Does giving projects to foreign companies do anything for T&T’s development? This is a question raised by Gary Turton, marketing director, acla-works ltd in an e-mailed statement to the Business Guardian on Tuesday. Turton was responding to questions about the architectural firm’s reaction to criticisms of local contractors and other professional firms about sub-standard work and an inability to deliver projects within budget and on time. “I do not want to be too reactionary about this or emotional about this one but, what do you think a blanket decision to choose foreign firms rather than local firms does for our development as a nation? Do you think this is even possible to do when spending public funds in any other country? Is it really better to spend our hard-earned money to develop other nations at the expense of our own? “These questions are rhetorical, but I think it is fundamentally wrong to generalise an entire industry. I firmly believe it is important for clients to choose their consultants and contractors carefully, but fairly.”
Turton said projects fail everywhere, not only in T&T.
“Projects can fail for a variety of reasons. It is important not to jump to conclusions and really try to understand the reasons for failure, that it is not always the local consultants or local contractors to attribute all the blame. “It is important to look at all the circumstances on a project,” Turton said. “The Sydney Opera House in Australia was monumentally overbudget, but today is considered by many Australians as their most memorable or loved building.”
He said acla:works has developed a quality management system to deliver quality to its clients. It has also invested heavily in technology and training. In a release on Monday, Turton stated: “The local market for architectural services has been hit harder than most sectors over the last couple years. Last year almost 40 per cent of our fee income came from exporting our services to international clients instead of from our traditional local market. “While this is a healthy trend, we have also had a long history of designing public buildings in T&T and a great desire to continue to do so, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult with current public procurement response for proposals that seem to undervalue competent local talent.”
Turton argued that the procurement procedure is undermining local talent and causing a brain drain. “Most public procurement projects in T&T seem to procure architectural design services under the design build form of building delivery system, where most often a contractor engages an architect to be part of his team. “Sometimes these RFPs are not even specific if the architect should be registered with the Board of Architecture of T&T, which is meant to protect the public interest by verifying the qualifications and experience of an architect. If this trend is not protected, it could lead to a brain drain.” He said there is no way to to recoup the tremendous cost an architectural firm has expended when a client cancels a project. “Unlike contractors, architects’ fees do not currently factor in any excess for competitive bidding with labour intensive pre-design work.”
Attracting foreign clients
Turton described the process acla:works undergoes to access foreign clients. “It started with a desire to export our services, which led to a marketing plan, an updated and more interactive Web site and quite a bit of marketing in various countries. The actual process varies depending on the nature of the client. Private clients may have chosen acla:works based on a combination of our reputation, recommendation, specific experience or a previous relationship.
For these projects, we’re usually invited to submit a free proposal. Public clients have RFPs where we are asked to submit a technical proposal and financial proposal. The highest technical ranking firm’s financial proposal is opened and negotiated.” Some of acla’s international clients include United States-based Urban Design Firm for a project in East Port-of-Spain. Another is the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to design the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. “We won this through an RFP process where we developed the prototype conceptual designs for ten courthouses in the Eastern Caribbean,” he said. Turton said most of acla’s other clients are private. “Most of it was private last year as there was almost no RFPs for architectural services on public projects. Some are the completion of public projects that we won through an RFP process previously, such as the Central Bank refurbishment.”
The e-mailed statement said green construction being more expensive is a misconception. Architect Mandilee Newton, who’s now a director at acla:works, said: “Green building is really about achieving better value for money and this comes through an understanding of the life cycle of a building. Building green extends the life of a building, and hence, increases the value and reduces the operating cost over time. “Locally, it appears as if very little value is being placed on the long-term investment of a building; instead, more is placed on building cheaply and quickly.”