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Feature article
The seating of the Plenary Theatre during construction, photograph courtesy of of Woods Bagot and NH Architecture


WORDS BY Lyndon Hayward

Procurement is a word extremely common in the lexicon of the property community and tends to connote a negative disposition as if procurement is something on the side, removed from the architect’s control and influence, decided by others, an abstract force, perhaps even accidental or evolutionary.

What is being procured, by who and why? Are architectural services being pimped or are the current models of procurement of major projects allowing architecture to be created with care and effort?

This edition seeks to interrogate the issues relating to the role of the architect in the contemporary procurement of both design services and construction. A dry yet fundamental topic for our profession suddenly becomes more provocative when reflecting on the meaning of procurement.

About 35 years ago I was fortunate to see the architect in the ‘Master of the Universe’ role; in complete control of the ‘procurement’ process, in control of the design, budget and construction phase of a major city building. It was inspiring.

At the same time I stepped through the door of the new way of ‘delivering’ major projects. It was early in the era of the joint venturing of architects, which quickly accelerated to be the norm, and architectural practices either adapted (leveraged) or
fell back.

This relatively new discipline of project management was on the march, evolving to become the constant in current procurement models. The project manager took over some of the architects’ traditional roles: design management, brief procurement, procurement of secondary consultants, procurement of the builder, and superintendence of the construction phase.

The quantity surveyor used to report to the architect, but now almost always reports to the client, giving a pretty clear signal those clients don’t trust us to control their money.

Traditional methods of tendering and contracting the builder started to compete with Design and Construct arrangements where the contractor assumed responsibility of the design of the project. This evolved into novated contracts, where the contractor assumed design responsibility from the completion of design development and more sophisticated models in Public Private Partnerships and Alliance frameworks.

In more recent times some ‘contractor clients’ (thankfully limited) have also reduced the architects’ role in the documentation phase by contracting this phase to other documentation service providers, leaving the design architect out of the documentation and construction phases altogether.

Recently, an architect working for a major contractor was quoted in a national paper that architects do not document as well these days. Through twitter I retorted my disgust and an apology quickly followed.


The architect and the consortium,

photograph courtesy of Woods Bagot and NH Architecture

The latest change we see is that major institutions are sometimes calling tenders for architectural services at nearly every phase: master planning, concept design, schematic design and balance of the services. What possibly is the benefit, other than price?

I am reasonably confident that the architectural community, save for my earlier comment, did not drive these changes but we are where we are.

Some in our community would like to advocate and prove to the client pool that the architect of a major project should assume total control of the design and construction of our work. After all it makes sense, of all players the creator of the building knows the most about it and certainly no one better understands the underlying design intent. As a profession however, we might be a little rusty on procurement.

In this edition of Architect Victoria a diverse and experienced panel of contributors discuss their experience regarding alternative procurement methods, particularly as they relate to larger projects. The next edition will look at this topic as it relates to smaller projects.

It seems, particularly on major projects, clients have come to risk design outcome before they’ll risk cost and time outcome as they novate their team to the contractor. But do we understand the evidence of claims history against architects that may or may not support the clients’ concerns regarding our management of cost and time risks on projects?

Why has procurement evolved to the popular Design, Novate and Construct model (DNC)? It turns out that over the past 40 years procurement methodologies have changed just like fashion and there is no sign this has stopped with concepts like DEBI (yes I know – four letters: Double Early Builder Involvement, as if current methods aren’t early enough) being talked about.

Procurement and risk go hand in hand. Risk or uncertainty is the ‘elephant in the room’. Earlier this year the National Architectural Conference took place with its theme, ‘Risk’, while in May the renown ABC Science Show conducted a panel discussion, ‘Risky Business’.

We are all talking about it.

The ABC’s ‘Risky Business’ had a sophisticated panel discussing risk and the often irrational fear or perception that governs our response. There are clues in this postural discussion as to how risk might be challenged. Words like: resilience, change, agility, opportunity, nimble and anti-fragile hint at the way architects might need to influence the direction of procurement.

What are we afraid of?

What are our clients afraid of?

Who caries project risk and why?

Are clients getting best value as they hand over their design team to the contractor who warrants design, time and cost?

Do clients get what they deserve? (In the best sense and worst sense)

The questions just keep coming. Bryan Miller, a highly experienced architect and educator on matters contractual, seeks to address some of these questions with reference to empirical research which provides evidence that keeping architects close to the action works. Bryan calls for better understanding and evidence in support of decisions on procurement methodology.

Damian Abrahams, the Lawyer on our panel has worked with many architects advising on contractual matters, assisting in negotiating ever more onerous and complex contracts as our Professional Indemnity Insurers continue to catch up with the evolving contractual obligations that architects have to consider. Damian openly addresses the risks of novation and the cascade effect of responsibility and liability. He has spent many years being at the side of architects negotiating these ever more complex agreements and is very aware of the paradox of these negotiations between practical commercial reality and unrealistic – at times uninsurable – contractual risk.

Alan Findlater is a highly regarded project manager who has guided the procurement of some of Melbourne’s more complex institutional projects. He sits between the client and all the players necessary to deliver a project and brings a calm mind, highlighting the need to find the ‘right clothes to suit the weather’. He notes that disaggregation of services should be discouraged and advocates for integrated services provided by experienced players.

Steve Richardson has led the design and construction teams on some of Melbourne’s celebrated buildings including the MCG’s Northern Stand and AAMI Park. Steve understands better than most the risks and rewards that can come with the Design, Novate and Construct model and in more recent years has become an adviser to government and an educator also. Steve postulates a model that might please the architects but annoy the engineers, highlighting the need for change.

So what of the future? There are progressive thinkers here and abroad that are not standing idle to react to the next fashionable shift in the mode of procurement. They are leaders working in ways antithetical to mainstream practice.

In Melbourne, progressive architects are developing a model with like-minded professionals who are backing themselves in a model that is yet to be tested. Branded as Nightingale, a group of architects spearhead a design led investment and delivery model that proposes to rotate architectural practices to design medium density housing developments that are based on progressive sustainability and outstanding design. They have a waiting list of potential buyers wanting quality design in lieu of cookie cutter apartment product. We need to encourage them.

ShoP Architects (NY) speak of the involvement in architecture from beginning to end including their immersion and control of the fabrication process as well as influence on construction methodology.

Architects can be a major source of work for other architects, another means of procurement. Young and emerging practitioners should recognise they may have a unique approach or skill set that when combined with a larger practice may provide a winning solution. Larger practices should strategise more broadly than thinking all the buildings on a large and diverse program they are commanding should be theirs. All stakeholders may benefit from a genuine diversity in authorship. Robyn Williams (ABC Science Show) reminds us to remember community!

We need to be confident of our skills and tool up where necessary to influence a value based procurement model rather than the risk based models that permeate our industry. We need to encourage research and open discussion to lead the debate. Architects should take the opportunities when they arise to lead the procurement of projects, in part or whole. This requires an understanding of the risks and the development strategies to reduce and manage such impacts. As history shows us: if we don’t, others will.