GIRI features in New London Quarterly

14 Mar 23

An opinion piece by GIRI board member Gavin Pike, published in the latest issue of New London Quarterly magazine, argues that the built environment needs to get its act together and reverse its poor record on errors. 

In his column Gavin, who is associate director of Bennetts Associates, asserts that the built environment has a problem with error, which GIRI research estimates as costing the sector £21 billion every year. Read the full text of his article below.

In the context of efficiency and productivity this is a startling figure, but when the impact of such errors on safety, quality, carbon and reputation is brought into the equation it becomes shameful.

This same research has indicated that many of the most costly errors are rooted in design, whether during the early stages of a project, the construction phase, or anywhere in between.

Establishing a robust design process and managing it effectively from concept to completion is critical to a project’s success, and that’s what the recently launched GIRI Design Guide is intended to do. This best-practice guidance outlines a series of recommendations for designing projects with the minimum of error. 

The key term here is ‘process’; design is a complex process, one that involves not just the individuals we typically think of as designers – the architect or the engineer – but a multitude of different stakeholders. It starts with the client, and it takes in the consultants, contractor and increasingly the supply chain specialists, who all have a role to play in bringing the design and the project to a successful conclusion.

By accepting that error is a joint responsibility, project teams can play a starring role in fostering change – and help the industry shift away from an environment where the acceptance of error has become entrenched. Tackling this problem requires committed cross-sector collaboration, and individual disciplines within the project team must each recognise their role. 

The GIRI Design Guide focuses on providing guidance and structure from the early phases, to ensure that those who need to be involved are brought on board at the right time and at the right level, and that communication is open, honest, and efficient. 

Early collaboration goes a long way to eliminating misunderstandings that can lead to error, but it isn’t employed anywhere near enough. It is one of the key themes of the Design Guide, along with the culture and behaviours that flow from it. Collaborative working encourages all parties to focus on the success of the project as a whole not just their own part in it. And, logically, this joined-up approach is much more likely to deliver a satisfactory outcome.

Much of the guide is devoted to recommendations that give those involved in design the time, space, and resources to do it properly. The idea of investing appropriately in the early stages is addressed again and again, but this is not just about money. Design is iterative and needs the conceptual space to unfold and resolve – what we refer to as opening up and closing down – and it benefits from contractor input as early as possible. 

More than anything, good design needs a solid, well-researched brief that captures the client’s aspirations and can be understood by all. However, while these aspirations should guide the design process, it is incumbent on the project team to draw out and interrogate the client’s wishes, ensuring they are realistic and clear. 

We need to see a culture change that encourages closer engagement and communication across the project lifecycle. The GIRI Design Guide sets out practical steps to support the establishment of the right culture – appointing the correct team, interrogating the brief, effective planning with realistic timescales and working collaboratively.

The bottom line is that eliminating error benefits everyone, and everyone has a role to play in getting it right. The GIRI Design Guide recommendations can help project teams to achieve this by implementing a robust approach from the outset.

The latest issue of New London Quarterly is available online to NLA members and subscribers. 

Read the Design Guide here

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