Building trust brick by brick
Executive concern for architecture comes at a practical price, writes Anthony Harrington
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