The Architect's Role On-Site
Colleges teach architectural students to design buildings. Of course. The trouble is, they do not teach them to build buildings. As a result, the young architects who sit in a studio cleverly designing a building with his or her CAD system is very often removed from the reality of actually getting a property built to budget and schedule.
To my mind, the only experience that can bridge this gulf is “getting your hands dirty” on-site where the architect must become a commercial being and take on responsibility for the possibly alien, but absolutely critical, business of managing people and administration.
Two factors that really matter on-site are the relationship between the architect and the contractor and the quality of the project documentation. It is vital that the architect/contractor relationship is founded on trust and respect, enabling both parties to take a pragmatic, proactive and professionally responsible route to keeping the pace of work going. For example, if the architect issues a verbal instruction on-site, the contractual position is that it must be confirmed in writing. This means another delay while a letter is written, unless there is mutual trust and the contractor will undertake the new works in the full confidence that written confirmation will be supplied.
Site work enables architects to understand the building process, to determine what is acceptable workmanship and how to conduct meetings as well as how to handle the forest of required forms and other paperwork. On-site, architects should never forget that they are managing the client’s money and they will need to have the knowledge, as well as the courage, to stand up for changes to design or programme if this better protects the client’s interests — and this sometimes involves arguing with the client himself. Hotels are complicated things to build. Before I joined ReardonSmith a number of years ago, my experience ranged from Sizewell B to a dairy, none of which offered the complexities of the many different areas required in large hotels, the front and back-of-house jurisdictions and the unpredictable element of paying guests. That is why it is of further value to have a specialist hotel architect heading up the team on-site.
Finally, to return to the issue of what colleges don’t teach anymore, it is essential to have an architect who can draw. Architects cannot carry CAD around on-site. They have to be able to draw and re-draw freehand, delivering rapid solutions for the building process as the project takes its inevitable twists and turns.