There are important lessons to be learned from how the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank and the Millennium Dome challenged traditional construction methods.
During my 25 years in the construction industry, I have been involved with two projects that I believe were truly unique – Foster and Partners’ One Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong — otherwise known as the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank — and Richard Rogers Partnership’s Millennium Dome in Greenwich. Both challenged the traditional way in which the construction industry goes about its business.

Working as a surveyor for the construction manager on the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank, completed in 1986, I found a group of architects who were prepared to write performance specifications to suit their needs and aspirations rather than churning out standard lists of materials. Their aim was to harness the expertise of specialist designers in industry to produce high-quality systems and components for incorporation into a hi-tec building.

The team realised that quality control in factories was much better than that on building sites and, as a result, factory-assembled systems and products were delivered to site. The designers and manufacturers had already subjected these materials and systems to extensive prototyping, testing and engineering in intensive design development sessions.

This approach was made possible by a visionary client and a team of designers that challenged others to provide contract documentation, procurement methods and financial control systems to suit the methods being adopted for post-contract design development. Of course, some were reluctant to embrace such ideas, but the designers got their way and today the building’s uniqueness is acknowledged.

The construction team was forced to wake up to the fact that manufacturing uses different methods of control. To harness that expertise, we have had to learn the lessons of such projects and apply them to today’s buildings, where linking with industry is far more commonplace.

The Millennium Dome faced many similar problems in that the team was presented with the task of producing a large-scale, complex project with a completion date to end all completion dates. Finishing it on time was a great tribute to what our industry can achieve.

The dome was made possible by the breaking down of contractual barriers and confrontational attitudes between participants

The design, procurement and construction of the dome were made possible by the breaking down of contractual barriers and confrontational attitudes between participants. Many things can be learned from the dome experience and used in mainstream construction.

Richard Rogers Partnership was actively involved in the process of packaging, procurement and the placing of contracts, instead of leaving them to the construction manager. The designers were committed to providing the construction manager with information as and when required, to allow sufficient time for tenders to be implemented and trade contractors appointed.

In return, the construction manager recognised the need to co-operate with the designers, understand their problems and work with manufacturers within a formal contract arrangement as early as possible. Different procurement strategies were agreed from the outset to suit the different levels of information that would be available when tenders were issued.

The construction manager’s planning and procurement team allowed the designers to issue information in schematic or detailed form, reflecting the design status at that particular moment, without complaint, in order that the link with industry could be made as early as possible. Performance specifications and design-intent drawings were extensively used and everyone was aware of how these documents were to be used.

This flexibility from both sides was not forced on them, but grew from an early understanding of each other’s problems and needs. The client encouraged this co-operation and did not overly interfere or place barriers between, or demands on, the designer, the builder and the manufacturer who were driving the process.