The ongoing ramifications of the Lacrosse apartment fire in Docklands continue to concern all of the professional bodies and the Victorian Building Authority. Some 170 buildings, principally within the City of Melbourne, will be investigated in order to ascertain the extent of non-compliant cladding materials used over the last 10 years. We await the results, but early indications are that Lacrosse is not an isolated example.
Architects have been warning for decades about the continual lowering of construction standards and the reduction of supervision of the actual construction process, in parallel with a continual reduction in our services. We are now faced with a situation where many major buildings are constructed under a Design and Construct contract, whereby the architect is employed by the contractor. In many cases there is little or no architectural involvement during construction and the substitution of materials, be they mechanical equipment, glass, lighting or cladding systems, is common place.
One of the reasons product substitution and design simplification has been allowed is through the change of superintendent of the project from the architect to the project manager. The role of the project manager can be a valid one – but the Institute is questioning why project managers are not required to have as rigorous qualifications and an equal level of registration and insurance required of architects.
At the same time that the procurement of buildings has been loosened to allow the contractor more scope to tailor the project to the client’s time and cost parameters, the procurement of architectural services has become tighter. Gone are the days when a client calls and says ‘can you start work on the project?’ Architectural services are now subject to as great or greater scrutiny and tendering regimes than the building itself. In some cases, the tendering process has been used to a brutal extent, such as tendering at multiple stages of the project, and tying the consultants in a complex matrix of ‘deliverables’.
There have been predictions of the demise of the professional architect, due to the congruent nature and risk aversion of the industry. Certainly we can see that design conformance in the apartment sector is high and that fee competition is severe, with fees as low as 1.9% being quoted. The sustainability of these conditions must be questioned. All news is not bad though, the Education Department has recently reintroduced a standard fee scale for consultants after several year of poor service from competitive bidding.
The National Council of the Institute is working on a Cost Calculator for architectural services, building on the excellent work of the Association of Consulting Architects in this area. The Institute will assist by surveying the members and populating the Calculator with historical data drawn from a wide range of practices and project sizes. The Calculator will allow practices to estimate time on different project types and sizes, and to apply their own hourly rates and profit level in order to calculate a cost for services.
It is a tool which will assist architects in regaining their role in the entire building process.
Congratulation to Jon Clements on his election to National Presidency.