Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Edge Debate 58

The question for debate was

“Is creating an institute of the Built Environment the answer to a ‘fragmented and ineffective’ industry?”

That’s a positive message, I thought, and Terry Wyatt was quite happy to go straight in there with a proposition to merge two of the many professional institutes that make up the sprawling group of individuals and major companies that make up the “construction Industry”. It was a well structured argument that picked at the separation of design, production and management and the silos that they construct. But neither side really questioned the premise, indeed they generally agreed on much. So why is the industry so fragmented and ineffective?

The importance of leadership and the paucity of it generally was proposed by Mike Murray. His argument drew considerably on the Wolfenstone report of 2009 as the most important review of the industry. I have just read its 30 odd pages. Digestible and clear. But is it just another look down the wrong end of the telescope? It seeks to justify the importance of the industry, to show that it is efficient, to raise its profile, all valuable aims, but is that what is really needed?

Were we talking about the “built environment” of just the professionals, trades, contractors and FM technicians that make up the building industry within strictly defined boundaries? Yes, for much of the time we were. The debate ranged far and wide and took in the attractions of architect courses over engineering, the professions generally – law, medicine and architecture/engineering. Buildings are an important consumer of energy, they cost and have to last. But will they ever be truly sustainable? We knock them down before the end of their natural life and build another one that will go the same way in 20-30 years time if not  sooner. None of this was addressed.

It was only towards the end of the debate that anyone mentioned “planning”. Were there any planners in the room? Two hands went up. Was there a mention of Urban Design? No. But the message I came away with was that’s all very well but construction, unless it is the Olympics, Crossrail or a new London airport, is just a minor works job. Long life, loose fit, low energy was one of the old slogans that didn’t warrant a repeat last night. Perhaps it should have done but then we would have only had to say that was then and now is now. The future is BIM, zero carbon etc. But a one-off where the design is usually specific to need, certainly specific to site is most of the industry and the bread and butter of the SMEs that struggle within it. Craft is important as is knowing your builder/sub-contractor. The bigger questions remain. Where and how does the community and user fit. Do they have a voice? Unless the project is rolled out many times over, it is a one off, delivered by a group of individuals responding to a client. The client, their advisors and the teams working for them all contribute to the success or failure but trying to make a single solution will not work.

Chaired by Professor Alan Penn from the Bartlett and with the two sides represented by Terry Wyatt of Hoare Lea and CIBSE and Mike Murray of many places including One Creative Environments. It made an interesting and valuable discussion. Afterwards talking to Robin, Steve and Rob it was the comment that Alan Penn made at the start that it is around the edges that interesting things happen that kept coming back to me.

Walking to Charing Cross from Carlton House Terrace, through Spring Gardens Rob pointed out four stories or perhaps facts all to do with the place we were passing through. Albert Speer, Patrick Abercrombie, Frederick Gibberd, the silver jubilee and squatters. A very Iain Sinclair or Jonathan Meades moment.

pedestrian space

Tunnel under Hammersmith

Is a tunnel better than a flyover? This seems to be troubling the local architectural community in Hammersmith. Working in Cities is not so much dealing with small discrete alternatives that make no overall difference but the shear complexity of making the big changes that do. Removing elevated highways is now very much on the agenda after years of trying. Taking out one road and replacing with another does not move managing transport in cities forward. It repeats the mistakes of the past. A radical proposal takes road space out and forces the traveller to think about his journey, the mode of travel and the time of day. There is more than enough space within the City. A bus after all accommodates at least 30 people in the space of two cars, and of course most of the traffic in Hammersmith isn’t on the flyover anyway.