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Working side by side

Architecture, engineering and construction have sometimes been seen as a loose collection of related activities, whose pre-occupation (at worst) has been about who is top dog. This has changed in recent years, partly as a result of the government procurement revolution that is PFI, partly in response to climate change, and partly because of the recognition that silo thinking is no longer appropriate.

The biggest architectural practice in the UK is now the design division of Atkins, outgunning BuildingDesign Partnership, RMJM and others. The World Architecture Festival has introduced a structural design element into its global awards programme; and environmental design will play a key part in determining who gets work in the government’s city academies second phase, worth £2bn.

Current financial woes must give impetus to design and construction economy; when money is short you need more ingenuity. The question is whether this involves simpleminded initial capital costcutting, or whether it is about longer-term value.

Current financial woes must give impetus to design and construction economy; when money is short you need more ingenuity.

This dilemma is one that professionals can only properly address if they are working with an intelligent and responsible client − and in the public sector that is often difficult to find because (a) the clients are amateurs and (b) it is easier to measure initial capital cost than longterm value. That is why the PFI process, which in theory is neutral about design and engineering quality, often ends up reducing that quality because of the way the bidding process works.

So look out for examples of the PFI system working well, by scrutinising the British Construction Industry Awards this year. There are more public sector projects, on the shortlists. If you want to know why standards of PFI school design are rising, look at the design review activity of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), which has been deeply critical of many PFI schools.

The responsibility of architects and engineers to address the consequences of climate change are great, and should be taken on board by the professions now.

The supply side is getting the message, and government is backing CABE’s tough stance. There is plenty more to be done; Mike Entwisle of Buro Happold made the point last week that so much more can be achieved in environmental terms by smart decisions about orientation, window specification and general environmental design.

Our biggest environmental challenge is climate change. Are things worse than we are being informed? Former London mayor Ken Livingstone thinks so. He told a London audience last week that he believed global temperatures would rise by 4˚C rather than 2˚C this century, and we would get to the higher figure well before 2100. The responsibility of architects and engineers to address the consequences are great, and should be taken on board by the professions now. As we journey along the Road to Copenhagen, acceleration may be required.

World Architecture Festival

World Architecture Festival

Paul Finch is programme director of the World Architecture Festival in Barcelona. Enter global awards by 26 June at worldarchitecturefestival.com

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