The Big Issues

21 Sep 2012

London's legacy doomed by get-rich-quick contractors

The construction industry is coming under increasing criticism for its use of inferior quality materials and products when striving to deliver projects quickly and within tight budgets. Whilst the use of cheaper fixtures and fittings pays financial dividends in the short-term, there can be significant long-term environmental consequences, including higher energy usage and increased carbon emissions. This prevailing method continues to go unchecked by the government and flies in the face of its stated policies in support of reducing carbon emissions in our cities.

To minimise costs and to expedite project delivery, many clients choose the 'Design & Build' process, in which the design and construction services become the responsibility of a single contractor. The contractor has a very clear agenda, to deliver his building on time and on budget. He has no remit for long term energy savings. This fast track, modern process differs from the more traditional approach to construction projects, which consisted of a project architect at the head of the team, who then used to manage the work by contractors. Under the 'Design & Build' system, architects no longer have the same authority and are, in effect, working for the contractor.

Many architects see this procedure as erroneous and short-sighted, since their designs are consistently being compromised. In addition, projects often require complex, elaborate design solutions that are not within the aesthetic or technical remit of the contractor.

Jim Woolley, UK Business Development Manager for lift specialists, KONE believes contractors are being rewarded for these 'get rich quick' buildings to the detriment of the environment:

"In the case of elevators for example, we still see hydraulic and geared elevators being installed today. Great technologies of the past are less expensive to purchase than gearless elevators. Typically; hydraulic and geared elevators respectively use 50% - 75% more energy. These technologies are no longer being developed and are reliable, but are unbelievably costly to run and maintain.

“Thousands of hours of design work and specifications are undone by an active decision to go cheap," he says. "But the few pounds that are saved at the sub-contract level can cost inordinate sums at the building owner level for the next twenty to thirty years. It is often a false economy for which the contractor will not pick up the tab," Woolley added.

These controversial claims will be addressed at World Architecture Day on 01 October, during which many of the world's leading experts will gather for the first time in London for a summit to discuss the big issues facing contemporary architecture.

Programme Director of World Architecture Day, Michael Hammond stated: "The term 'value engineering' has long struck dismay in the hearts of architects who see their designs dumbed down between the drawing board and the finished building. At World Architecture Day, we want to bring this flawed system to light and discuss the potentially damaging endpoints of this procedure."

World Architecture Day will also see the launch of six online forums, designed to encourage debate and tackle crucial challenges within Healthcare design, Education design, Commercial, Residential, Civic buildings and Urban regeneration.

Send your Big Issues to WAN’s News Editor, Sian Disson at so we can put them to the panel and in the meantime, here’s our Chairman, Richard Coleman’s Big Issues for London. If you're attending next Monday's big event, please log in to the World Architecture Day Forum using the details sent to your email address to meet your fellow attendees. 

In addition, World Cities Network a new initiative focused on accelerating the investment into urban infrastructure and the building of resilient cities will be launched. Brian Kilkelly, CEO adds "City leaders recognise the need to improve the resilience of their urban environments. High on the list of priorities is reform of development practices and planning laws to ensure delivery of quality of place. This is good news for those able to deliver more sustainable solutions."

For press passes for World Architecture Day 2012, contact Dave Gallienne, Head of Communications, World Architecture Day on


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