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04 Journal

Quality needs to be the focus. Only then will we have a system that protects the public interest. 

Giving evidence at the Upper House Inquiry on Friday, after our new Building Commissioner, Mr David Chandler, the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) NSW President Kathlyn Loseby told the inquiry that it had been “particularly distressing to hear and watch what has unfolded in the apartment sector.”

The AIA Code of Conduct expects architects to ‘improve standards of health and safety for the protection and welfare of all members of the community.’ Not just for the client, the developer or the financial institution, but for everyone. Poor quality buildings leave a lasting legacy that diminishes the overall quality of our built and living environments.

We acknowledge the NSW Government is taking the first steps to improve this issue with the appointment of David Chandler as NSW Building Commissioner, we look forward to working with him.  We hope he will be given the support and resources needed.

We have now all seen many high profile cases of quality failure. These failures are of significant and on-going concern and have occurred for three main reasons:

    • quality is not embedded into the value system of the design and construction process
    • the roles and responsibilities of those involved are not clearly defined and
    • there is a general lack of appreciation of the  value of good quality design, thorough documentation and construction oversight that is brought to the overall life cycle costs, maintenance and operations of buildings while meeting the functional needs and expectations of the end-users.

This is typically what happens now
In the current market   ‘design and construct’ contracts typically see the Developer Client handover the Quality and Intelligence of the design team (architects and engineers) to the Builder at Novation. This occurs when the documentation package goes out to Tender, the documentation can be as little as 30% to 50% of what is needed to build a complex project.

The Builder has to put in a competitive price and commit to a tight program in order to win the contract. And that is what they are held to.

The Builder now engages the design team. Fees are questioned, they will potentially ‘shop around’ and get a cheaper alternative, outsource to overseas, go to a documentation house, or not employ a tertiary trained designer but go straight to the trade designer.

Even if the original designer is engaged, the final component of the documentation is driven by minimising the cost and the program. The designers are asked to be on site rarely, sometimes not at all.

This erodes continuity of critical project knowledge, quality is ignored and ultimately outcomes are not optimal.

Now add in ‘substitution’ of products and ‘value engineering’ these words are a fancy way of saying cost cutting.

Yes the building is less expensive and yes it is completed sooner, but this is short sighted.

When remediation costs, rectification works, and expensive maintenance are counted it is far more costly.

What is needed?

    • Mandate detailed documentation at the stage where the documents are declared to meet the BCA.
    • For large and complex projects, oversight and quality assurance needs to occur continuously on site. We strongly recommend the appointment of a clerk of works, a model that has operated effectively in the past, and has substantially improved quality outcomes in the United Kingdom with ‘Design and Build’ contracts (similar to our ‘Design and Construct’ contracts in Australia).
    • Only regulated practitioners should be involved in the design and project management of high risk multi-unit residential and commercial buildings
    • Ideally, the architect is NOT novated to the Builder, but stays engaged to the Client.
    • The Owners Corporationshould come into being when the ‘first’ strata unit is sold, or deposit taken.’ It should be still owned by the Developer, but the details are lodged with the Building Commissioner. The Clerk of Works would ideally report to the Client through a Managing Architect who has a responsibility to the end client and submits independent reports to the Building Commissioner.

In summary, quality needs to be the focus. Only then will we have a system that protects the public interest.

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