Conservation Architects: Quality Controls

2004 will be the 10th consecutive year of expansion for the construction industry, which has ridden confidently through the wider uncertainties of the past three years. So does this benign climate mean ever-broader opportunity for architects? Only if you’ve got the right bits of paper, it would seem.

English Heritage put the cat among the pigeons last year by deciding that it would only provide grants for conservation work to projects whose architect was a member of Architects Accredited in Building Conservation (AABC). This society was set up under the wing of EH for practitioners with qualifications from the main sources of post-graduate training who were active in conservation.

But the fact is that this group, of less than 100 people in 2003, has gained a monopoly over grant-aided historic building work. Thousands of architects have previously done conservation work, and many of them are very experienced, but without a diploma they are not able to join AABC or apply for grants for their clients. They have to bring an AABC member into the team.

No doubt the AABC and the RIBA, which have an understanding, will work to extend accreditation to more architects. But the principle of excluding the unqualified is a marker of the use of “managerialism”. Managerialism is the behaviour shown by customer managers who seek to minimise risk, uncertainty and personal exposure. All decisions must be based on evidence, all those hired must be qualified and experienced, and all results must be measured.

The idea of architects having a nice life by swanning around doing a bit of this, then a bit of that, gives “managerialists” a headache. They want an architect who has done exactly the sort of work they seek before, has solid references, a qualification in appropriate specialisms, practice statements confirming politically correct stances and quality assurance to ISO 9001-2000. Thus no one can criticise them for making a personal judgment or exposing their organisation to risk.

Complaints that the selection process excludes architects who could have brought fresh thinking to the job wash off their backs very easily; they love any straightforward way of striking names off the long list. When there are enough names for the shortlist from people who can tick every box, that is managerial satisfaction. In the early days of quality assurance it was not an advantage to have it as public clients could not get enough names for a full competition if they asked for quality assurance.

This trend will not be resisted anytime soon. Architects had better roll with it than protest the delights of amateurism. There is real value to society and customers in the knowledge to be gained and managed within each specialism, whether of building type, technology or process.

We should expect the emergence of more societies of the qualified. In marketing terms it is a very positive trend: it creates barriers to entry; raises the scarcity, thus the price, of expertise; and moves services away from being commodities. The generalist is in oversupply and must work for peanuts. Specialism rules, OK.

Home | Blog | Client Adviser | Business Adviser | CV | Writings | Contact Us