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Architects blame school wall collapse on Design & Build

Although the structural failure at an Edinburgh primary school last year has been blamed on poor bricklaying and PFI (the private finance initiative method of funding public buildings), Scottish architects are pointing the finger at the design & build and the fading away of the independent architect / engineer.

According to some reports, Scottish architects are calling for all PFI buildings in the country to undergo independent structural examinations. They are even going so far as to declare that all buildings resulting from design & build contracts should now be considered a risk, no matter how they are financed.

In the evidence it presented to the Cole Report,  the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) blamed the January 2016 wall collapse at Oxgangs Primary School on lack of independent supervision.

The organisation told the inquiry headed by Professor John Cole that for over 30 years, responsibility for procurement process leadership had been transferred from architects and other construction professionals to parties who are not as involved with the design process.

These include contractors, project managers, and others compiled as entities for both legal and administrative convenience.

The reasons for the changes vary, RIAS claimed. While 1994’s Latham Report and the Egan Report four years later were well-intentioned, there were unexpected consequences.

It added that where the project leader and / or funder is the organisation doing the contracting, it should be acknowledged that the party overseeing the process will have different operating perspectives than architects. On occasion, management within some bigger contracting organisations need individuals without suitable construction expertise or skills to oversee large and complicated projects, requiring considerable contractual and technical knowledge.

Structural Defects Insurance

The recently published Cole Report said that by sheer luck, no children were killed by the Oxgangs wall collapse.

It stated that the main cause of the collapse was poor quality construction, which failed to include the required minimum 50mm embedment for the wall ties. The report also blamed shoddy bricklaying, supervision, and quality control, all of which were the responsibility of the design and build contractor.

Cole added that the use of private finance was not an issue as such.

Willie Watt, RIAS president, said that the Cole Report emphasised the potential danger from latent building defects in new construction.

Mr Watt said that when high-profile inquiry reports come out, there’s a tendency to regard the matter as dealt with. With the Cole Report, the responsibility of commissioning authorities is obvious. There needs to be an inspection process by qualified experts as soon as possible.

He pointed out that the RIAS submission to the inquiry agreed that without careful expert review at each stage of the build process, problems are practically inevitable.

Neil Baxter, RIAS secretary, added that the report needs a response that could save lives.

 

Specialists in Construction Insurance

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