NICK MOSS JUNE 2020 02
Moss is one of five candidates for the RIBA presidency

RIBA hopeful Moss: ‘architects are on a knife edge’

Dan Whelan

Nick Moss, director of Manchester-based practice Sixtwo Architects and RIBA presidency candidate, urged the industry to address failures in the design and build system creating an “impoverished built environment” and sidelining architects.

Moss hopes to be elected as the next president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, the national representative body for architects and architecture, on a campaign for procurement reform that aims to place architects back “at the heart of the process”. 

Speaking to Place North West, he said: “At the moment, the business model of architect firms is on a knife edge.”

Moss, who is president of the Manchester Society of Architects, explained that this is due largely to lump-sum design and build contracts, a method of procuring for work whereby the client sets a fixed price for a project, transferring the financial risk to the contractor.  

This type of contract has resulted in architects having less of a say in the direction of a project and many decisions that are made on site, according to Moss.

As lump-sum design and build contracts have become common practice over the last 20 years, architects have become increasingly “marginalised” in the process of creating buildings. 

“With this type of contract, in most cases, the architect is novated [replaced with a new contract defining the company as a subcontractor], so you no longer have the dialogue with the client that first employed you,” Moss said.

“You are then an impostor on a contractor’s team.” 

Toastrack 2 Scaled

Sixtwo designed the refurbishment of the Toast Rack on Wilmslow Road

He added: “The sidelining of the architect means there is no single responsibility now for if a building is safe and meets building regulations. 

“We don’t have the control any more to ensure that projects are delivered in an adequate manner. The whole thing is a mess.” 

Some commentators have put collapses of several well-known contractors, including Pochins, Carillion and CPUK, down to this system, which leaves little margin for making errors or profit. 

The system also results in poor quality and often unsafe buildings, Moss added. 

The margins are so small and tight that contractors are effectively having to pay to do the projects. Contractors will do what they can to claw some money back and that can cheapen the building.” 

He called on construction industry leaders to support his campaign and push for reform of the “calamitous” procurement system. 

Among those to endorse Moss’ campaign are Manchester-based architects Tim Groom and Jon Matthews, as well as Rachel Haugh and Ian Simpson, directors of Simpson Haugh.

Ged Couser, director of BDP and Hazel Rounding, director of Liverpool-based architect Shed KM, are also supporting Moss, as are Roger Stephenson, managing partner of Stephenson Studio and Stirling Prize winner Lord Norman Foster.

Stockport-born Stirling Prize winner Stephen Hodder was the North West architect to be elected RIBA president. He held the position between 2013 and 2015.

If elected, Moss would aim to create a fresh code of practice for procurement, including:

  • Discouraging design and build contracts except for ‘simple’ projects
  • Prohibiting the ‘buying’ of work – offering a low price for a project to undercut other firms
  • Ensuring tenders are not just scored and awarded on fees
  • Reducing the need for architects to prove extensive experience of projects identical to the tendered scheme, which limits innovation and closes the process to new bidders
  • Simplifying tenders and reducing the cost and time of bidding and assessment
  • Guaranteeing that architects remain client-side throughout project development

“Most people who go for presidency are reaching the end of their careers and usually have very successful, large practices in London. It’s often a bit of an ego thing to get your name on the side of Portland Place,” Moss added.  

“I’m doing this to give Sixtwo Architects a future.”

The race to succeed Alan Jones, founder and principal of Alan Jones Architects in Northern Ireland, as RIBA  president is being contested by three women and two men: 

  • Simon Allford, founder and director of AHMM, London 
  • Nick Moss, director of Sixtwo Architects, Manchester 
  • Sumita Singha, director of Ecologic Architects, London
  • Jude Barber , director of Collective Architecture, Glasgow
  • Valeria Passetti, senior architect at Conception Architects, Nottingham 

Moss’ presidential campaign officially launches next week with the first of two digital hustings before the polls open on 14 July.  

Voting closes on 4 August and the winner will be announced a week later. 

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It has been a combination of factors driving D&B forward . Cost consultants and lawyers wanting to transfer risk to the contractor and using D&B to drive down costs . Design teams in some instances who have lost the ability to fully design and detail projects having spent years pushing these responsibilities on to the contractors.
We provide fully detailed coordinated MEP drawings , including reflected ceiling plans for the majority of our projects . But mainly for long term clients who appreciate the benefits in cost certainly and quality that this brings at tender stage .
However most clients , particularly in the North West are not prepared to pay the design team fees required to produce a comprehensive design package that the contractors can properly price and build to .

By Graham Wilson

The main problem with the D&B model is the way it has changed over the years and being now driven by Project Managers and QS practices, who have squeezed the margins of contractors and the role of architects to justify their fees. Traditionally D&B was led by the contractor, with the architect on board, who delivered the scheme directly to the client. Margins represented the D&B risk. Now further risks, particularly over risks in the ground for which the contractor is to take all risks based on relatively limited information are forced onto the contractor. Competition in the industry and the resurfacing of directors involved in failed companies through buying work, still being considered for projects, despite their failure and involvement in a new company with very little net assets, is causing margins to be squashed. This has lead to contractors to seek ways of maintaining a financial return by either squeezing architects fees or looking for costs savings that may reduce architectural intent but may still satisfy the client’s needs. Recent company failures have also been a result of contractors being too thinly capitalised for the level of work they undertake. PM and QS practices for some reason seem to focus on a contractor’s turnover as being suitable for a project without taking into account its net assets, foolishly believing the higher the turnover the more stable a business is. The true test is the ratio of turnover to net assets and this should really be no more than 7.

