/ Nicola Walls / Arts & Culture

The relationship between client, Architect and builder must be worked at if it is to be successful. Care, consideration, communication, understanding and patience are important for all involved if the process is to be fluid and efficient and it is with a building contract that this is managed. When things are going well the contract is all but invisible, keeping everybody moving in the right direction, but as with anything in life the construction process doesn’t always work out as we had planned. Things can happen that nobody had foreseen, and money can add to the strain when it is in limited supply (as it invariably is). If the relationship runs into trouble, lines are drawn and the minutiae of the contract – previously a silent partner in the relationship – are scrutinised by all concerned.

Regardless of the building type, the client wants a well-made building that meets their requirements and exceeds their expectations, the contractor wants to build it to the best of their ability (and profit from the engagement), whilst we, the Architects, want to see a faithful manifestation of our vision. All parties are equal in their respective roles and must be bound by a legal agreement so that the process can be controlled and fair to all involved. The principle is sound but can be read in a multitude of ways, to which the industry has responded with a multitude of contracts to encourage new, more progressive methods of procurement.

For the most part, entered into consciously and with a sound understanding of the implications, these new forms of contract can be employed to accommodate the individual needs of each new building. It is critical that we understand the implications of whichever contract we find ourselves working under, whatever our role might be under that contract, but without ever losing sight of why the contract exists in the first place: to deliver Architecture.

And how do we develop our understanding of these new contractual arrangements and obligations? As with every aspect of our work, it is through open discourse and continued dialogue that we bring the complex language of construction law into the lexicon of everyday studio life. Through debate we reflect on the merits and failings of each project so that we might bring fresh understanding to each new engagement.

Building is an organic process, and however we might evolve and adapt the procurement process to ‘guarantee’ the best result, it is at its heart unpredictable. In our increasingly digital world, buildings are made by people, with all of the shortcomings that they might bring, but also the heart, soul and passion that can transform bricks and mortar into the living fabric of our cities; the canvas against which we play out our everyday lives. Our role is to understand and manage this process, so that it can be invisible, allowing life to come to the fore.