Serious flaws in arts building processes, study finds



A study led by The University of Cambridge in collaboration with the University of Salford has uncovered serious flaws in the process of building for the arts.

The three-year research project, which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and is reported in the book Geometry and Atmosphere, criticises the current system used for major theatre refurbishment and building projects.

While the National Audit Office (NAO) suggests that this system should be reinforced to address the various problems, the researchers believe that it should be completely rethought.

After revealing in 1999 that of 15 Lottery-funded projects, 12 were over budget and seven were damagingly late, the NAO strongly criticised all those involved in the procurement of arts capital projects as being negligent in the use of public funds.

Despite more than £1 billion being spent by the Arts Council of England Lottery Fund, the researchers highlight how the Lottery organisation’s process allows relatively little time to come up with ambitious ideas to catch the panel’s eye.

Consequently the bidders find themselves gambling with ideas that are technically unproven but, when successful, are tied up to the original budget figure, with the result that acousticians, environmental and structural engineers often find that there is not enough money to fulfil their needs.

The study, a multidisciplinary collaboration between Professor Alan Short of Cambridge University and Professor Peter Barrett of the University of Salford’s School of the Built Environment, proposes a different procurement protocol.

At first, ideas presented should be solicited and reviewed; those permitted to proceed would receive enough funding to realise a technically credible and secure design. The drawings would then be reviewed, some sent back for changes, some refused and some would be given the green light to the construction phase with proper resources.

Finally a rolling technical review would guarantee rapid construction in order to stay within the budget and the deadline.

“There’s a lot of anger and frustration right now inside the arts community, to the point where people are even giving up the idea of creating new spaces for arts,” Professor Short said.

Professor Barrett added: “As it is the system is deeply flawed and we hope that the evidence base and solutions set out in our book will help the people involved in major building projects more effectively achieve their goals.”

In addition to the book a short film has been made to illustrate the issues met in the recent construction of theatres in the country and can be viewed here.