Last edited 29 Dec 2020

Integration of the control of design and production 1967

Article written by Peter Trench, CBE, TD, BSc, FIOB in 1967.

I wonder how many times those who are designing the motor cars for the 1967 Motor Show have already met those whose responsibility it will be to produce and sell them. I wonder, too, how much more a motor car would cost and how different its performance would be if its manufacturer was presented with a set of final drawings, none of which he had seen before, and told to get cracking the following week. Even the great designers of car bodies were not given a free hand by the motorcar companies concerned: at least the design had to fit to their specification and incorporate their chassis and engine. The day of the one-off motorcar is over.

It can be argued that a comparison of buildings with motorcars is misleading, and it can be argued that the day of the one off building is by no means over; such arguments are valid. But it cannot be argued that there is no evidence to prove that where the control of design and production has been integrated, some building projects have been carried out more rapidly and at less cost than where the responsibilities for design and production have been divorced. It cannot be thus argued because the evidence is, in fact, available.

It can be argued however, that to integrate the control of design and production of a building project might subordinate aesthetics to economics, and moreover that the present role of the designer in looking after the interests of the building owner, would be nullified and, as a consequence, the said building owner would be at the mercy of the integrated designer / producer. I believe the first of these arguments to be true to some extent, although I am not prepared to accept that a designer subjected to a rigid cost discipline and commercial pressures, is not able to produce an aesthetically satisfying building. As for the second of these two arguments, it would seem that the protection required is mainly a financial one, and is this not a very proper role for an independent Quantity Surveyor?

Nine out of ten people who have read the foregoing paragraphs will have already made up their minds that I am leading off on that hoary old emotion-provoking subject - the package deal. I am not.

It could be, of course, that the way we carry out building projects at the present time, meets the needs of the country. Banwell did not think so (see Banwell Report published in 1964). But did even that committee, go sufficiently deeply into the malaise of inefficiency we now suffer from? Was their diagnosis correct? If so, is their cure really going to put us on our feet considerably healthier than before? I wonder.

For many years we have put our money on coordination by the man who designs. Recently, it has been considered that the producer might have something to offer at an early stage of the project, and the sun has risen on the negotiated contract. Unfortunately, in some instances the great hopes for the negotiated contract have foundered on the rocks of disillusion. Builders in their hundreds have jumped on to the bid-waggon, clamouring to be called in at the design stage. Many with nothing to contribute at all, other than a feeling of intense relief that they have secured a contract otherwise than by competition, abysmally ignorant of the fact that the negotiated contract requires a philosophy of service and technique which few have had the nouse to acquire.

This all stems from years in the wilderness, but who is going to progress, and in which direction? Is the architect going to learn and continue to learn (for building technology is one of the faster changing technologies of today) about production techniques and take unto himself builder-trained top staff (admitting them, of course, to the partnership and treating them as equals as of right) or is the builder going to change his education, his standards of entry and his philosophy, so that he can indeed, contribute something really worth while at the design stage, inviting men with design backgrounds to join his board of directors?

It is curious how every treatise on this subject leads eventually to a reference to education. It is, however, inevitable. Quite a long time ago, society in this country decreed that those who entered a profession required a better education than those going into commerce. The designer in the Building Industry is a professional man: those who carry out the actual building process are not. For many a long year the latter have been less well educated than the former. Of course, things are changing and have changed, but are they changing quickly enough? Professionalism must not be allowed to become the barrier to progress; nor must men of commerce be led to believe that professionalism should be their aim as well - unless by "professional" one means "competent". Their aim must indeed be to become competent. As for integrity, this is something I am not prepared to argue in this article, but I am bound to say that if, in fact, it is impossible for those who produce to have a similar degree of integrity as those who design, then a lot of my own thinking is abortive. I am not, however at present prepared to accept the premise.

I wonder if anybody has ever analysed scientifically and compared the relative skills involved in designing a building on the one hand and translating that design into reality on the other. Maybe this is impossible anyhow; but I would like to meet a successful giant like Nervi who bestrides the combined processes and get his opinion on these relative skills. Is it so heretical to question whether the designer as at present trained, should indeed be the great panjandrum throughout the project from start to finish? I can hear it said - architects are more than designers, they are sociologists, diplomats, economists, technologists, and now management experts etc. Some may be, but some I know are perfectly happy just to be designers and have no great yen to become involved in the, administration of the building project; design in any event is of supreme importance by itself.

Curiously, I am not going to argue that, in the event of the architect wishing to abrogate some of the responsibilities he has collected to himself over the years, the builder should assume them; not yet anyhow, for he is not educated nor trained to do so. Indeed my own ideas are crystallizing in another direction altogether, but before finally settling on a solution, I want to see the results of the research project now being carried out by the Tavistock Institute into communications in the building industry (1966 The Tavistock Report: Interdependence and Uncertainty: A study of the building industry). I have a feeling that the right road to integration might well be defined in their answer. I sincerely hope so, for to my mind, this is one of the greatest issues to be tackled if building is to take its place among efficient industries.

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