These perceived monstrosities aren't always a cause for doom and gloom, argues the T&T QS
Working as a QS, my clients often set a brief identifying cost as the key driver, instructing the design team to strive towards a commercially efficient design.
Exposure to previous examples of untested, or perhaps simply uninformed, development decisions has recently renewed attention to the plight of ‘white elephants’ in construction.
Being defined as a rare and/or expensive possession whose cost of upkeep exceeds its usefulness; the appearance of white elephants is generally a bad sign. The term’s origin, derived from sacred animals given to South Asian monarchs as a sign of peace and prosperity in their kingdoms, supports this as their cost of maintenance cannot be offset by putting the animals to practical use.
Buildings commonly termed white elephants can be seen to hamper development in an area, particularly where politics exacerbates the wealth divide.
I’ve read of countries where politicians are more highly regarded than civil servants and planners in the consideration and implementation of projects. There are no feasibility studies undertaken and no competitive tendering!
Still, these projects are being built fuelled mainly by the redistribution of wealth and desire geographically, even though it may well be uneconomical to do so. Spending excessive amounts of private and public money on these structures results in the alienation of people living in areas where postcode lotteries exist even on the same road!
Yet, should we really perceive these 'monstrosities' as a cause of doom and gloom in our industry? More often than not, they are iconic structures that follow in the vein of the regeneration theme and make a positive aesthetic impact on their surrounding area.
Despite countless bad press, the Millennium Dome regenerated an old gasworks area of London bare to the elements, and in turn created around 2,000 construction jobs plus thousands more to maintain it. It is instantly noticeable outside and features very prominently on the riverside.
The World Financial Centre in Shanghai not only towers above other skyscrapers in the city, but its novel bottle-opener shape is, there again, instantly recognizable from afar, brightening up and renewing an area improves the quality of life of its inhabitants.
We need not teach people to suck eggs, but a general prod in the right direction never goes amiss!
Also, part of the negative social impact these buildings have is swallowed up through employment opportunities being provided in both their construction and maintenance, in addition to commercial activities undertaken within the structures themselves.
Be they politically-motivated or purely the brain children of inspired legacies, white elephants may well commonly feature in our continually-developing landscape.
It is easy to apply and concentrate our focus regarding this to the London Olympics ahead, particularly with articles in the media promoting continual sustainability throughout the event’s running. But this following of landmark events leads to the ignorance of other ‘real-life’ projects worldwide, which directly suffer as a result.
Inefficient use of commercial resource requires much less skill as a practice than otherwise, but it should not be at the expense of a sustainable economy and social inclusion that more commercially efficient buildings promote.
Tarren Greenacre is a cost manager at QS Turner & Townsend.