A Framework Not Fit for Purpose

When done well, frameworks are good for construction and procurement of services. But when they are not, they need a rest. Sarah Benyon of Atom Architecture explains

The Architectural Services Framework - three innocent and apparently anodyne words for the new regulatory process for architects working on housing projects. But behind them lies a world of unnecessary pain, and a regrettable obstacle to smaller architecture practices. Let me outline the case for the prosecution. 

I’m a sole practitioner and have an architectural practice based in Swansea. I have worked with Gwalia/Pobl Housing Association for many years on small projects and believe I can provide an experienced all-round service for these projects.

So, I started the process of applying to the ASF - and there the pain began. It was totally overwhelming and out of all proportion to the scale of the projects (1-10) units that I have undertaken and hoped to continue to do with Pobl. 

For example, the application asked for examples of, and concepts behind, placemaking and environmental principles for the design. All good in principle and one of the many facets of the design that an architect should be aware of and integrate into a design. In reality, and because of perfectly reasonable financial reasons, one must get as many units on the site as one can in the most pleasing way possible. Similarly, with regards environmental principles such as Passive House, these are limited using standard house types and the need to maximise site densities which on a small site is even more restricted. I am certainly not saying that these issues should not be one of the balls that the designer needs to juggle whilst designing, but just how to prove this whilst filling out a form?

Completing the form was becoming complex and time consuming and I can imagine filling out such forms becomes a specialist skill within larger practices. I accept, realise, and even applaud what the regulatory framework and application process is attempting to do but I cannot believe that one of the intentions was to dissuade small practices like mine from applying. Surely there is a better way of doing this. I would rather go in for a day and take a 'test', such as an example site and brief and then spend a few hours to prepare a sketch scheme which I then stand up and explain my design process and what is the thinking behind any proposals to Pobl.

I believe this whole process is contributing to losing a vital asset to these smaller HA projects. When an HA employs Atom Architecture Ltd to they get me, an experienced architect. Can the same be said about a larger firm?

Due to the time and effort to go through the application procedure for the odd small project I have had to make the sad decision not to apply to be on the Architectural Framework. I wonder if there are other experienced sole practitioners like myself who had to make the same decision and whether HAs are losing access to a valuable local experienced workforce. 

And there I rest my case - and some of you may believe that it needs a rest. For me, the jury is out on the whole process, and I would be fascinated to hear your judgement on the Architectural Services Network.