Was it not always the Architect’s role to certify compliance of a completed project with the Building Regulations? Have we more recently been re-designated as the ‘master draughtsperson’?

Under the proposed legislation, the Building Regulator may permit/require the proposed appointment of “prescribed persons”, including designers for building projects.

This would be managed by Local Authority Building Control, under an amendment to the Building Regulations in Draft Building Safety Bill Section 3, Clauses 38 and 39. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/draft-building-safety-bill

Whilst initially intended for higher risk projects, this prescription could in time apply to ALL persons appointed under ALL building projects.

Architects could in future, be registering under a Competent Persons Scheme and self-certify. This is a clear opportunity for Architects to resume their role as the Lead Designer from Inception to Completion and beyond, either should they wish, or be required to do so.

Can a single person be competent to sign off a complex building?

The short answer is Yes under Clauses 38 and 39, if the current proposed legislation is passed.

A key Dutyholder role of the Principal Designer (PD) is to certify that the completed project is compliant with the Building Regulations and to do so the PD has an implied responsibility to ensure that all aspects, building design, structure, fabric and services comply.

It has been argued that clearly no designer can have all the skills necessary to certify an entire design unless they are a multi-disciplinary practice and therefore this discounts an individual for the role.

I suspect this is not what is intended by the proposed legislation. The Dutyholder roles are intended to a ‘high level’ and ‘managerial’ ensuring the frameworks have been complied with, not to absolve other designers from their individual roles and responsibilities. The Dutyholder may have a responsibility to ensure that those working on the design teams are competent to do so but not necessarily for their output.

Remember that the Principal Contractor (PC) would be certifying that the completed building project complies and have been built in accordance with the Design. This role is intended to ‘high level’ and ‘managerial’ ensuring their frameworks have been complied with, not to relieve other contractors from being competent to fulfil their individual tasks and take appropriate responsibility.

However some concerns are justified.  We are learning from the trauma of Grenfell where systemic failures in our industry have been publicly exposed in the Grenfell Public Inquiry.  The conditions exist for various players accept at best, no responsibility for their own work and at worst lie about the quality of materials and products. How can we now begin to accept responsibility for that scenario. The answer is things have to change, the industry had to become competent, materials have to do what they say they do, we need to work more collaboratively and we need more people checking the work of others.

How can The Principal Designer be appointed and function on Higher Risk Projects?

A higher risk project is likely to be a significant project. It is highly unlikely that this will result in the appointment of a sole practitioner, simply because of the quantity of work necessary to fulfil the project design.

The Client will have options to appoint an adequately resourced small, medium or large Practice or Firm as the Lead Designer. An individual owner, partner or employed individual within those organisations may be Authorised by the Building Safety Regulator to carry out the role of PD.

If that is not the case, the Client may elect to commission a separate individual or organisation to act as PD.

It’s my opinion that the future PD role is assumed by the appointed Lead Designer Team on a project under a dual appointment and:-

  • Ideally the Lead Designer is appointed from Inception of Completion and also Post Completion.
  • Essentially, the Lead Designer is required to be a suitably qualified and experienced designer.
  • The Principal Designer will also be registered to fulfil the role by the Building Safety Regulator.

This dual appointment would:

  1. Focus the Clients on their key role in Procurement at the project inception, including selection of the Principal Designer, Design Team and Procurement Strategy.
  2. Reduce fragmentation on the design control of a Higher Risk Project, i.e. where multiple lead designers are appointed in subsequent workstages to partial services, any changeover increases risk of discontinuity.
  3. Keep those appointed to lead the design from inception of the completion of the construction stage.
  4. Reduce risk during site operations in managing change in design or specification during the construction phase.
  5. Ensure the Lead Designer is involved in site operations and inspections.
  6. Ensure the likelihood of the “Golden Thread of Information” is managed by the Lead Designer and handed over in appropriate detail to the Building Safety Manager and Tenants/Occupants.
  7. Improve the likelihood that a Designer is consulted during occupation on maintenance, repair, or refurbishment of the building during its lifetime. This I have argued should be mandatory.

Could the role of Principal Designer be fulfilled by a single person under a separate appointment?

It is certainly possible, but preferably the PD is embedded into the Lead Design Team throughout the project history in order to ensure that the key concepts in the project design are sustained in detail, with integrity, and duly certified at the relevant project Gateways.

Without this, there are dangers of having two designers appointed with parallel roles with potential conflicts to the detriment of the project and its progress.

Will insurers cover architects for the principal designer role

This is a question for the Insurance Industry.

As the PD role will be mandatory, Insurers will have to respond accordingly.

I believe that clients, their designers, their inspection and construction teams will place an onus on collaboration, which will drive the insurance industry towards Project Insurance and Collaborative Contracts.

It is a potentially new income stream for Insurance but has to be counterbalanced by more realistic levels PPI for Designers and Construction Insurance alike.

The reality is that the risks on construction projects are shared by the whole team, if we are to avoid a litigious and blame ridden industry. We may soon be seeing Insurance representatives becoming more involved at all stages of a building project.

Richard Harrison