Practice History

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

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.

PFI Schools

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.

PFI Problems?

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.
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