Build­ing trust brick by brick

Ex­ec­u­tive con­cern for ar­chi­tec­ture comes at a prac­ti­cal price, writes An­thony Har­ring­ton

The Herald Business - - Special Report -

Scot­land is unique in the UK in hav­ing a na­tional pol­icy on ar­chi­tec­ture, for­mu­lated in 2001. The Ex­ec­u­tive has fol­lowed up on this by spon­sor­ing both The Light­house, Scot­land’s na­tional cen­tre for ar­chi­tec­ture, and the ScotMARK pro­gramme, a col­lab­o­ra­tive ven­ture sup­ported by the Scot­tish Ex­ec­u­tive ar­chi­tec­ture pol­icy unit, the six schools of ar­chi­tec­ture and the Royal In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tects in Scot­land (RIAS).

How­ever, while pro­fes­sional ar­chi­tects ob­vi­ously wel­come gov­ern­ment in­ter­est in the qual­ity of Scot­land’s built en­vi­ron­ment, for the most part min­is­te­rial as­pi­ra­tions are seen as largely ir­rel­e­vant to the day to day busi­ness of win­ning and ex­e­cut­ing projects.

“Gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tives are re­ally just noises off­stage,” says Ian Burleigh, a di­rec­tor of ica ar­chi­tects + de­sign­ers. “If any­thing, gov­ern­ment at present is hav­ing a very neg­a­tive im­pact on ar­chi­tec­ture in Scot­land. Some­times the in­ten­tion is good but the de­liv­ery tends to akin to pour­ing trea­cle into the sys­tem.”

Burleigh is par­tic­u­larly in­censed by the fact that it cur­rently costs more to build a ho­tel in Hamil­ton than to build the equiv­a­lent ho­tel in Croy­don. “The gov­ern­ment has cho­sen to spend huge amounts of money on pub­lic sec­tor projects. That is prob­a­bly a good thing, but it has driven the cost of con­struc­tion to lu­di­crous lev­els in Scot­land,” he says.

He also de­plores the fact that there are two dif­fer­ent sets of build­ing con­trol reg­u­la­tions, one for Eng­land and one for Scot­land. “I have to put twice as many toi­lets into the ho­tel in Hamil­ton, ac­cord­ing to the plan­ners, than I would have to put into a ho­tel in Lon­don. If I’m spend­ing the client’s money on toi­lets, that is money I can’t spend on aes­thetic de­sign.”

How­ever, Burleigh be­lieves that over­all Scot­land’s plan­ning au­thor­i­ties are “a force for good”.

He adds: “The big­gest thing gov­ern­ment could do for ar­chi­tec­ture in Scot­land would be to in­tro­duce a sys­tem of build­ing con­trol that is sim­i­lar to Eng­land’s. There they have trained in­spec­tors, who are qual­ity sur­vey­ors.”

Don McLean, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of NJSR McLean Ar­chi­tects says that one of the pri­mary ways in which the re­search con­ducted in Scot­land’s schools of ar­chi­tec­ture feed in to prac­tice work can be seen in ideas such as fu­ture proof­ing and sus­tain­abil­ity that are be­ing in­cul­cated into the present gen­er­a­tion of stu­dents. “We see far more aware­ness of th­ese is­sues now in new grad­u­ates join­ing the prac­tice,” he says.

For McLean, too, gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tives look well in­ten­tioned but at a re­move from prac­tice life. “It is not wasted money, though, for gov­ern­ment to fund re­search in ar­chi­tec­ture,” he says. “It can cre­ate a fo­cused ini­tia­tive that can, ul­ti­mately, push through into the mar­ket. But it has lit­tle to do with prac­tice re­search, which is very project spe­cific and very con­cerned with a par­tic­u­lar brief.”

Bob Ra­m­age, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of G5 Ar­chi­tec­ture, agrees. “There is re­ally only the weak­est link­age be­tween the aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions and most ar­chi­tec­tural prac­tices in Scot­land,” he says. “This is like any other busi­ness. If you can’t win projects and gen­er­ate rev­enue, you won’t sur­vive, so that is the name of the game. On top of that we all want to com­plete projects inside the client’s bud­get con­straints that are go­ing to make a con­tri­bu­tion to the built en­vi­ron­ment.”

His prac­tice has taken on a new di­rec­tor, David McNaughton, this year, and a new as­so­ci­ate di­rec­tor in David Reat.

John Cre­aney, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of GCA Ar­chi­tects, reck­ons that while Scot­land cur­rently has a num­ber of tal­ented young prac­tices try­ing to make their way, win­ning projects is very dif­fi­cult for new prac­tices. Com­pe­ti­tions are all very well, he says, but they are no sure routes to win­ning projects, par­tic­u­larly when, as has hap­pened in a num­ber of high profile cases re­cently, the project is can­celled be­cause of lack of funds. “We are re­ally fo­cus­ing on the fee earn­ing side of things right now and com­pe­ti­tions are some­thing we will get in­volved in fur­ther down the line, though we will cer­tainly be se­lec­tive about which we choose to en­ter,” he says.

As one of the UK's ma­jor con­struc­tion com­pa­nies, Barr Ltd op­er­ates across sev­eral in­dus­try sec­tors in­clud­ing re­tail, leisure and ed­u­ca­tion. The com­pany be­lieves that work­ing in part­ner­ship with its clients, rather than sim­ply for them, is cen­tral to the suc­cess of any project. It is for this rea­son that Barr Con­struc­tion has been re­tained as a mem­ber of the Tesco sup­ply chain for over 10 years with over sixty projects com­pleted for the re­tailer. Barr re­cently an­nounced de­tails of a se­ries of con­tracts to­talling £50 mil­lion which will see the com­pany con­struct three new Tesco stores from Wick in the North to Cardiff in the South The new store cur­rently un­der con­struc­tion in Galashiels will be the first Tesco in Scot­land to in­cor­po­rate the "store on stilts" con­cept. Out­with the Tesco frame­work, Barr Con­struc­tion has con­sid­er­able ex­pe­ri­ence in the re­tail sec­tor hav­ing com­pleted sev­eral projects for other na­tional re­tail­ers such as Home­base, PC World and Dob­bies and has re­cently fin­ished work on a new B&Q Ware­house project in Carlisle (shown left). Barr is also the lead­ing provider of sports sta­dia fa­cil­i­ties in the UK hav­ing com­pleted over fifty projects in the last decade. Some of the com­pany's high profile clients have in­cluded Celtic FC, Rangers FC, Hiber­nian FC, Northamp­ton Saints RFC, Perth Race­course (shown left) and War­ring­ton Wolves RLFC. Barr's ex­per­tise with sports and leisure clients has al­lowed it to de­velop re­lates schemes such as sports cen­tres and train­ing acad­e­mies. For ex­am­ple,the com­pany is cur­rently build­ing a new Leisure Cen­tre in Kirk­in­til­loch for the lo­cal com­mu­nity (shown be­low). Barr con­tin­ues to de­velop its core busi­ness in the UK with ma­jor ex­pan­sion over the past two years on the schools pro­gramme in Scot­land. Cur­rent projects in­clude new schools for Ar­gyll & Bute , Ren­frew & North Ayr­shire

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