The last Royal Institute of British Architects International Conference focused on Architectural Collaboration between practices. The atmosphere at the conference was ignited by a video address from the legendary Brazilian modernist, Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012). He said - ‘I work alone in defining an architectural proposition and then hand it over to friends to develop.’ The architectural profession in New Zealand has seen a further increase in architectural collaboration over recent years. This has been accelerated by a number of factors, including globalization of intellectual property, improvements in information technology and a desire to exceed best practice with innovation. The reasons for collaboration across and within practices are beneficial if clients appreciate the context for which this is happening, understand the risks and promotes the ingredients for success.
Collaboration is nothing new in architecture. The Houses of Parliament in Westminster (1840-70) were an architectural collaboration between Sir Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin. Barry enlisted Pugin to do the competition winning drawings and later to enrich and detail his initial neo-classical vision. The Executive Wing of the New Zealand Parliament Building (1969-81) was borne out of ‘a germ of an idea’ by the British architect Sir Basil Spence. The ‘Beehive’, a name coined by Spence, was further developed and later implemented by New Zealand Governmental Architects.
In the 1990s the UK construction industry, in order to improve efficiency and productivity, learnt from the automotive industry. Sir John Egan, industrialist and company executive, was tasked with the initial analysis. In the 1980s, Egan had turned Jaguar Cars from a struggling GBP 300M business into a GBP 1.6 Billion entity, which was subsequently bought by Ford. His 1998 report, Rethinking Construction, advocated the automotive industry’s use of long term ‘partnering’ in the building industry instead of the highly competitive one off tender process.
Projects such as the Deloitte Centre in Auckland had a total of six different architectural and interior design studios working on the various aspects of the development. This diversity gave the project the required specialist skill set for urban design, sustainability, workplace, retail, and heritage design. At Warren and Mahoney, we have progressively seen work from collaborations grown threefold in the last ten years.
Clients are considering architectural collaboration to draw on overseas intellectual property from larger pools of economical activity and greater depth of specialisation. As Foster and Partners said while working with the French Architect Jean Nouvel, “collaborative processes give us ‘view from outside and a view from inside.’ “
Collaboration between architects also facilitates a greater understanding for other stakeholders in the project. In particular, facilities management requirements can be integrated early during the design process. Clients can also draw on the benefit of tried and tested processes and technologies from overseas, which might be new to a local market. In the case of the Deloitte Centre, Warren and Mahoney was able to draw on the learning experience of the Australian Green Star Tool, which had been up and running for five years prior to the introduction of the New Zealand scheme.
Warren and Mahoney has seen architectural benefits for ourselves in partnering with local overseas practices in emerging markets. For example the Pacific Games Village in Papua New Guinea (2015) was an opportunity for us to draw on the unique knowledge of local climate, skills and trade capability as well as cultural considerations provided by our partners PAC Pacific. Closer to home, the New Zealand International Convention Centre, which is currently on site in Auckland, is a three way architectural collaboration between Warren and Mahoney, Moller and Woods Bagot. Each of these studios contribute unique design strengths to enrich the overall project outcomes.
Architects are looking to other creative industries for the ingredients of successful collaboration. One of the speakers on architectural collaboration in 2007 was the film producer Duncan Kenworthy who had produced films such as Love Actually. Kenworthy defined the key ingredients being the ‘Four Cs’: clarity, communication, consistency and control. The film industry relies on a myriad of clearly defined roles to ensure the cinematic creative vision is delivered on time and on budget.
Historically, architects have always felt that it was best to work in the same time zone when collaborating internationally. However, with the development of enhanced technological sharing platforms, new opportunities have arisen. Studio collaborations working in different time zones can use time shift as an advantage; specific tasks can be handed over to be developed overnight. The responsiveness of real time issues can be further honed on fast track and complex projects.
Progress in information technology and Building Information Models (BIM) for construction projects have revolutionised the way architectural studios share design information, collaborate and find real time solutions. This integrated model allows teams to develop a scheme from geographically remote locations. The integrated BIM approach cannot only ensure dimensional coordination before site operations begin, but can assist with future programming and cost analysis. The UK government recently estimated that the widespread adoption of BIM, which collaborative models I have discussed support, would save the British construction industry GBP2 Billion per annum.
It is the natural and historical role of the architect to collaborate, as they are used to working with the various engineers and specialist contractors. Extending this role to include other architectural studios is therefore highly plausible when the client understands that the collaboration may take time to develop initially. I have explained that the collaboration in architecture is in essence nothing new in the Australasian or global context. The benefits can be harnessed when the context, benefits and risks are appreciated. With improved Building Information Models (BIM) it is easier to utilise global intellectual property and specialism. Today, as awareness of the business case for collaboration increases, it is not surprising that Oscar Niemeyer was talking so freely about his own successful ingredients of collaboration at the apex of his long architectural career.
Richard Voss is a Principal at Warren and Mahoney Architects, Auckland. He has worked on numerous collaborative commercial design projects in New Zealand, the Pacific, UK and Germany.
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