JCT interviews…Michael Haste

In this series we shed some light on some of the key people who are involved with or give their time to support JCT, to ensure that all areas of the construction industry are represented and can contribute to the development of our contracts. We will look at how our interviewees contribute to JCT specifically, and gain their views on JCT’s wider role within the industry.

Michael Haste
JCT Director, Royal Institute of British Architects
Director, Pascal+Watson Architects

Michael Haste is a graduate of the Sheffield University School of Architecture, winning its Stephen Welsh prize for his final year works in 1986, subsequently joining the architectural practice of Sir Norman Foster and Partners straight from his studies. Becoming a registered architect in 1990, Michael then went onto join the small architectural practice of Pascall+Watson in 1993, becoming a Director in 2000, and helping the practice to develop into an internationally recognised company with a current staff of around 150.

Michael works out of their head office in the City of London, with the practice having branch offices in Dublin, Limerick, Abu Dhabi and Doha. His own works, and those of his practice, are largely based in the transportation design sector, with their major works focussed on airports, both domestic and international and on railway stations. In the UK, Michael has led design teams undertaking significant architectural projects at Kings Cross, London Bridge, Blackfriars and St Pancras International Stations and has also worked extensively with Network Rail, Crossrail, London Underground and Docklands Light Railway. Internationally, Michael has designed three new underground stations in Johannesburg and provided peer reviews on proposals for the Sydney Metro. Michael studied and gained a Master’s degree in Construction Law and Arbitration at King’s College, London in 1993-5, but he remains firmly in the design field of his work, whilst being responsible for reviewing all contracts that pass through his office. Michael joined the JCT Board in 2013 representing the Royal Institute of British Architects.

JCT: Michael, how did you first come to be involved with JCT? Why do you think it is important to be involved?

MH: Just over two years ago one of my fellow Directors at Pascall+Watson architects, who was involved with our professional institute, the RIBA, returned from a meeting with them and asked me if I was interested in representing the RIBA on the JCT Board. This came about because my colleague knew of my interest in all matters ‘contractual’ and subsequently this led to my liaising with the RIBA Director of Practice, Adrian Dobson, from where I then went onto succeed the previous RIBA representative. I had not before had any direct involvement with the JCT, but had of course been trained as an architect to use all of their main forms of contract since my student days, those obviously being the Minor, Intermediate and Standard forms of contract as they were in the 1980’s.

I see my involvement at JCT Board level as twofold really – firstly, as a Board Director helping with the necessary running of the business when Board decisions are required, and in doing so working with all of the other Directors in debating the topics of the day leading to those decisions, and then secondly, in representing RIBA members across the country and internationally in being a part of the debate of the role of standard forms of contract across our industry and their necessary development as our working methods continue to change and evolve into new forms of working relationships, procurement methods and ways of designing and constructing buildings.

JCT: You are a member of JCT’s board of directors, representing the Royal Institute of British Architects. There is a long history between RIBA and JCT in terms of the development of the first standard contract. Can you tell us more about RIBA’s current role within JCT?

MH: The RIBA like all other JCT Members has representatives at both Council and Board level and so in representing architects we have a voice at different levels within the JCT, but perhaps most importantly we have an equal voice with the representatives of all of the other JCT member bodies which includes client bodies, consultants and contracting organisations alike. In producing a standard form of contract, albeit there are of course many variant types of standard contracts these days, it is important that as far as possible all parties who may be affected by the terms and conditions of those contracts, are accepting of the duties, obligations and risks that come from those agreements, and to that end each organisation within the JCT obviously must both have its say on change and must represent its members fairly within the day-to day developments that take place. The RIBA has been a founding member of the JCT since its earliest days and it is my hope that I can continue to represent architects for many more years to come and help to continue to deliver change in how contracts are used, understood and developed within the construction industry.

JCT: Do you have any personal career highlights? What are you most proud of about the construction industry as a whole and where do you think it most needs to improve?

