RIBA reports client frustrations over divide between practices with vision and those that can deliver

Architects who can design a building all the way from concept to delivery are such a rare breed that clients claim they are often forced to replace the original practice after planning, according to a major piece of research by the RIBA.

Many clients said they would rather hire only one firm but considered it too risky to leave the concept architect in charge of the technical aspects of delivery.

The 44-page report, due to be launched later this month, is the result of a two-year project led by outgoing RIBA president Stephen Hodder.

His RIBA for Clients initiative involved one-to-one interviews and roundtable discussions with hundreds of clients from many sectors.

The conclusions detailed in the report, Client & Architect: Developing the essential relationship, are described as “both daunting and exciting”, pointing to the need for the profession to “adapt to prosper”.

It says clients would rather appoint a single practice to champion the vision from concept to completion and beyond, but when this occurs, clients – especially contractor clients – find architects’ interest wanes.

Architects’ mistakes can add tens of thousands of pounds on to the project

Stephen Day, Barratt

“Far too often architects dismiss the importance of the delivery phase and their fees are set up front-ended so there’s no fee to deal with that latter stage,” said Colin Tedder, technical director of contractor Bouygues UK.

Sean Cook, design director of property developer Clivedale London, added: “We like to see architects to take a cradle-to-grave approach.”

The report found clients regard the profession as falling into two broad and separate categories: the concept architect and the technical architect.

“According to the round table panellists, some clients struggle to find practices that are strong in both categories and commonly feel they have to replace the concept architects with a ‘safer’ pair of hands after stage 3,” it said.

“This is based on the perception that the creative flair that makes a good concept architect is an unacceptable risk during technical delivery. In other words, it is a compromise in the face of fear that the value gained with planning permission will be lost through inefficiencies, inaccuracies and waste.”

Stephen Day, technical director of Barratt London, said: “Architects’ mistakes can add tens of thousands of pounds on to the project and then it’s disproportionate to their fees.”

Former HOK director Andrew Barraclough, now group design director at Wates, said: “I don’t think an architect can work effectively unless they see their work through to completion. Otherwise, how does one learn from the mistakes that one makes?”

Writing in the same report, veteran developer Stuart Lipton called for an overhaul of architectural education.

He wrote: “Architects’ rigorous educational training does not include an understanding of the practical implications of how to build. This removes some of the skills required for a successful project and, increasingly, architects and quantity surveyors look for trade contractors to supply these skills. Not only does this add cost but it impacts design quality and in my view the curriculum needs to be changed.”

He also complained that the “siloed nature of the [built environment] professions remains a major frustration”.

The RIBA’s research also found that clients think architects who listen and understand properly are rare, and that many architects lack the people skills needed for collaborative working. But it also found that clients think architects are the profession best-placed to lead the vision and are keen for them to do so.

In his foreword to the report, Hodder said: “We need to find the keys to the hearts and minds of clients. This may seem daunting to architects who feel their value is unappreciated. It need not be. We found clients eager for the skills, insight, creativity and leadership that we can bring to the design and construction process. We need to grasp the opportunities to bolster the perception of our worth.”