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Last edited 13 Oct 2020
Analysis: Is Hackitt a turning point for the profession?
The Hackitt Review is a 'watershed' moment for architects to claim back the influence they have ceded to other professions. But architects will need to work hard if they are to seize the opportunities presented by Dame Judith’s review, according to leading members of the profession.
One of Hackitt’s key recommendations is that the roles and responsibilities of those involved in the design and construction of so-called 'high-risk residential buildings' – those over 10 storeys – should be much more clearly defined. These roles are divided into three dutyholders: the client, the principal designer and the principal contractor, in an arrangement familiar from the CDM regulations.
This puts the principal designer firmly in the driving seat as they will have to ensure everyone involved in the design has suitable skills, knowledge and experience. The principal designer has responsibility for compiling and submitting full plans for building control approval.
“This is the opportunity for architects to reclaim some ground,” he says. “The principal designer could be the M&E consultant but there’s a danger there. If the principal designer doesn’t have the skills to bring the whole thing together they will be putting the onus on the architect anyway. The architect is key. I don’t think there’s any other profession that can balance all of the complicated aspects of design in a high-rise building.”
The flip side of this longed-for opportunity is that architects could find themselves weighed down by onerous responsibilities they have little appetite for.
“Culture change would be complex and full of difficult decisions – from how to take responsibility, to fees, approvals, tendering methods, specialist knowledge, qualifications,” he says. “But architects can’t have it both ways. Either we step up and reclaim a central position within the industry or we allow the marginalisation to continue to the point that we are just stylists.”
The size of architects’ public indemnity insurance cover speaks for itself, says Osborn. “We already have the responsibility; architects can already go to jail. Yet so much happens between finishing the design and the completion of the building that the architect has no control over. We might as well take responsibility and get paid for it.”
Could this mean architects will finally be able to charge higher fees?
But Hackitt’s report is only a recommendation so architects will need to speak up if they’re serious, he warns.
“This is absolutely the time for the profession and RIBA to tell government, ‘We can do this’. Government doesn’t get that many responses to consultations,” he says. “It will be down to architects to respond.”
“Those who are forward-thinking and entrepreneurial will be thinking about the opportunities,” he says. “It might feel bad to talk in these terms after such a tragedy but we all realise we need to improve things.”
He acknowledges Hackitt’s recommendations will cost clients more up front but says they will end up with a better building that will be easier to insure, mortgage and sell because it is demonstrably compliant. Not to mention the moral dimension.
‘Those who are forward-thinking and entrepreneurial will be thinking about the opportunities’
Andrew Mellor, PRP
“Too many drawings are weak and open to interpretation. Just writing ‘12.5mm plasterboard’ will not be enough,” says Mellor. “The information will have to be more robust to prove it is compliant with regulations.”
Mellor has stopped being shocked when they open up a building and find missing cavity barriers and unbranded ACM panels. It starkly illustrates the need for Hackitt’s golden thread, where information about the design and specification is passed from the architect via the construction teams to the building occupier.
As well as the dutyholder rules, the way buildings are procured could be used to prevent this, with Hackitt stressing that contracts should “specifically state that safety requirements must not be compromised for cost reduction”. Roles should be defined in a contract and “while work can be delegated, these responsibilities cannot be handed down”.
Too often contracts encourage poor behaviour, she adds. For instance low margins can push larger contractors to pass technical and contractual risk on to subcontractors who are unable to mitigate those risks appropriately.
“In order for the golden thread of safety to remain unbroken in the build process, the original design team needs to work hand-in-hand with the development team to ensure specifications are met,” he says. “Traditional contracts administered by architects and surveyors give the consultants much more responsibility and power to make sure the builders deliver what was specified.”
For the first time in perhaps a generation it feels like there is real hope that architects could stand a chance of reclaiming that power.
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