The second in a series of talks hosted by Schueco UK and Architecture Today explored how a paradigm shift is required of the construction industry

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Many believe that the future success and reputation of the UK construction sector will require fundamental change in culture, behaviour and process. Open collaboration, improvements in productivity, new attitudes towards value management and harnessing of digital technology and modern methods of construction are highlighted as key areas that will drive better quality and safer, more successful outcomes for clients and building users. This event explored how a paradigm shift will be required by the industry, clients, government and insurers and how architects can use this to reinforce their leadership role and help to drive real change


The panel was chaired by Nigel Ostime, Delivery Director at Hawkins\Brown  and comprised:  Matthew Chamberlain, Director at Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt architects; Maria Smith, Co-Founder of  Interrobang; and Sebastian Wood, Partner in Whitby Wood Engineers.

Nigel Ostime began by explaining that the discussion would be around the role of the architect in compliance, a critical area in the light of what happened at Grenfell Tower and the Edinburgh schools. The incident at Oxgangs Primary School was not so well publicised as Grenfell as fortunately no-one was hurt, but a gable wall fell down at eight in the morning and less than an hour later the children would have been queuing by the entrance. The review by Professor John Cole found that it wasn’t just the set of wall ties that were improperly installed, but there were a whole set of failures. As a result seventeen Edinburgh schools built under Public Private Partnership were closed over safety concerns. For Ostime, these are not isolated incidents; there are huge issues that need to be addressed.

Ostime has worked with The Housing Forum on the ‘Stopping Building Failures’ report: a post-Grenfell response which makes fourteen recommendations, ranging from short-term, relatively quick solutions to a longer-term view, set out under three headings:

Procuring for Quality: getting control of procurement, not just checking things on site, but understanding the brief properly, understanding what value is so that it is not engineered out later on, and the procurement route. There have been a lot of problems with Design & Build as a procurement route, so are there other alternatives?

Harnessing Innovation: ie digital technology and Modern Methods of Construction.

Building Defect-Free: trying to get more focus on the construction process, perhaps through reintroducing the Clerk of Works and improving on-site monitoring.


Ostime also worked on this year’s ‘Building in Quality’ collaboration by RIBA, RICS and CIOB, which resulted from a client satisfaction survey that found particular dissatisfaction among contractor clients with project management. In spring 2019 the three presidents signed a memorandum of understanding; the first time that the three institutions have come together in this way. For Ostime, we can struggle to define quality within construction, so the project has put together a digital tool, a quality tracker,which works something like the chain of custody for sourcing sustainable material. The aspirations are set out at the beginning and through a series of questions the participant can monitor how and whether they are meeting those aspirations. This can particularly be a challenge in housing where the initial client who obtained planning permission sells on the land. The tool is being piloted over the next six months and its creators are looking for honest feedback about it.  It can be found at

Other responses to Grenfell include the ‘Get it Right Initiative’, which is more project-management based; the Construction Leadership Council has produced a document called ‘Procuring for Value’, which Ostime said has good advice in this area; and the Hackitt review is currently going through ‘100% Hackitt’ to ensure that all its recommendations come together.

Ostime went on to ask the panel what changes they considered to be necessary and what in particular can architects – and engineers – do?

Sebastian Wood comes from a practice of sixty structural engineers working on both buildings and bridges. For him, if more money and more time are not options, then they have to be created. He described the construction industry as being in a ‘pre-Uber moment’: organisational cultures have to enable the bridging of the gap between the wise old heads and youngsters coming in with new skill sets not understood by the older generation. He spoke about Exometry, a business in the States based around prototyping for manufacturing. It has created an Uber-esque platform, having trawled a load of data from the prototyping industry in the States to understand how much it cost, and using AI can predict how much a modelled, CAD-designed product will cost to prototype. On the other side of the platform, Exometry has assembled all the people who can do this type of work, brought together under an umbrella of quality. Pre-Uber, said Wood, is a fractured taxi service, some of which is okay, some of it dangerous and some of it quite pricey, but post-Uber you generally have a reasonable service at a reasonable price, with the bit that you are interested in achieved through outsourcing.

Matthew Chamberlain considers that this is an exciting time. The way that architects have traditionally brought value in construction is changing and process-driven tasks and pure production elements are becoming less valuable. Architects need to consider the way that between RIBA Stage 0 and Stage 7 they work with others, without constantly reinventing the wheel from project to project. This brings enormous opportunities not just for improvements in productivity, but in quality. Ostime interjected at this point, citing how the iphone for example is built on and developed for each new model, rather than conceived from scratch each time. Chamberlain spoke of how similar projects are re-tendered every time, rather than commissioning a team to work on a suite of projects that can be grown and improved, or at the very least share intelligence within the framework. Ostime said that methods of procurement had to change: Modern Methods of  Construction were very difficult to bring in with Design & Build, because they had to be introduced at an early stage.

Maria Smith argued that architects are constantly being told to improve efficiency, quality and margins, but the drive to improve productivity is fundamentally asking the wrong question. For most of human history, increases in human productivity have been slow and sporadic, but from the steam engines to Revit, the various forms of industrial revolution have changed that, with GDP increasing by 3 per cent per person every 25 years since the 1950s – that’s the way the government measures productivity. For Smith the problem is that we are relying on this increase to manage private and public debt. She finds lots of problems with this, but they fall under two big headings: one being that we can’t and the second that we probably shouldn’t. The huge gains and efficiencies that we’ve been making since pre-industrial levels are extremely difficult to replicate; as countries get richer, their economies stagnate. Furthermore increasing GDP has dire environmental consequences; there are very clear links between that and indicators of climate breakdown, without even mentioning the damage to ourselves in terms of mental wellbeing. Change is vital, but the way we talk about it needs to expand from talking about efficiency and productivity, because that is the wrong question.


Ostime agreed that we are stuck in a rat race as far as increasing productivity is concerned, and Smith pointed out that no individual could make that change on their own. Young architects are concerned with artistic pursuits and social justice, but that is a dramatic contrast with being in the front line of capitalism, working in the property industry.

“What is affordable housing?” asked a member of the audience. Not the designated 80 per cent of market value, replied Ostime. Chamberlain argued that housing capacity could be freed up within the current system but that excessive stamp duty is blocking people moving.

There seemed to be a general feeling from the floor of unhappiness with current inequalities within society and a lack of political will to move things forward. Suggestions included the re-establishment of housing co-ops, while Ostime referred to Judith Hackitt talking about the way buildings are procured on cost and not on value.


Chamberlain expressed a need for a platform that links what architects create in the virtual world to the supply chain at an early stage: currently working through the RIBA stages to Stage 5 is a slow decline in quality from the position at the outset. He suggested that live cost information should also flow through to the Revit model and that risk is not eliminated in the Design & Building method of procurement.

Wood felt that technology should be able to tell the client how much something designed costs, and where to get it fabricated near the site, but the framework for that doesn’t yet exist, and if it did would change the game completely; Ostime suggested that it would be the end of Stage 4, while for Smith the system of RIBA stages incentivises loss of quality and sustainability.

Ostime concluded that architects and engineers need to convince clients of the benefits of not cutting everything to the bone and towards this end full-blooded post-occupancy evaluation could help. For him there is a lot to feel positive about: if the supply chain could be brought in at RIBA Stage 2, digital technology and MMC could transform quality; while educating children about responsibility within the built environment could transform the clients of the future.

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