Wearing 4 Hats
For the past two years I have been wearing 4 hats and it’s been an education. As architects we have decades of experience in designing offices sometimes for developers, sometimes for contractors as their design and build architect and sometimes for occupiers.
As architects of course, we are looking to produce great architecture!
Working for a developer we are usually looking at maximising space, producing a design that will appeal to occupiers, getting through the planning process and designing to a budget that is usually quite tight!
For contractors it’s technical competence, delivering information to a tight timescale, being flexible in responding to their ideas about alternative solutions, and producing a building that meets all the client’s expectations at the most economic cost.
Working for the occupier or tenant is also demanding, because it is they who are going to use the building on a day to day basis. If we’re doing their fit-out we need to understand all their complex needs as an organisation from space planning to meeting facilities, IT needs to coffee cups, the quality of break out spaces, the pictures on the walls, the finishes in the toilets (always a big issue!), the operation of the plant, the ease of maintenance and so on.
So there are 4 hats we might be wearing, including our own as architects! Often the requirements of these differing roles within the process conflict with one another.
Imagine then the situation we have found ourselves in at Stephen George + Partners wearing all 4 hats simultaneously. Having occupied premises in Leicester city centre for nearly 50 years the opportunity arose to acquire a site at Grove Park near J21 of the M1, and design and build our own offices. To facilitate this a group of partners and staff established a pension fund to act as developer and Stephen George + Partners entered into a 15-year lease to rent the premises. The pension fund raised the funds and acquired the site. The pension regulations required this to be a legitimate arms-length operation with trustees acting in the interests of the pension fund members. Obviously, we needed an architect! So Stephen George + Partners as architects were appointed to carry out the design and obtain planning approval. They were then novated to the design and build contractor during the construction process. We also had to consult ourselves over a complex set of requirements as tenant on the fit-out!
The process had many challenges. Not least of these was agreeing the design in the first place given the number of architects involved! The difficulties during construction were for the contractor understanding that the client and the architect were not the same thing. Cost control within the fit-out also proved a challenge as the architect was also the tenant and was very focused on the quality of their working environment on completion.
However, as architects it has given us a much better understanding of the needs of developers, of contractors and of tenants. The need of the architects to make a profit on this project was probably one thing that was not given enough consideration!
Senior Partner Stephen George + Partners (architect and tenant)
Trustee to the SGP pension fund (client and developer)