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Q&A: Rebooting construction - Procurement

In the second of three Q&As that consider the implications of the draft Building Safety Bill, Hilti talks to Will Freeman of Enframe Consulting

'There is a better model [between design-and-build and traditional contracts] where design is fuller and more resolved before going on site.'
'There is a better model [between design-and-build and traditional contracts] where design is fuller and more resolved before going on site.' Credit: Toby Morison

What should clients do to improve procurement practice to enable better and safer buildings?

Clients need to support architects, and consultants, by allowing them time to improve outputs before the contractor comes on board.

Larger projects are trapped in the world of design and build (D&B). Clients believe the process is allowing them to reduce risks by passing them to the contractor, but that is not what’s happening. Design issues are often unresolved and there’s a misconception contractors will do design work. Main contractors, generally, don’t have design staff and don’t always work well with architects to understand the design. Faced with unknowns in the design information, the contractor prices the risk.

So should clients be prepared to pay for more design expertise in the early stages?

Yes, clients and consultants need to spend more time, and fees, on RIBA stage 4, and improving their education around the outputs needed for stage 4.

Architects aren’t always quick to request support when they are operating outside their comfort zone. I have encountered a significant design practice that had no skillset in designing masonry brickwork that did put its hand up for help, however that is rare.

Architects need to recognise where support is needed and work with expert executive architects. Clients will ultimately save money if they invest in resolving design issues earlier in the design process.

How can D&B work better?

D&B was intended to speed up the construction process, but things are getting missed out of design and being resolved unsuccessfully in the construction phase. This approach is flawed.

D&B in its present form has probably had its day and you could argue the same of traditional contracts. There is a better model between the two, where design is fuller and more resolved before going on site.

What difference could the draft Building Safety Bill, with its golden thread and gateways, make?

The aspirations behind the Building Safety Bill [PDF] are good. Gateway 2, with its hard stop, will stop materials such as thermal insulation being changed during the build. It is unlikely a contractor will start to build until full information is in place; there is a significant cost to having a site idle. That must be a good thing.

We have heard people repeatedly use the word ‘assumed’ in their evidence to the Grenfell Inquiry. The golden thread is important because the industry may have to ask more questions, make fewer assumptions on its projects and formally close assumptions with good project management discipline.

But I worry that there will be some finger pointing initially. Buildings have become complicated - even a seemingly simple product such as plasterboard has many purposes and details. I hope we’ll see manufacturers taking more responsibility for their products and advice.

Will the draft bill encourage collaborative working in the industry?

No I don’t think it will as I think you’ll find people will define their responsibilities more clearly (which, yes, is good), but we could end up with scope gaps and no one will call out the ‘gap’ or take responsibility for the ‘gap’. For example, the architect may have to restrict their responsibilities as excluded by professional indemnity cover. There is a risk of having more gaps, due to scope, rather than less.

Will Freeman is director of Enframe Consulting and a non-executive board member of the Architects Registration Board.


This Q&A was produced in association with Hilti

 

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