penetrated and weakened the precast concrete shell. In Britain, iconic buildings have had their headline-catching but far-from-lethal defects, including peeling paint at Grimshaw’s Bath Spa. No, the real danger posed by buildings – any buildings – is during their construction. More than 70 lives in were lost on Britain’s building sites in the past year.

Top spats

Three projects that went badly wrong

Goodbye, 2004
Goodbye, 2004

The battle of the brand - McAlpine vs McAlpine

What was all the fuss about?

Two of the construction industry’s heavyweights slugged it out in court after publicly owned Alfred McAlpine changed its trading name to “McAlpine”. Family firm Sir Robert McAlpine, a very distant cousin of Alfred, issued an injunction to stop the rebranding.

Who got their handbags out, and when?

The start of the legal battle between the two contestants started in January and went to the High Court in March. In January, one family member told Building that Alfred McAlpine was “trying to cash in on the McAlpine reputation and brand”.

In court, Malcolm McAlpine, a grandson of Sir Robert, claimed the rebranding would tarnish Sir Robert McAlpine’s reputation. Alfred was also accused of having a “poor payment record”. Alfred argued that the two companies were so well established that nobody would confuse them. Council for Sir Robert said the firm would be dubbed “the company formerly known as Alfred McAlpine”.

Mr Justice Mann said …

Alfred McAlpine must not use the name without the “Alfred” prefix.

The flagship that leaked - Hackney Council vs the design and construction team for the Clissold Centre

What was all the fuss about?

The Clissold was Hackney’s big idea for regenerating the borough. The plan back in 1995 was to replace two crumbling pools with a state of the art, landmark development containing a swimming pool, squash courts and a sports hall. The price was to be £7m. By the time it was completed in 2002, the cost of the scheme had risen to £31m. This was not the final cost, as a leaking roof meant the pool had to be closed a year after it opened, and another £5.1m worth of work had to be done. Clissold is to have another go at opening in 2006.

Who got their handbags out, and when?

Hackney council sued the project architect, Hodder Associates, and QS Davis Langdon for negligence and breach of contract in connection with spiralling costs. The claim was settled out of court, without any admission of liability, for an undisclosed fee. The second closure was forced by 39 further defects, including water damage to the floor of the sports hall and cracked walls in the squash courts. It later sued consulting engineer Whitbybird, the architect and contractor Gleeson.

The council said …

“We have two broad types of complaint about the Clissold project. The first is that the centre was completed late and cost too much. The second is that there are defects in the centre. The claims against Whitbybird relate to inadequacies in design and inspection. The claims concern mechanical and structural engineering defects.”

Mark Whitby said …

“It’s pathetic to think the building has been closed for so long and so much money has been wasted.”

A bath of tears - Mowlem Vs Grimshaw Vs Bath Council

What was all the fuss about?

When Bath and North East Somerset council set about the restoration of hot spring bathing in the city it could have no idea of the saga it would set in place. The scheme was intended to capitalise on the city’s mineral springs by developing a network of pools. The council had planned to open the scheme in the autumn 2002. However, a dispute over peeling paint on the spa walls delayed opening. Meanwhile, costs doubled to £30m.

Who got their handbags out, and when?

In August last year, when the scheme was already nine months late, peeling paint was discovered on the pool walls. Mowlem blamed a lack of detailed specification by Grimshaw; Grimshaw begged to differ. The dispute rumbled on, enlivened by occasional court appearances, until construction minister Nigel Griffiths stepped in to mediate between the client, architect and contractor, which made everything worse. Then the council commissioned a report into the paint that appeared to hold Mowlem responsible.

What Mowlem said …

“Mowlem has long believed the substitute paint chosen by the council to achieve a cost saving, and specified by the architect, was doomed from the start …” It continued: “The paint was bound to fail across the whole site, and would fail again if reapplied. This was not Mowlem’s responsibility.”

Grimshaw declined to comment.

It’s the law

I beg to remind m’learned friends …

It's the law
It's the law

  • Court of Appeal Co-operative Wholesale Society vs International Computers Ltd

In January the Technology and Construction Court suffered a blow when the Court of Appeal dramatically overturned judge Seymour’s decision and ordered a retrial. What was particularly shocking about the episode was the Court of Appeal’s language. It said: “The judge has erred so fundamentally in his approach to this trial as to have lost, or at least given the appearance of losing, his ability to try CWS’ claim with an objective mind.” Critics of the TCC seized upon these harsh words, attacking its judges for being inconsistent, unpredictable and unfair. Some construction lawyers went so far as to mutter that they would avoid the court in future because of the conduct of some of its judges.

All of which has led to calls for changes to the workings of the court, which may be answered by Mr Justice Jackson, who took over as presiding judge this September. He has stated that he wished to “harmonise” TCC case management among its 80 or so judges. So could 2005 surprise us all and be the year harmony rather than controversy reigns over the court?

