Think

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By Architect Don Bunting

 

Aretha Franklin said it best, in her verson of the song in the Blues Brothers movie. She said: Think . . . let your mind go — let yourself be free.

Unfortunately, our industry seems more set on a path of low standards and high costs. It’s time for fresh thinking, time to take a step back and see what can be done to improve quality and ensure that costs are equable.

There is far too much talk and not enough positive, effective action by government, by industry organisations, or by individual industry members.

When was the last time you discovered an unacceptable practice or process and actually did something about it? Not complained, not just talked about it, but actually got down and made sure that change happened?

 

Current issues

Let’s look at just a few issues:

The high cost and ridiculous time loss in gaining a building consent.

The lack of clarity in how design and construction teams are established.

The lack of clear, effective, even-handed management of the construction process.

Huge cost over-runs on major projects.

The unacceptably high cost of new housing.

A lack of involvement in the design/construction process by the ultimate building owner/occupier.

• Building product failures occurring well before their intended life has been reached.

• An apparent lack of a social concience.

And I’m sure you could add many more to this sad reflection on our once great industry.

Think for a moment and jot down any other aspects of our industry, or your place in it, that you believe are wrong or could be improved.

I offer just one quote from an international member of my own profession, the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), who said:

“The influence of architects has diminished and the profession must strive to reclaim leadership of the design process to drive excellence.

“Whether you agree that this would be a good thing or not, it reflects the fact that our industry lacks leadership and, more disturbingly, lacks a moral compass.

“Not that there is a lack of good architecture — it just seems to be such a struggle to get there, with too many negative issues arising later.”

 

What’s gone wrong?

So what’s gone wrong? Where should we be in 2018? What are the missed opportunities, especially in technology? And what are the new solutions for getting our industry back on track?

This is not just a New Zealand problem, but the solutions must be found locally, by the concerted effort of industry leaders, industry organisations and by individual members, including administrators, designers, contractors, suppliers and manufacturers.

And, most importantly, we must ensure that rules and legislation reflect what the industry needs to ensure a robust and affordable result for all.

Because, in recent times we have seriously neglected the part we should have played in determining the rules governing and directing our own industry.

As someone who has sat on countless Standards committees and government working groups, I know it’s difficult, time consuming and offers few rewards.

But more of you need to stand up and confront the faceless bureaucrats making any number of essentially dumb decisions. Or not making decisions at all.

A real challenge for our industry is that there are too many stupid people in positions of power and influence thinking they are smart.

 

Industry must . . .

. . . regain confidence after a number of recent batterings around failed projects and ridiculous cost over-runs.

The industry must also be ready to speak up and challenge government when it sees something being done that is wrong or ineffective, or where government is not doing enough.

The greatest blot on our industry is the extortionate cost of building materials. Speak up and insist that something be done to reduce the dominance of the building merchants.

The elephant in the room is the difficulty in establishing compliance of construction materials and systems. The answer is so simple — a national database of compliant construction products that is accepted by all, including all BCAs.

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE’s) response was an optional Product Technical Statement approach to indicate compliance.

Being poorly presented, without any user-friendly technology behind it and no formal status, led to its inevitable failure.

It was simply not good enough for resolving what remains a major hurdle for manufacturers, designers, BCAs and contractors.

 

You must . . .

. . . do something. Look at where you sit in the current scheme of things. Are you happy with your situation? Is your voice being listened to? Are you even part of the conversation?

It’s not easy, and there are no direct rewards for poking your nose above the bureaucratic barricades. But doing nothing is not an option.

 

How could this have happened?

The so-called meth house is a myth. That is, the belief that someone smoking meth in a dwelling would result in dangerous conditions for future occupiers was simply not true.

The Government’s chief science advisor has stated: “There is absolutely no evidence of anybody being harmed by passive exposure to methamphetamine at any level.”

How did they get the science so wrong? While it might be explained away as operating on the side of caution, the negative effect on property owners and occupiers has been unacceptably high.

Perhaps such legislation needs more robust testing before introduction. The same might apply to some other legislation in the area of supposed health and safety.