MH: Interestingly I think my career highlight came almost immediately after I left my School of Architecture and was asked by the team at Foster Associates to help them develop a new ‘Mediatheque’ building in Nimes in the south of France. This came about because my final year project at University had been to develop designs for this project myself and following help I received from the Foster team I was asked to join them immediately from completing my studies. The building we designed and constructed sat immediately opposite a two thousand year old Roman temple, separated only by a modest three lane town boulevard. In the UK we would rarely be allowed to design contemporary modern buildings in such close historic environments as this, but our work on this particular project turned out to be very successful for the town. Perhaps of a more recent note I am very proud of my design work on the newly redeveloped Blackfriars Station buildings in London, where working off an earlier concept design I developed designs for the wholesale rebuilding of the station across the River Thames with new Station buildings on the north and south banks of the river. A rarely known fact is that this building has the largest photovoltaic array in London sitting on its roof spanning across the river, being visible only to those who rise above ground level.

In terms of the construction industry as a whole I think when client, consultant and contractor alike all pull together as a single team, doing what each does best without treading too much on others toes, then the best solutions are often arrived at. Equally, in my experience when realistic programmes are developed and design work is not constantly subject to re-design and change, then better outcomes are usually achieved.

Sir John Egan’s Rethinking Construction really told us where the construction industry needed to improve and from my perspective as an architect the one element that we ought to be able to resolve better is the shear unpredictability of construction in terms of cost, programme and quality.

JCT: What do you think makes JCT unique? What are the benefits of the way in which JCT contracts are produced?

MH: JCT’s unique attribute must be that it aims to represent all those who seek to be involved in the construction industry and provides them with a platform for intellectual discussion on the merits of apportioning risk, obligations and duties across different elements of contractual undertakings in a way that provides mutual agreement, as far as it is possible to provide, given the fact that we all approach contractual matters from our own professional viewpoints. When backed up by legal precedent and a wealth of case law this provides possibly as good a provision of certainty as parties to a contract may hope to achieve. And that has to be both the uniqueness of JCT as well as its strength. Within my own practice we sign many contracts for our services that arrive with us from across an international spectrum of countries and the one thing that all of them lack as a rule, is standardisation. So each contract is different, has its own vagaries and is uncertain in terms of legal precedent and not surprisingly, vocabulary. With a JCT contract parties can enter into agreements knowing that the agreements have historic precedent and development. In terms of the way contracts are produced it is clear that we all seek ‘immediate’ responses to our needs these days to develop our own standard contracts for particular projects and the Online and Digital services now provided by JCT have started to provide for this need, which is of course being further developed to cover more contract types in the future.

JCT: What do you see as the main challenges for the construction industry over the next five years?

MH: Five years in the construction industry seems a very short space of time, bearing in mind that the Latham Report and Egan’s Rethinking Construction are nearly 21 and 17 years old respectively. I myself have had design projects on my drawing board, sorry computer screen, for up to eight years at most, so 5 years does seem short to me. However, the industry does need to improve its efficiencies and reconsider how projects are to be procured and constructed if not simply because the complexity of design we are able to achieve by computer-aided design these days has far outpaced the construction industries’ abilities to manufacture and fabricate the intricate designs that we can produce. So to some degree design is being held back by manufacture and I see that as being the main area I would like to see the industry move into and of course this comes along with all of the needs that Building Information Modelling will happily provide for if used to its maximum potential.

JCT: Does JCT have a wider role to play in the industry beyond producing contracts?

MH: No business can afford to stand still in today’s hectic marketplace and that is as important to JCT as it is to its competitors. With that comes a need for the JCT to regularly review its core business as well as to review what other opportunities it can manufacture to either increase its turnover or enter new sectors or marketplaces. But if it does this then it must be clear as to what its purpose is and whether its main focus becomes in any way affected by a new venture. Personally I came to know and understand JCT contracts through my original professional training as an architect, by way of study at my School of Architecture, and then later in undertaking the MSc course in Construction Law and Arbitration at King’s College. So for me an obvious area for the JCT is to improve and increase its educational impact on students within the construction industry as a whole, in order to ensure for its future. Having said that today’s world offers many opportunities for businesses but we must review such opportunities in detail and not let them distract from what the JCT does best.