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De-professionalised, automated construction procurement

Hughes, W. ORCID: (2003) De-professionalised, automated construction procurement. In: Foxall, S. (ed.) The professionals’ choice: the future of the built environment professions. Building Futures, London, pp. 82-98. ISBN 9781859461402

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The industry has been completely transformed over the last 20 years. Construction professions and building contractors have changed beyond recognition. The concept of public service has been replaced by a powerful cult of managerialism. Royal charters have been abolished. Knowledge is more important than judgement. Institutionalism has triumphed over professionalism. There is a glut of graduates with knowledge, but no judgement. The institutions now occupy themselves as qualifying bodies, providers of career development courses and writers of standard procedure manuals. At every step, the professional institutions saw these changes as advantageous, and did everything they could to further these developments. Capital acquisition has been replaced with service rental, and private finance has become the only option for procuring major facilities. Those who build and provide these facilities soon sell them to pension funds, releasing huge quantities of cash for further investment. The pressure to restructure the business processes in construction led to the development of collaborative working practices. These practices developed into integrated procurement systems which were firmed up as strategic alliances, followed by vertical integration and consolidation of the market into a few major players with massive investment capability. The systematic design and delivery of buildings has led to the displacement of architectural design by engineering design. This is a more convenient way for the new conglomerates to serve their clients. The service providers have turned to mass-customization as an easy way to meet demand for buildings. This industry is dominated by a few major conglomerates offering a complete service in which the role of the independent professional is simply irrelevant. Electronic procurement and automated contract negotiation enable bargains to be struck quickly, instantly launching a semi-automated procurement process. Automatic construction procurement is based on system-building coupled with electronic bargaining; multiple-use planning permission on large areas of development land held speculatively by service providers. Their output is evaluated and paid for on the basis of performance. There is no aesthetic requirement and no need for imaginative solutions. Few people have the skill or the money to maintain the old, manually constructed, bespoke buildings. So the stock of old buildings is being quickly replaced by shiny new standardized products that can be maintained by a semi-skilled workforce. A few highly experienced architects remain. They work on expensive, tailor-made, one-off projects for very rich clients, but they have minimal involvement in the mainstream of the construction sector.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Science > School of the Built Environment > Construction Management and Engineering
ID Code:106834
Uncontrolled Keywords:future studies; built environment; construction procurement; professionalism
Publisher:Building Futures

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