Runacres, former project architect with Geoffrey Reid Associates, was candid about costs. The Gatwick scheme cost £79/ft²; Stansted cost £77/ft². There was more parking, and the plant room suffered from a last-minute redesign. “But the scheme still came in on time,” he adds.
This is not a private meeting between the team on project mishaps. Runacres is baring all to fellow members of the East Anglia and Midlands cluster group. It is his turn to report back on the innovations carried out on Endeavour House at Stansted, otherwise known as demonstration project 101. There may be cynicism across the industry over whether Egan’s ideals are filtering down the chain, but there is no sign of it here.
This cluster group is one of several set up on a regional basis in the wake of the Egan report to provide an arena for debate on the innovations on the 100 or so demonstration projects.
If the heart-on-the-sleeve discussions, up-beat mood and lively debate evident at the Moat House Hotel are an indicator, the cluster group is doing its job. “It is enjoyable and informative,” enthuses Terry Britnell, project manager with Boots, who travelled up from Nottingham. “It reaffirms your confidence that things can be done differently,” adds Penoyre & Prasad architect Sally Mackay.
The assorted demonstration project members mulled over the merits of Egan between cheese sandwiches and cauliflower bhajis before getting down to the main session. “It is a very slow step-by-step approach but there can be no quick-fix answers,” explained one person.
The meeting Building attended focused on two projects that had not been reported to the other members before. Runacres was the first to speak. He explained how modular construction and prefabrication coupled with teamwork cut the project time at Stansted from 38 weeks to 30. Runacres has since given up his job at Geoffrey Reid to become a full-time salaried member of the Movement for Innovation.
The second speaker prompted gasps of surprise when he revealed that, on his project, the contractor and quantity surveyor were put in a room together to work out a guaranteed maximum price. Paul Nash of Citex was discussing project 74, Brixton Estates’ industrial development at Yarnton in Oxfordshire. Nash is under no illusions about his achievements: “It’s an upbeat story but if you can’t innovate with portal frame buildings, you might as well give up and go home.”
After the reports, audience members are bursting to ask questions. “When you are working on repeat business like the office project, what effect does that have on your fees?” asked one team member. Runacres admitted that the architect’s fee was severely reduced but so was the design input on the second scheme.
The cluster group members are the project managers and project architects on the schemes and, as such, very much at the coal-face of construction. “I’m being very selfish and picking things up to take back to the office,” says Ray Gambell, commercial manager of contractor Farrans. Farrans has already started to use some innovations, such as reducing its supply chain.
Having attended nearly all the meetings, architect Sally Mackay sees them as a chance to see how her own company’s experiments compare with larger, more experienced outfits. Mackay is project architect on the Great Notley Country Park Discovery Centre, where Penoyre & Prasad is using a two-stage tender process for the first time.
But how open are the group members about their disasters? Runacres, for one, was happy to divulge a quality issue the project team had with an insitu concrete frame – but then again, the in-built partnering approach meant there was not a claim in sight and the project was still completed in 30 weeks.
The cluster group members are not expecting miracles. At the very least, the sessions are a chance to chat with rival firms about their ideas; at the most, they offer the chance to find out that another firm is doing something previously thought impossible. As Mackay say: “Everything seems to be gently better.”