Adrian Dobson: From the point of view of an Architect

Published:  16 June, 2017

Adrian Dobson, the Executive Director for Members of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), brought a new perspective to the BMF Conference – that of an architect.

Addressing a roomful of builders’ merchants was a new experience for Adrian, and one that he said was refreshing as part of an industry that “can be quite tribal”, where each part of the construction industry has the tendency to stick to itself.

As part of the same supply chain, Adrian said architects like to think of themselves as improving the environment, and as people who can heavily influence the types of products used in a building project. He believes, however, that the industry needs to come together and talk with each other more, explaining that, for architects, designing a building and getting a project off the ground can be “an incredibly tough path to tread”.

In preparation for his speech at the Conference, Adrian asked a number of architects how they would describe their image of a typical builders’ merchant, and the responses showed that merchants have an image among architects of being helpful, expert, knowledgeable and informative. Overall, they were seen as pragmatic, realistic and a valued contact in the supply chain, something Adrian said the assembled delegates should “be very proud of”.

He then asked the delegates to say what their image of an architect was, offering a number of options through the Conference app for the audience to vote on. The most popular answer was “practical, technological and organised”.

Adrian suggested that ties between architects and merchants could be stronger still, and that builders’ merchants should consider inviting local branches of architects practices to visit them to see more about what a merchant does, and to encourage closer connections between the two business types.

“Architects love talking about materials – what they use in buildings and where they’re sourced from,” he added.

Asked to talk about the challenges that face the industry in the coming years, and for architects in particular, Adrian warned that Brexit and changes in the UK’s immigration policy could have a similar impact among architects as has been widely discussed among construction tradespeople.

David Thomas, head of Barratt Homes, has estimated that 30% to 40% of the company’s construction workforce comes from mainland Europe, and Adrian said that similar problems exist among architects. Twenty-five percent of architects on the UK’s professional register are also from mainland Europe, holding European qualifications, with a large percentage of the new architects who are joining the register also coming from Europe. This, Adrian said, is a challenge that is going to affect everyone if the new Brexit deal makes the free movement of people into the UK more difficult.

Is this our Uber moment?

Adrian believes the biggest challenge facing the construction industry is changing technology, particularly when it comes to specification.

“The design side of the industry is transforming rapidly,” he said. “Getting particular specifications into a project at its early stages is going to be an increasing challenge as the industry moves towards more integration through projects such as Building Information Modelling.”

He also said there is a coming shift in the way we build in the UK, which for all the new technology is still very Victorian in a lot of ways, ie: by putting one brick on top of another.

He said off-site manufacturing and pre-fabricated buildings are becoming more visible and, while there have been many false starts in this type of technology becoming more mainstream in the past, he questioned whether this might be the UK construction industry’s “Uber moment”, where a major shift in construction techniques arrives to shake up the industry.

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