Last edited 14 Jan 2021

Hackitt report on Grenfell Tower from the ACA

The Association of Consultant Architects

ACA’s response to Building a Safer Future

Hackitt review of the building regulations and fire safety, final report.

Dame Judith Hackitt’s report has been greeted with a simplistic outcry criticising her failure to demand a blanket ban on inflammable cladding on high rise buildings. The responsible minister has bowed to public and media pressure to look into this proposition.

This is to disown the thoughtful nature of her inquiry and her more fundamental scrutiny of the issues which go to the heart of the failures of government procurement processes in the construction industry.

Government inquiries, despite their length and cost, rarely result in holistic responses. It is always easier to grasp for a big knee-jerk reaction, run with that and assume the job is done.

This would be just a cop-out and it is disappointing that the RIBA has gone along with it. Of course the inappropriate use of flammable materials in the insulation and upgrading of tall buildings has to be addressed through the building regulations, though in the case of Grenfell Tower it seems that the original specification was simply not followed and that the building regulations as they stand were not complied with.

The key issue is the examination of the process which has allowed this to happen. Amongst Dame Hackitt’s report conclusions:

“Creating a golden thread of information by:

• Obligating the creation of a digital record for new multi-occupancy higher risk residential buildings from initial design intent through to construction and including any changes that occur throughout occupation. This package of building information will be used by the dutyholders to demonstrate to the regulator the safety of the building throughout its life cycle.

And in addition:

• Tackling poor procurement practices including through the roles and responsibilities set out above, to drive the right behaviours to make sure that high-safety, low-risk options are prioritised and full life cycle cost is considered when a building is procured.”

ACA Council member Alfred Munkenbeck comments: “I have worked with RBK&C and can fully understand the background that allowed that poor quality refurbishment to take place. There is no-one in that council controlling building works with a modicum of wisdom or qualification… and of course, one suspects the same with many other councils and public bodies. They are obsessed with demonstrably saving money and following the book letter by letter... but to do no more. They are deeply suspicious of architects and a major way to save money is to limit their involvement.

They stand in a long queue of current ‘project manager’ types who now assume 2% fees for architects (just do the planning drawings… slightly enhanced if you are lucky), whilst architectsconstruction stage usefulness has been ignored for many years. This both saves fee money and avoids the inevitable pressure for quality control that architects apply. Recent governments are right behind this as a form of ‘de-regulation’ as they have been demonising professionals and experts in general.

With this model of Design & Build, independent professional quality control is ignored. Many contractors treat design requirements as a wilful extravagance. Builders can NEVER be trusted to police themselves – it is a contradiction in terms. Economic motivation needs surveillance and whoever is designated for quality control has to be trained in design, independent, and embedded throughout the process. No-one is more naturally motivated to maintain standards than the original architect.’’

Traditional contracts put the architect in what used to be termed a ‘quasi judicial’ role, standing between the owner and the builder. Given the complexity of modern construction and procurement, especially for larger public works, collaborative arrangements established through the ACA’s PPC forms of partnering and Alliance contracts can maintain the architect’s independent role alongside other members of the team.

Either way, Dame Judith’s golden thread of responsibility can be achieved without having to introduce a whole new layer of process and bureaucracy. And it does not need to be limited to just ‘new multi-occupancy higher risk residential buildings’.

Brian Waters, President ACA

see: ACA

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