Architects are the spiritual leaders who must see the project vision is delivered

The Love Shack, Cumbria, by Sutherland Hussey for Adam Sutherland and Karen Guthrie. ‘We sent the architects pictures of buildings we liked and got a fantastic result that we could never have imagined,’ says Sutherland.
The Love Shack, Cumbria, by Sutherland Hussey for Adam Sutherland and Karen Guthrie. ‘We sent the architects pictures of buildings we liked and got a fantastic result that we could never have imagined,’ says Sutherland. · Credit: Karen Guthrie

All projects begin with a vision. It is the seed of success. Yet it takes skill and leadership to fertilise, germinate, and protect it through to fruition.

Clients know this. They also know that it is easy to lose sight of the vision in the hurly burly of day-to-day business. They recognise this eats away at success, especially the whole-life benefits of a building.

They are willing to invest significant trust in people who can nurture a vision from conception to completion and deliver the greatest value. In their minds, the person most likely to have the competence, knowledge and experience to fulfil this role is the architect, on projects of all sizes across most sectors.

As Nick Searl, partner at Argent, puts it: ‘Architects are the spiritual leaders in this process. Everyone wants you to do it. Believe in it and reassert!’

This view is not confined to the private sector. Local authorities with a regeneration agenda recognise architects as the key professionals for unlocking value. Local authorities want designs, especially for flagship projects, to be emblematic of their ambition and aspirations and to add real value to communities.

‘It’s about taking a vision forward, it’s about working with us as a client and our communities, and it’s about shaping our city,’ says councillor Ruth Rosenau, cabinet member, Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

However, the perceived value of vision is fragile. Take schools. From a high during the Building Schools for the Future programme, clients and other stakeholders today have a guarded opinion of architects. Austerity and the focus on cost have diminished trust in the value of architects’ work.

Even here though, architects have great scope to quickly re-establish their worth and authority, with evidence-based models of design that demonstrate measurable improvements.

Jane Wade, operational manager, Vale of Glamorgan Council, puts it this way: ‘We need to create inspirational spaces – how children feel when they walk into the space is the biggest measure.’

In design-build procurement, contractor clients think that architects have relinquished the leadership role, forcing them, with some regret, to invest in specialist design managers instead. However, there is an open invitation to reprise the role, provided viability, accuracy and buildability are given due attention.

‘Architects should champion design quality,’ says Colin Tedder, technical director, Bouygues UK. ‘That’s their primary function and their greatest skill. It’s important that they take the lead and recognise its importance in delivering their services.’

Housing developers too regard architects as natural design-team leaders. The round table found there is an unparalleled opportunity to reinforce architects in a leadership position, especially those who can demonstrate experience and efficiency in using BIM.

Communication and business savvy are critical, and managing delays and overspends needs to be high on the agenda.

‘The profession should be perceived as leaders in the industry, and that’s right through the process, from inception, consultation through to delivery, product innovation and construction,’ says Sean Cook, design director for Clivedale London.

In large-scale housing retrofit, clients generally regard the work as a mere technical fix that does not require an architect. In doing so, they potentially miss out on considerable value-adding opportunities that arise from the wider design vision that architects offer.

There is much that can engage their interest provided it is couched in terms of the value that an architect can add – validated design solutions, better user focus, better project leadership and coordination, better cost-benefit, better viability, and less risk.

Design Management RIBA Plan of Work 2013 Guide, Dale Sinclair

Project Leadership RIBA Plan of Work 2013, Nick Willars

RIBA Plan of Work 2013 Stage Guides 




What the roundtables found:

  • Clients are prepared to invest trust in those who can deliver a vision.
  • Clients see architects, in most cases, as the professional best placed to lead the vision.
  • Vision matters on projects of all scales across most sectors.
  • The perception of the value of vision can be fragile.
  • Clients are, in most cases, keen to see architects step forward to lead the vision.
  • BIM offers a fresh opportunity for architect to re-establish their role leading the vision.
  • Architects need to be business savvy, demonstrating an awareness of how to deliver value.

Bolster skills and techniques to champion the vision from concept to completion.
This is particularly important for contractors, retrofit clients, commercial developers and homeowners. The benefit clients derive here is self-evident: they are after continuity to at least maintain and preferably add to the value won at concept and planning.

After the vision has been created, clients want a single point of responsibility for efficient and effective control to keep it uppermost in the project team’s mind.

The role of maintaining the vision in the context of the client’s (especially contractors’) key commercial drivers has been ceded to independent or client-employed design managers. However, the door is wide open to architects able to satisfy clients of their competence.

Local authority clients are accountable to the public and, in what they call the ‘regeneration agenda’, need to attract inward investment from developers. The value-adding vision is vulnerable in the austerity squeeze, catastrophic to the value-for-money equation. Moreover, it will fail to attract developers.

Ensure communication is engaging, authoritative, and persuasive.
This is true across the board, of course, but particularly among housing-retrofit and schools clients.

Retrofit for housing clients is generally carried out without the involvement of architects, missing significant opportunities to add value in improved spaces, layouts, and public realm. Architects need to win clients’ ears and persuade them of their competence.

Schools clients are wary of what value architects add. Effective communication is the necessary flipside of robustly validated design practice, and leads to better project management.