Post the Grenfell tragedy in the UK, the wake-up call of Lacrosse Apartments in Melbourne’s Docklands, and the averted disasters of the Opal Tower Apartments and Mascot Towers in Sydney, there is a growing call for assurance that new construction is completed properly and safely. This expectation begins in the early feasibility stages of a project and requires strong adherence and supervision to standards and processes to ensure its deliverance.

Historically independent professionals have been employed to oversee design, materials, and construction to ensure compliance. Part of an Architect’s responsibility is to oversee a project ensured that it was completed properly. Over the years, this developed to a Clerk of Works having independent responsibility, acting on a client’s behalf to ensure the delivery of the project. The Architect or Clerk of Works ensured workmanship, standards, materials, specification, and designs were followed as documented. They operated with independence to enable them to tackle any concerns that arose during construction, and had the ability to challenge contractors about a project’s delivery. It enabled issues to be flagged and resolved promptly, rather than having the issues compound to the end with often complex and expensive resolutions required.

An Architect or Clerk of Works, appointed correctly, will:

  • have an understanding of construction inspection process, in particular with respect to materials and quality of work
  • understand the obligations of all parties
  • focus on quality and value (as opposed to cost alone)
  • act independently to offer impartial, considered, and relevant determinations
  • demonstrate sound awareness of standards, compliance, and regulations
  • record and report their findings
  • recommend alternative and appropriate solutions to concerns that may arise during construction
  • focus on compliance, quality, materials, defect rectification, and communication
  • ensure what is constructed does not diverge from what was designed and documented

In more recent times, the representative for the client has become a Project Manager. Whilst the Project Manager has been given the responsibility of managing the planning and execution of a particular project, there is no responsibility upon them with respect to compliance, design quality, and final construction outcomes. This, coupled with the Design and Construct (D&C) process, and limited mandatory inspections required by independent Building Surveyors, creates a gaping hole when it comes to inspecting and overseeing a project to deliver a safe, compliant, and quality outcome.

The Design and Construct process is a method of procurement that ultimately takes responsibility and independence away from the experts. It is not uncommon for Architects to be engaged in early stages purely for branding purposes to assist with marketing, and then be replaced on a project by less qualified or informed individuals to provide basic and incomplete documents for the purposes of tender. The responsibility under a D&C contract is put onto the builder to complete the relevant documents with minimal conformance requirements, and significant ability to alter specifications and make substitutions which directly impact on quality, aesthetics, and suitability of a product during the construction process.

Typically coupled with a D&C contract, and compounding these concerns, is the growing demand and acceptance of consultant novation to the contractor. Some commonly used and accepted industry building contracts will only accept novation agreements. The result of such contracts and novation is a situation whereby the consultants are paid and contractually obligated to the builder, meaning that the builder is now employing them, disintegrating their independence, and often requiring their scope of works to only document the project to a level acceptable to the builder for construction purposes. Control of quality and selections for the project have now been transferred from the owner to the builder, with no on-going process for supervision of workmanship, materials, design specifications, and compliance. Whilst an Architect, along with other professionals are still involved in a project, their independence and influence on a project’s final delivery is lost.

To have a system that accepts (and often promotes) the above mentioned situation, with a focus primarily on time and cost, it should come as no surprise that quality suffers.

An Architect’s knowledge and ability to continue to perform their qualified role has not diminished, but in an environment where costs are prioritised, and greater control is given to contractors and Project Managers, the Architects role has eroded to limit their involvement to produce incomplete documents and to occasional queries and site visits during construction. Through D&C contracts, novation, and ‘value management’, an environment has developed where time and cost are prioritised over quality and compliance. A D&C contract puts a contractor in charge of most contractual elements and makes them responsible for areas beyond their expertise.

Industry wide, there should be an acknowledgment that cost cutting under the guise of value management, D&C contracts and novation of professionals to a builder have resulted in poor quality outcomes and decreased confidence from the public.

The industry needs to concentrate and prioritise a team orientated and focused philosophy rather than a confrontational relationship between client, consultants and contractor resulting from contracts that inherently create tension between the parties.

The industry needs to reinstate the traditional role of the Architect or bring back the Clerk of Works to ensure quality assurance throughout design, development and delivery of a project.

Over the course of the remainder of 2019, Managing Director Bill Katsabis will continue to author a series of pieces on the challenges of modern design associated with the Architect’s role, and methodologies for delivery of successful projects for client, consultant, contractor, and end user.