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‘Architects and developer deliver custom-build housing scheme’ Housing Today

Words by Russell Curtis, 27 September 2017

Russell oversees RCKa’s commercial and residential infill projects and is responsible for the delivery phase of the practice’s work. He sits on design review panels for LLDC and the London Boroughs of Croydon and Newham, and is a Mayor’s Design Advocate. @russellcurtis

To find an architect lamenting the erosion of the profession’s role within the construction process may elicit from many little more than crocodile tears or, to others, smack of a futile act of self-preservation when faced with challenging financial targets, shrinking capital budgets and the avoidance of risk. But while architects’ railing at the demotion of quality in favour of ‘certainty’ is hardly new, events of the last year have suddenly thrust our concerns into the spotlight.

It is still far too early to apportion culpability for the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower in June, but it is possible that this may emerge as the latest, and most tragic, manifestation of decreasing oversight that architects have been warning about for so long. At the very least, there is clear evidence that a lack of professional, independent scrutiny has resulted directly in catastrophic failures elsewhere that could – had circumstances been only very slightly different – have resulted in tragedies of their own.

One example is the Edinburgh Schools fiasco, where Professor John Cole’s extensive inquiry into the collapse of a masonry wall at Oxgangs School in Edinburgh identified clear areas where a lack of oversight during the construction process phase had allowed poor workmanship to creep, unchecked, into the works.

Crucially, it became apparent that this was not an isolated incident, but one which was found to be endemic in the wider schools delivery programme, with a further four collapses directly attributed to workmanship not in accordance with the consultant’s designs. Professor Cole determined that independent scrutiny would likely have prevented such incidents occurring. often taking their place as just another subbie within the builder’s extensive supply chain, the custody of quality was left up to those consultants, often from a cost background, remaining by the client’s side.

This article was first published in Planning & Building Control Today.