Ask the Architect: An Interview with Armstrong Burton Group

Derek Burton of Amstrong Burton Group works with a number of the UK’s leading house builders. We asked him how current issues are working through at the sharp end of the industry.

Derek Burton Architect

Are you seeing offsite happening with house builders?

Currently, there would appear to be a major drive by the housing industry which is aligned with the Government’s 2020 ambitious targets and its thinking on the need for more offsite solutions to provide the housing stock required for the country.

Undoubtedly we now have more clients keen to consider modern methods such as modular construction, pods and alternative approaches including timber and steel frames. House builders are talking to us more and more about these alternative options before they make a decision on which way they want to go.

What’s driving the interest in offsite?

I think it is a combination of factors. Undoubtedly it’s the desire to reduce personnel onsite, not having the skills onsite, wanting to build more quickly. Builders also want to improve health and safety and they know that offsite has a reputation for reducing risk. If there wasn’t a cost benefit at the end of it then clients maybe wouldn’t consider it – so I would probably say that it’s costs and health and safety because I know these are major concerns for a number of clients.

For us as architects, the offsite providers need to work hard to ensure the details they provide are accurate enough for our team to incorporate into our drawing packages, and of course they need to communicate the inevitable revisions efficiently to all parties concerned.

It is still early days and there is a bit of learning required if the full efficiencies are going to trickle down through the whole system.

Give us your real world opinion of BIM?

I believe it is now widely accepted that BIM will become the normal way of working just as the drawing board gave way to CAD. To me it is inevitable that it will become the norm, the standard.

Dereck Burton Architect

Clearly the advantages are already being shown on large complex building projects and it is a government requirement on public sector projects.

It has been more difficult to translate those benefits to house building but gradually more major house builders are either implementing BIM or considering the options and timescales for its introduction. Although, in the first instance, this is used in development of standard house types perhaps from a central design office and it has yet to move out to the majority of regional offices. A large part of this reluctance is the high capital investment involved in putting the software into all of their regions and there is also the issue of allocating training time.

This is always a challenge when so many internal design departments are already so busy.

What are the drivers for change in the industry?

Collaboration between suppliers and house builders can be of great value. Taylor Wimpey, for example, have provided a service for the last 10 years where collaboration has been a core function with their supply chain.

As architects, we are constantly embracing change as we develop and grow the business. For example more and more planning applications now need to be supported by the use of 3D modelling. We decided to expand our capabilities in this regard including housing layouts, design and graphics.

In addition to mainstream house building, we also specialise in the retirement and extra care sectors for older people.

This is an example of us responding to how the market is evolving as people are living longer and demand for care increases.

What’s next for your practice?

We want to expand our work with national house builders and housing associations. We are also targeting new relationships with other regional offices of existing clients. We have a great team of knowledgeable and efficient architects so we want to get out and promote our abilities to more and more house builders in 2018.