Clearly, this dilemma could be resolved by the involvement of the people who will be responsible for running the building once it is occupied. However, research by the Construction Research and Innovation Strategy Panel has found that nobody questioned – clients or designers – included facilities managers in the brief-making process.
This is a serious omission and represents a huge gap in the design process. Facilities managers are the people best-placed to know what is required from a facility. As a consequence, briefs tend to revolve around standard technical data rather than rethinking the design problem. The British Council for Offices is one of very few to have shaken themselves out of this and rewritten its guidelines in Best Practice in the Specification for Offices.
This is the third document in a series of guides on office procurement and construction. Building on initial work by Stanhope's office research, the BCO guides have challenged the technical overspecification of structural, environmental and ancillary accommodation for offices. Consequently the document provides guidance for offices to be accurately specified for particular uses across a wide spectrum.
The most efficient buildings meet tenants' requirements over the length of their lease. However, usual practice is to look at costs as initial rather than long-term and therein lies the problem. An architect's education and training is about problem solving. What they do not have the opportunity to do at university is post-analyse their design solutions. This is not just specific to architects; it is something the building industry in general is extremely bad at.
But the industry needs to carry out post-occupancy analysis because, as we become more urbane, and serial clients are more commonplace, the design problem is repetitive. As living patterns become more predictable, the solution becomes more like a product than a one-off bespoke or tailored answer.
As living patterns become more predictable, the solution becomes more like a product than a one-off bespoke
Most buildings are still bespoke and usually only hybrids at best. In the automotive industry everything is standard, with customised solutions but using standard components. The big difference is production methods are designed by the supplier not the client and a range of solutions is identified using the best known parameters of components that can be economically manufactured. Buildings created as a craft and as one-off solutions will always prove more expensive.
I much admire David Richmond's Canon HQ building in Reigate, Surrey, as it dares to be revolutionary and use standard component parts. It relies heavily on these, but the atriums and external, landscaped spaces provide very special areas indeed.
Only a very small percentage of the built environment is represented in the architectural press and it is the "grey matter" in between that needs to be analysed more thoroughly in urban design and mixed-used terms. Current central government strategy is to encourage mixed development and integration of transport facilities to achieve sustainable development.
In continental Europe architects, while studying and in practice, have considerable knowledge of urban design principles. This skill has sadly not been normal practice in the UK and urban strategies have often not used the massing and 3D skills of architects. Now is the time for building design and massing to be integrated into a sustainable, efficient and economic urban fabric.
Architects and consultant teams need to remember they are service providers. Similarly, clients need to be responsible for the specification of the building in terms of sustainability and aware
Paul Warner is research and development director at architect Geoffrey Reid Associates.