Over almost twenty years Kevin McCloud and Grand Designs have done more than almost anybody else to raise the profile of good design and the importance and value of the design process.
I did a couple of days over the bank holiday weekend on one of the ‘Ask an Expert’ desks at the ‘Grand Designs Live’ exhibition at the Excel Exhibition Centre in London www.granddesignslive.com. The format is a pre-booked 30 minute round table sketch and discussion session with an RIBA architect. Over a couple of days I had about twenty sessions.
I was expecting to discuss projects that were at their inception but instead the majority of those I met tabled a set of drawings that they had already had prepared in order to obtain a ‘second opinion’. In no cases had the drawings been prepared by an architect – they had been prepared by a variety of ‘architectural consultants’. The quality of the design work was generally astoundingly poor as was the level of information provided on the drawings. The sense of client disappointment was palpable in some cases.
The drawings had obviously been purchased on the basis of price alone. What a false economy. Why would you purchase design services for work on your principal asset on this basis when the cost of design is such a small fraction of the overall project cost and the added value of good design can be so high? The approach seems to be a ‘back to front’ one which is that there is building work required so a plan is needed. How cheaply can I get that done? It should be that a need exists for which design solutions need to be explored and a preferred solution arrived at before the building work to realise it is considered.
It reminds me of the famous wise words of the Victorian art critic, social thinker and philanthropist John Ruskin (1819-1900):
‘It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money – that’s all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot – it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.’