Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan is looking for submissions to help improve the quality and safety of buildings. Currently the proposal is to have a compulsory set of certificates issued by architects along with supporting documentation.
Is this really a ‘solution’ or just a political answer to the symptoms?
Who do you think should be responsible? What is the best solution? Have your say….[poll id=”59″]
The plan seems simple enough on the face of it, require architects to fill in various compulsory certificates throughout the build. This is really breaking down the final ‘Architects certificate of compliance’ issued at the end of a build into different stages. Within that certificate there are various caveats that cover off work that was not seen or inspected.
On that basis it may not be a ‘solution’ at all, there will always be work that is not inspected. At the same time, you could have a developer who wants something done a certain way, the architect views it and it looks okay but in fact it isn’t. Imagine going to a site where concrete was poured and asking the people if there was enough re-enforcing steel bars in it and they assured you that a certain amount was used. You can’t unpour the concrete to check, equally, saying you can’t pour until the architect or engineer is there could cause unnecessary and costly delays.
Which leads to another question: what about the cross over between architects and engineers? People seem to confuse what an architect does, their job is mixture of design, compliance with building codes, outlay/ergonomic considerations and the like; what they don’t do is gauge sheer forces or determine the loads a wall will carry that may be the difference between laying blocks on their flat side or on their edge.
Local authorities have building inspectors, they are also the beneficiary of contributions – which are a lump sum payment to the local authority in return for the planning permission with certain amounts added on or reduced for connections to water and sewage. Is it fair for them to be in a situation where they get paid but are not responsible?
If we do ‘blame’ architects then it will embed cost into building, because you won’t have the choice but to have a comprehensive architecture package in the outlay, and the architect may not be fire-savvy (often it is fire engineers who undertake this work). The builder may not know that some of his sheet-rock crew put blue gypsum where green gypsum was required or other such considerations.
Building is really about good people doing the right things at the right time, and thankfully that is how it works almost all of the time. Except for when it doesn’t, and you get something like Priory Hall where hundreds of honest buyers paid their money in good faith for something that was a fire-risk.
Falling back on architects means you are really going after their professional indemnity insurance – which may or may not be in force or may have exclusion clauses. This means that the we are narrowing the field down. Developers and builders may be rightfully blamed but they don’t carry insurance that covers this type of issue and as we have already seen, they may opt to go ‘bang’ rather than face the alternative consequences.
I can’t help but think it is the local authority who grant the permission to ensure that it is complied with – they are paid in the granting of permission and they are the ones who are the ongoing service providers, who already have building inspectors who do the inspection jobs.
It would be better if Phil Hogan ensured that Councils sent inspectors along regularly as is common in the UK. I don’t like the idea that an architect can sign a cert of compliance on a building that isn’t compliant, breaking down this process further doesn’t give any guarantee that specific needs are met. What about the circumstance where an architect is hard up and a builder might say ‘sign off on this stage or you don’t get paid’? That is a predicament which implies that whoever takes responsibility should be beyond reproach (at least in terms of being Shanghai’d financially).
Some people are upset with the banks on this. They do have some cause, but the banks offered finance secured on the asset after the buildings were completed. A solution here might be that banks should give a contribution to the local authority if they are lending on a development to supplement their work in ensuring codes are met.
What can’t happen is for the people living there to take the brunt, or to seek to have ultimate liability with those who can’t be effectively chased down or made to compensate, these things are naturally indicating that a local authority would be the best placed to solve this in the future, not multiple architect certificates.