Thursday, 28 February 2013

The story of school procurement...

For the last 10 years at space architecture we have been fascinated by school design and construction.
We have been involved in the development of hundreds of schools over the past decade with a wide range if procurement routes. In the early 2000s we were involved in the PFI programme. Schools were built quickly and cheaply and the investors realised there was money to be made in the financial structure of the deal. Design and construction quality was of little importance to the consortia.

The response to this was BSF which was a capital programme which seemed to have no end of resources. Schools were being built at an average of £2500 per square metre with some in the capital costing up to as much as £4000 per square meter. These were the good times and the only way was up. The only  feedback from the schools was whether they were on the programme or if they were going to get a swimming pool
There was lots if discussion about Transformational Learning and al ot if experimentation.
Some fantastic learning environments were delivered during this period, everyone unique and usually designed specifically to the head teachers requirements.

The academies programme was developed at a similar time to deliver schools which were not going to be part of a local Education Partnership.
These schools started at around £2200 per square metre but as things became tough the figure was reduced to £1850. Procurement was more straightforward and the buildings more restrained in their specification..

Michael Gove was appointed  education secretary as part of the new coalition Government and promptly scrapped the BSF programme and instigated the James Review.
The James review was mainly made up of common sense but probably not what the construction industry wanted to hear. The Government had been spending billions and the industry helped them along the way
The James Review suggested the Government was paying too much for its school buildings and was delivering an inconsistent product with little standardisation.

There is a place for unique and one off design but for all of the extra pounds we were spending to satisfy the requirements of individual head teaches we were letting down the children with the leaky roofs and windows who were not part of the programme..
The Goverenmentt usually procures building which will have there value written down over a 30 year period much like a supermarket. The building will have no paper value at this point and may be demolished. There is therefore little justification for expensive enhancements when the building is an asset or tool to deliver learning

In contrast when designing a commercial tower in London this is very much an investment. The construction may cost £100 million but may be worth twice that when complete.

These issues were overlooked in the boom times and there was justification from architects that we should be spending £3000 per square meter on our children. Of course we should but not if we cant afford it. The government lost site of the long term programme. The architects and head teaches all played in our conscience. This is our future. How could we short change our children?

However in my opinion it was the students and staff not on the programme who were short changed We could have delivered twice as many schools in half the time if we had been clear about the requirements in the first instance.
Many of the architects who designed these expensive schools have moved on from the market and are designing expensive commercial buildings across the globe. £1450 per square meter is not of any interest to them.

All of this brings me up to date and the current Priority Schools Building Programme. The Government have now been clear about their requiems which are sensible and pragmatic. The schools however will all still have excellent quality if light, air and space. They all have excellent acoustics and are safe places for the staff and students alike.
The environments are still inspiring for the young people who use them. The schools are still consulted however their requiems are moderated. In an environment were there is little resource they are delighted with their new school building.

The capital cost of these schools is £1450. This is a huge step forward. The finished product is still to the highest quality and there is little difference  to be seen between  the academies schools or even some BSF.

If the product is largely the same as it was before the question is where did all of the money go?

I don't have any science to back this up my theory I'm afraid but my view is it all went in the process. There were so many consultants and advisers on all sides. This added little value to the completed building in retrospect and certainly did not help the young people who would be populating the building.

The PSBP has removed all of this additional  and in my opinion unnecessary input and used the learning of the last 10 years to deliver schools which are right for today's learner and are flexible for the future.

I think however there is further to go. The PSPB does still focus on process. With some of the extended batches there is the opportunity to put a greater emphasis on product.

There is still a large amount of bespoke design in every school. We don't require this level of individually when buying a car or a house. Only the very wealthy can afford to have an architect designed home. Most of us mere mortals are pleased if we can change the colour if the kitchen units!

Why then do we as taxpayers accept the bespoke design of every school in the country.I suspect it is because the cognicente have managed to convince everyone that every school should be individual. I just don't buy this!

We have spent the past 2 years at space architecture refining scola which is our standard range of primary and secondary schools. They use all of the learning from the past 100 schools we have worked on whilst also considering offsite manufacture and BIM

We also took on board what we learned from the EFA during the development if the north east batch of the PSBP.

Typically in construction we look at cost. We have been keen to look at value whilst also challenging every aspect of the process.The capital cost of scola is £1300 per square metre. Our energy costs are £6.50 per square meter with life cycle replacement of £10 per square metre.

We have been able to use the data from the BIM to accurately predict the soft FM costs at £15 per square metre and the hard FM costs at £9 per square metre.

This is far more data than would normally be provided at the end of a construction project let alone at the beginning.

All of this helps with the PF2 funding model and will have a significant impact on the unitary charge over 30 years.

Scola considers PSBP not as a process but the delivery of an ever improving product where quality goes up and costs go down. Why have we been able to achieve this with motor car and not our schools.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Architecture: Process or Product?

Now there is a question to think about.Is architecture a processor a product?

In recent weeks it is something I have been giving considerable thought to. Most of my regular readers will know about my frustration at the construction industry and its cartel of poor performance.

We will certainly have lots of debate about whether architecture is a process or a product,however ,for me,I have a very clear view. I'm not really interested in the discussion. What I think is we should be more interested in is the product itself.

In design and construction we do get very involved in the process. In reality all that matters is the product. We seem to overlook this in our industry . The architects are keen to get the killer photo for the website. The structural engineer is long gone and onto the next job. The M and E engineer is really pleased he has got away with producing a performance specification and passed the hard work onto the sub contractor.

The main contractor has packed up and is working on the next job. His commercial manager is working on the final account and trying to make some money by not paying his supply chain.

Meanwhile the client and building user is trying to understand what they have bought. They are not sure how much energy the building will use and they are waiting to see how the building performs on a hot day and a cold day.

They also have to deal with the regular problems such as the flooding toilet and the leaking roof.

This is all because everyone focused on the process and not the product. There is no overall responsibility for the product. The contractor blames the architect. The architect blames the M and E engineer. The M and E engineer blames the sub contractor.

What we are very good at in the construction industry is pointing the finger, avoiding responsibility and understanding contracts.

While all of this is going on is anyone thinking about the customer, their business or the product they have just bought. All of this is embarrassing for us all and a sad reflection on our industry.

We must focus on the product and its performance. We must look to continually improve buildings and their performance.

There is no one simple answer but I think the move towards intelligent and useful data through design and construction will go a long way. We can now be clear where issues lie and quantify them. There is nowhere to hide and we can see issues before we commit to site.

Building Information Modelling has provided us with some fantastic tools but we must ensure we don't continue to do what we have always done but with better tools. We must use these tools and the information it provides us with to improve our products and deliver a better long term result for our client.

A car manufacturer who produced cars which overheated or leaked would not last long!