Wednesday, 1 September 2010

In the current economic climate, what is the most likely area that construction can deliver more for less?

I was asked this question by a journalist, and found it difficult to give a straight answer, but on reflection, came up with this:

Construction can indeed deliver more for less. The sector always has done. It has always been possible to cut corners and substitute good materials with low quality substitutes. Apart from substituting poor materials for good ones, we are also routinely de-skilling and de-professionaling the design and construction processes in every way possible to respond to clients who are not willing or able to pay for a good job. In the current economic downturn, it is inevitable that construction quality and social responsibility will be low on most agendas. But this does not provide more for less, in the long run. Perhaps what we need is a concerted attempt to persuade our clients of the medium to long-term benefits of good design and construction?


benstallwood said...

Surely it's a case of looking at the profit margins of different industries. Construction isn't necessarily the lowest but with an average of around 2-3% (dependant on size of company etc.), which has dropped even more in the current economic times. Anything less than this would surely impede on quality. Instead of trying to reduce costs,maybe a better question is how to provide better value; as simple as better customer service or more effective procurement strategies or as you've touched on, a whole-life approach to design and construction, paying attention to long-term costs.

Jalfro said...

Of course, you're right Will. Clients should be thinking in terms of 300-600 year life-cycles, rather than 30-60 as they do at present. They should also be looking at zero carbon emissions in the use phase and low embodied energy.

On the other hand, designers and constructors could do their bit. If they focused less on contracts and more on the design and construction process, they could eliminate waste and improve profit margins. This, in turn, could have profound effects on the organization of the industry.

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