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

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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