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Independent, Dissenting Opinion: The Supervision of Architectural Projects

Our expert: Ákos Pohl, structural engineering expert and CEO of HEARTURE.

The business world is undergoing a significant change. Some believe that completely new processes are being created and launched, while some say that the existing trends are becoming more pronounced. Every time a crisis occurs, it forces business decision-makers to take a step back and evaluate their businesses in a more objective manner. It is not surprising that some form of consulting is necessary in almost every corner of the business world. This is obviously not a new concept; however, it is remarkable that a consultant’s primary task is to hold up a sharp “mirror” in front of their clients.

It has never been this common for business decision-makers to assess themselves, their processes, their organisations, the quality of their own work, and so on with such a high intensity as they are doing now in 2021. This trend significantly affects the real estate sector and architectural projects in particular. However, the “curious” decision-maker will find few actual solutions to this challenge.

Real estate developers and consulting

The significance of consulting is unquestionable in certain segments; however, it is interesting to discuss its usefulness in real estate development projects since developers contract with architectural firms to receive complex professional services. Why would it be worth hiring an independent consulting firm to perform this task, then?

The growing presence of consulting is apparent in all business sectors. Sooner or later, the time comes in everyone’s life when they need to rely on external experts. We can think of legal and financial matters; however, perhaps the best example is the business development profession. The reason being that in this field, external experts are called in to look at our own businesses and advise on business strategy, even though we ourselves are essentially part of the business in question as well. This is exactly why it is necessary to engage experts; they might not have a deep understanding of our profession, but this is exactly what allows them to put an objective mirror in front of us. They can point out the mistakes that make progress impossible. Customers are often of the opinion that “I could have thought of this myself”, yet they were unable to break the vicious cycle alone. I would like to emphasise once again: in the case of business development, the experts form an external opinion of our own business. How could an objective professional assessment not be beneficial in an area where we ourselves have limited or no expertise? Real estate development projects and their architectural aspects are precisely such areas
Ákos Pohl, CEO of Hearture.

It is understandable, too, since one would like to verify whether the process will develop in the right direction before making important decisions. The question always arises: consulting is an expensive endeavour, and if this service is included in the contractor’s offer anyway, why would we have to spend additional funds on it?

It is important to note that in the case of architectural projects, implementation has to be thought of as a complex process. Of course, implementation includes the actual construction itself, but it also means something more to developers. This is because they decide on a development project, and in their eyes, everything after that constitutes a part of the implementation process. From the preparation of the plans through the procurement of the materials to the actual construction works. This is exactly why more and more developers seek advice in this area, why they want the implementation, that is, the work of the contracted architectural firm, to be double-checked. Furthermore, the real estate market is a prime example of a sector where large sums of money change hands, and decision-makers thus consider the cost of such services to be pocket change compared to the impact of the mistakes they can potentially prevent, even if consulting is not a fundamentally cheap endeavour, particularly if it is delivered to a high professional standard.
Ákos Pohl

Image and money

In this case, the question arises: why does not everyone in the real estate industry make use of these types of services? We often see news and reports about projects where gaping differences arose between the plans and the implementation, causing significant financial and reputational losses to the developers.

I have to say, no appropriate culture exists around this yet, not even on an international level. Players in the construction industry are hardwired to focus on complex implementation solutions, which, I’d like to emphasise, include planning. This is an especially costly undertaking. To break with this norm and face the challenge of acting as an objective consultant, they have to love their profession more than the average person. It is important that they have to be active in fields within architecture that fundamentally define the outcome of a project. Structural engineering is one such field. It was not an accident that we chose Hearture as the name of our company as we are talking about the heart of these projects. Understanding this specialised profession is important to ensure that we have a true vantage point that can encompass the project’s entirety if necessary. On the other hand, I can say that there is simply no solution for providing independent, dissenting opinions at the moment since professionals in this industry are not interested in creating such typically small professional firms. However, their significance is ever increasing since the crisis affects everyone, and a much higher value is placed on dissenting professional opinions nowadays. I already spend a lot of time teaching and organising professional training sessions; therefore, this direction is the perfect one for me.
Ákos Pohl

Of course, it would be interesting to see the scope of the mistakes that dissenting opinions might point out. To know from what kind of trouble developers might be spared by a good independent consultant.

I could go into detail about several cases where the planning was beautiful but simply unworkable, and thus instead of a dream palace, the customers received a nightmare. Here, the professional partners lost not only money but a significant part of their reputation. However, I have seen many cases throughout my professional career where our customers saved on additional expenses in the order of magnitude of several million EUR by hiring us to review the work of the architectural firm for the meagre sum of a few thousand euros.
Ákos Pohl

All in all, what we are seeing is that the real estate industry, including the architectural profession itself, was not ruined by the crisis; instead, the need for caution and control seeped into this field as well. Developers and project managers are much more forward-looking now, and they do not wish to rely solely on an architectural firm, no matter how good its market reputation may be. Furthermore, the consulting process does not add significant time or customer expenses to the project compared to its overall duration and cost; however, it does increase the security of the implementation to a significant extent.