By Fidel

Graham Wilson – Spot on.

There’s a reason ‘design & dump’ is now widely in industry vernacular. It’d be refreshing to see some true traditional tendering return to the market where contractors can price a fully detailed & specified design and provide client teams with an ‘apples for apples’ return. Years of poor quality D&B tenders have led to contractors working harder to get in early and gain an influence on things.

By AVW

It’s rather sad that of the five candidates for RIBA presidency, only one can bear to mention Grenfell and the endemic problems surrounding procurement. It’s a broad topic but a general lack of technical expertise among architects, poor construction quality and ‘corner cutting’ among contractors and a broken Building Control/Approved Inspector system are all interconnected to this system that is failing to deliver.

By Mr State the Obvious

@Graham Wilson: “However most clients , particularly in the North West are not prepared to pay the design team fees required to produce a comprehensive design package that the contractors can properly price and build to .”

AMEN TO THAT.

It comes down to cost.

D&B exists for a reason, which is to drive the overall project cost down.
It also can promote innovation, if done right (which is rare).

By OnPoint

Standing on a platform of costing clients more money?!

By Anonymous

Fully support Mr Moss here.

Architects should become the PM/EA/QS as well to change procurement. No reason why they can’t do this now.

Challenge will be most architects do not have the skill set.

By Former Consultant

Fair enough

By Cheshire boy

He’s got a tough job on his hands because construction is all about managing risk. D&B makes it simple and cost effective for clients and that is what they want. However, it is the subcontractors who pay the price when it all goes belly up. Architects are just one of the subcontractors that end up out of pocket in these circumstances. I support Moss’s cause here, he sounds like he’s the right guy for the job.

By Cheshire boy

architects who are affected by planning, client whims, budget, trashed design ideas are now affected by pandemics.

My advice is change career and quick

By Smith

Good luck with getting your private clients to sign up to traditional form of contracts! D&B works when the process is managed correctly, the ER’s are detailed sufficiently to allow the contractor to use innovation to swap out standard and lazy architect NBS clauses to use more economical but the same design requirements products. Why do Architects also spec Shucho for example?

I agree fees are being cut and not keeping up with current targets, however, as a business owner when you set up your firm I bet you undercut your rivals to get a head start in your business, but this is now what you’re campaigning against. Also your point about architects remaining client side post contract, are you suggesting your business doesn’t get novated across? Under a firm’s formal appointment I am sure there will be a clause which you are to also to report back to your client (not the contractor) to highlight any cost cutting exercises. Forms might want to quickly check their appointment documents in case they’re aware of something they have not reported.

Finally, Architects also obtain vast sums of monies from Main Contractors to undertake the stage 5 design which isn’t sub contractor designed. Are you really going to turn your back on this? Procurement is not broken, its just not managed correctly and the decision making process is not being undertaken by educated people who have time served experience in identifying scope gaps. I am also very keen to see the next £100m+ resi scheme in Manchester to be done under a traditional form of contract. Good luck with doing your stage 4 drawings for that tender and I hope your PI insurance is going to be increased to over £20m+ as I am yet to see a fully coordinated tender back led by the lead designer issued to the market for tender, even for a “simple project”.

By KatieT

An admirable mission statement by Nick Moss, which if achieved would drive more innovative architecture in the future, and would also drive workmanship up on sites if less D & B was used and more traditional procurement methods instead.

In addition, a long shot I know, but the reintroduction of a good old Clerk of Works on sites all the time and part of the design team would also assist greatly in the increase of workmanship standards on building sites. As the great wag and famous construction barrister Tony Bingham once said…”a Clerk of Works’ year salary invariably costs less than a day in the Construction & Technology Court”!!

By Old Hall Street

100% behind this. Well done Nick.

By Matt Pickering

It’s easy for architects to moan about not being the key player anymore. They effectively abdicated that role a long time ago so shouldn’t really moan.

There is nothing to stop architects doing a full procurement and project / contract management role.

I’ve not met a single architect that has a clue about commercial aspects of a project. And every project that does not at least have a PM/QS ends up in financial disaster

By Developer

I suspect the architects have only canvassed themselves regarding procurement. Naval gazing and moaning about not being important anymore has led them to this point.

If you look at other industries automotive, manufacturing, tech and IT etc the designer is one part of the business. They design and make things and have full responsibility for everything.

In construction this should be the contractor and if there is a developer involved they should also be the contractor. Full control over all aspects.

Design is but one aspect of a successful project.

By MB

His entire platform is to do things that would benefit his own practice.

How does he propose to ‘Discourage design and build contracts.’ It’s not going to work.

If you want to take back control you also have to take on the risk. Go for it.

By Bob

Not too much sympathy i’m afraid. Architects have made themselves expendable by not being seen to add any value once the project is set up. No wonder they have been cut out. They need to seen more as project managers with something to add to the ongoing efficiency of the project. On the last few projects I’ve worked on, the architects were a hindrance and were above getting their hands dirty. Not all are bad, but a good clearout is needed. This recession should do the trick like it did in 2008. The same is happening in all of construction with the men and women being separated from the boys and girls.

By Baháʼu'lláh