  • Halsey vs Milton Keynes

Another Court of Appeal judgment, this time in May, sparked off a debate over when parties can bypass mediation and go straight to court. Usually, if you do that, you risk getting walloped with both sides’ costs, even if you win the case. In this judgment, Mr Justice Dyson gave six reasons for dodging mediation, ranging from pig-headed parties to cases where big questions of law are at stake. Everyone involved with dispute resolution gave a sigh of relief. There may even have been a round of applause …

  • The Disability Discrimination Act

On 1 October the DDA came into full force, requiring that any business or service building used by the public must be fully accessible to people with disabilities. The courts may award damages, including injury to feelings, and may make declarations as to the parties’ rights. So far the courts’ power has not been tested, but it’s clearly going to be expensive for any firm that waits until the courts requires its premise be altered. One thing is pretty certain, the lawyers will be quick to pounce on the first legal wrangle that arises under the act.

  • John Doyle vs John Laing Management

This was a disruption claims case, this time in the Scottish Court of Appeal. Doyle was the contractor, and it brought an all in one “global claim” to get the client to pay more than the tender price. The court gave some much needed advice on this controversial tactic, saying that such claims may succeed, but only in special circumstances. The court’s message was clear: causal evidence of disruption is the key to winning a global claim.

  • AWG vs Rockingham

Here’s another case of an adjudicator’s decision being overturned by the courts. This one dealt with the general confusion over the scope of adjudication and the problem of one party “ambushing” the other with new material. Judge Toulmin tried to clarify the situation when he ruled that Rockingham had overstepped the mark by changing its case at a late stage. However, for many commentators it simply reinforced the point that the 28 days is not enough for adjudicators to deal with such complex disputes.

The business year

The way the money goes

  • Housing. It was impossible to avoid talk of movement in the housing market this year. Not a week went by without a report predicting an imminent collapse, soft landing or surge in house prices. The picture became somewhat clearer as the year progressed, with housebuilders moving from describing the market, euphemistically, as “more sustainable” to admitting by late summer that prices had “eased”. The year ended with a gloomy prediction of a 2% drop in 2005 by Halifax. Analysts downgraded their expectation for housebuilders’ market values.
  • Laing O’Rourke. Ray O’Rourke continued to dominate the contracting world. The firm posted impressive results in July, with pre-tax profit up 122% to £70m on £1.6bn turnover. It also continued its acquisition drive, buying M&E contractor Crown House for £17m in June. O’Rourke also made some intriguing appointments, such as the formidable Denise Kingsmill, the former deputy chair of the Competition Commission, and Roy Adams, the former chief executive of Building Design Partnership.
  • Aukett. The UK’s only listed architect enjoyed a dramatic 2004 after two successive loss-making years in 2002 and 2003. The story started in April when Spanish shareholder Jose Luis Ripoll launched a successful putsch before installing himself as chairman and chief executive. The year then ended on a triumphant note as Aukett revealed it was in talks to takeover UK rival Fitzroy Robinson.
  • Lend Lease. Bovis Lend Lease endured some rather strange days in 2004. Business was blooming and profit was pouring in, but this was overshadowed by uncertainty over its future with parent Lend Lease. The speculation became intense in the summer, when Lend Lease announced its intention to merge with Australian developer General Property Trust. The deal collapsed in November, but the talk over a break up at Lend Lease continued. Lend Lease’s European boss Adrian Chamberlain gave the gossips short shrift. “It’s all a load of bollocks,” he said.
  • Capita. Outsourcing firm Capita emerged as the most ambitious outfit in the consultancy marketplace in 2004. It snapped up well-regarded project manager and QS Symonds for £29.9m in February, thereby earning Symonds chairman and major shareholder Chris Booy a cool £10m. It then swooped on architect Percy Thomas, the firm that designed the Welsh Millennium Centre, and which later went into administration.

Did we have news for you

The biggest stories of the year

  • Convention dictates that you can’t build a £757m stadium without proceedings turning into soap opera. And so it has proved at Wembley this year. Even the teak-hard Aussies at Multiplex have been taken by surprise by the bitterness of their break up with steel contractor Cleveland Bridge. In early July Cleveland Bridge was given 28 days to leave the site and was swiftly replaced by Dutch firm Hollandia. Writs duly followed.
  • Paddington hospital is still to go to the market after another year of delays and confusion. Its £360m price tag has shot up to £1bn since 2001, but in May was scaled back 15% to a mere £800m. Then, after difficulties in getting planning permission for the St Mary’s site, a plan was hatched to do a deal with developer Chelsfield and build on land earmarked for Richard Rogers’ Grand Union building. But Westminster council has since rubbished a Terry Farrell masterplan for the site, so situation normal …
  • After five years of glowing reviews, Cabe has suddenly hit a rocky patch. Much-lauded chief executive Jon Rouse transferred to the Housing Corporation, and chairman Sir Stuart Lipton resigned over claims of a conflict of interest.
  • Lord Fraser released his report into the Scottish parliament in September. Bovis got marked down for its overtight programme, Davis Langdon got castigated for the spiralling cost of the foyer roof, and architects Enric Miralles and RMJM were rapped for not working well enough together. An inquiry was held recently into what could have been the main problem – inexperienced civil servants as project managers. It let them off.
  • The directors of Montpellier received a nasty surprise in July when animal rights protesters threatened to circulate a false letter accusing them of sex offences in their local area. Montpellier promptly abandoned a £18m biomedical research lab in Oxford.