The quality of design in our towns and cities has been under mounting pressure since in-house architectural and urban planning expertise was removed from most local authorities in the 1980’s. More recently, as these same teams struggle under an ever increasing workload and an ever diminishing staff pool, quality again seems to be side-lined in importance in favour of quantity, financial targets and value engineering.
Jane Jacobs, in The Death & Life of Great American Cities, spoke to this aspect of architecture and the built environment generally, writing that “cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”
In this regard, rather than considering the public good, Architects are often instead tasked with meeting commercial targets, with the associated qualities of place, user experience and culture forming a secondary interest to developers who understandably want to maximise the opportunities their sites can afford. The result is a site centric approach to place-making, where neighbouring building and structures bear little reference to each other or their surroundings.
Linked to this, the Architects role has also changed from being the defender of design quality on building projects, to one diminished by alternative contractual and procurement routes which side line and minimise detailed design input.
In 2015, Paul Morrell’s report for Government Think Tank ‘The Edge’ entitled ‘Collaboration for Change’ highlighted a loss of respect and trust in the industry’s traditional institutions, noting the rise of mega-consultancies and changing patterns of employment/appointment as presenting a huge risk to the status of construction professionals such as architects, engineers and surveyors.
The report recommends that professional institutions develop a standardised ethical code of conduct across built environment professions, give greater focus on the quality of education, and collaborate to give shared views on the most important matters in the public interest, if they are to continue to be of any value to their members. More specifically, it also recommends that Architects should again ‘Become agents for disclosure as guardians of quality’.
This is very challenging in an environment where Private Finance Initiatives and Design and Build procurement are widely utilised. In these scenarios, Architects are employed by the contractor, rather than the client, and therefore they are no longer independent to question design decisions, leading to a reduction in quality. Many Architects are calling for a return to a more traditional form of procurement, suggesting that this should be rebranded as ‘quality-led procurement’ to appeal more to those in the industry.
The value of higher quality should be at the forefront of contemporary research, to prove to clients and developers that a higher initial investment in both an Architects advice and also in material and spatial specification can have a long term positive effect on building value, rental income and saleability.
A famous Benjamin Franklin quote stated that ‘the bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten’. If Architects can prove how they can contribute beneficially to building and urban design quality, especially in terms of financial return, then the position at the forefront of the design team might start to become a reality once more.
With this in mind, Integreat Plus has been working hard to gain accreditation as a Chartered Practice of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and we are very happy to announce that we are now part of the Chartered Practice Scheme. This is a client focused accreditation scheme for architectural practices, which offers benefits to both clients and architects. It arose from increased public and government pressure for consumer protection, client demands for a recognised system for selecting accredited architectural practices and from architects themselves seeking more robust promotion from the RIBA. To qualify as an RIBA Chartered Practice, we have to demonstrate high standards of professionalism and business effectiveness and work to a common set of standards. In line with this status we have also adopted health and safety policies and quality management procedures which help to ensure that our activities are undertaken safely and efficiently. These policy documents follow RIBA guidelines and are available for inspection. We also have commitments to continuing professional development and are required to maintain Professional Indemnity Insurance. We are looking forward to working with RIBA on a regular basis to maintain our high standards and develop our skills for the benefit of our clients.