Mr Johnson began his lecture (entitled 'PFI and Globalisation') with
an introduction to the practice at which he is a Director. In 1999
Holford Associates with 130 staff merged with Abbey Hanson Rowe with
150 staff to form Abbey Holford Rowe with a turnover of £13.5m and
22 partners. Later that year the new practice again merged with Temple
Cox Nichols which formed a new limited company with a turnover of
£22m making it the second largest in the UK. Finally, by global association
with Liang Peddle Thorpe, an new company was formed with offices in
8 countries, 850 staff and 50 directors. A rebranding exercise then
took place (of which Mr Johnson seemed somewhat cynical) and the name
'Aedas' (from the greek 'to build') came into being.
This process of merging and consolidation came as a result of international
trends which are seeing an ever higher proportion of public commissions
are going to large firms, leaving small firms 'with the crumbs'. By
having a global presence, the practice is now somewhat protected from
the vagaries of local economic fluctuations.
PFI is a method of procurement for a service rather than just a building
where a consortium bids to design, build and run a facility for 25
to 30 years. It is now a huge part of the building industry as the
government is routing a huge amount of it's expenditure on public
services through this procurement route. PFI contracts can be huge
- the largest so far is £1bn in value. Aedas is heavily involved with
PFI projects and it forms a large and growing part of it's income.
£7bn has been earmarked for PFI school projects between 1998 and 2005
and this enable a vast amount of new schools to be built and theoretically
removes the previous problems over long term building maintenance.
Aedas is involved with 4 major PFI school projects. In Stoke on Trent
15 new school are under construction and 90 are ebbing refurbished.
In Leeds 7 schools are being replaced or refurbished. In Birmingham
the figure is 10, and in the Wirral 9. These are fast-track projects
where, due to the sheer volume of work involved, only large practices
can compete. Even with all the resources at Aedas it is a struggle
to keep up on occasion. Mr Johnson describe how there is approximately
60 days in which to design a school and four meetings for directors
to attend per school. When well over a hundred schools are in the
contract, this is an exceptional amount of meetings to co-ordinate.
Mr Johnson went on to describe a number of areas that might concern
architects about the PFI process. Primarily, as PFI is all about risk
transfer, innovation suffers. Innovative architecture is not encouraged
because it is, by definition, untried and therefore a risk. As the
consortium will be responsible for the building for 30 years any unexpected
cost can multiply over time and become dangerous to profitability.
Thus tried and tested building methods and ideas are invariably preferred
to progressive ideas.
Another problem that architects might experience is the role of life-cycle
costing. The entire budgeting process of the building is fundamentally
different from traditional contracts because the cost has to be extruded
over a lifetime of 30 years. This demands a very different way of
designing and specifying a building.
As a result of these processes Mr K=Johnson noted that most PFI schools
are either red or beige, and have no trees, because they are so easy
to cut out of the budget.
St James Place, Edgbaston
Bradford Transport Interchange
123 St Vincent Street, Glasgow