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Principal designer – why is an architect the best person for the job?

Since new legislation in 2015, the role of ‘principal designer’ has been one passed around like an unwanted gift.  The principal designer must establish a basic standard of Health and Safety practices throughout any given construction project, and theoretically, anyone with the relevant skills, knowledge and experience in Health and Safety could be the principal designer.

So surely some kind of health and safety administrator would be the best option to free up the architect’s time to create and design?  Actually, in the 2015 CDM Regulations, there was a strong drive for the architect to be the principal designer.

Why is an architect the best principal designer?

  • For maximum efficiency, a principal designer should be there from the start, as far back as the conception of a design. There is usually only one person or group of people present at that point and that is the building designer(s) – the architect(s).
  • It vastly decreases the risk of any health and safety issues as the building work is carried out. An architect who is also a principal designer isn’t just trying to create a beautiful and efficient building, but a beautiful, efficient building that is safe to work on and inhabit.
  • This in turn saves time. Once the design is finalized there is less need for there to be amendments and adjustment as a health and safety team review it.  Health and safety is considered throughout the design stage and is a part of the project from the off.
  • This in turn again can reduce the risk of unexpected costs. If all and any safety measures are put in place at the start, no new member of the team is going to add an additional 5% to the budget as they notice the need for a different material or additional safety measure.
  • Nobody knows the building like the building’s architect. An outsider will look at designs and renders and find out where everything is positioned and placed and why, but an architect already knows everything about the design.

With all of these overwhelming arguments for the architect being the principal designer, then why in December 2017 – nearly 3 years after the regulations were introduced – were only 60% of RIBA architects or architectural practices offering principal designer services?

The honest answer is most likely time and confidence.  Technology is to play a greater role in encouraging architects to step out of their comfort zone a little for the greater good.  With time-saving methodology and mobile technology, architects can provide the best possible service by wearing the hat of both an artist and designer of buildings, and a safe guarder of those building and living in it.

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