HKA's CRUX 2021 Report has now been released: titled 'Operating in Uncertain Times', it presents an analysis of regional claims and disputes, their causes and secondary causes. I was pleased to have been able to contribute to this years' report from my perspective as a structural engineer.  

I won't attempt to summarise the report findings here, but it is a must read for anyone with an interest in construction disputes (partaking or preventing). I want to focus on the ever-present 'incorrect design' - now the leading cause of disputes in Europe - and share a couple of thoughts as to how the industry might react to this. 

First of all, why do design errors arise? A topic within itself of course but aside from skills shortages (and, perhaps, covid-driven working practices that aren't quite working yet?), I see the way that design as a package is approached can allow errors to occur or be missed. I often see errors arising where the design process has been rushed, or handed over to another design team mid-project. At the heart of these is a misunderstanding of how design works: it is very difficult to compress, because it typically involves iteration and collaboration. Changing design teams midway through a project cuts that iterative process. Earlier rationale and knowledge is lost. Design is not an 'off the shelf' product, but a continuous process. Behind a simple MEP/structural coordination choice might be hours of carefully coordinated design iterations to test ideas and hone a solution. 

Something that seems a design error on the face of it may have several root causes including a change in scope, and 'scope gap' between designers. These are important when considering the performance of a designer. There may be or have been factors involved that aren't apparent without a full forensic investigation. Whether or not something was 'incorrect' (or indeed 'negligent') is often down to a unique and broad-ranging context of the construction project. The early engagement of a technical expert to unpick those various factors will generate confidence, or otherwise, in a parties' position. We at HKA, and we have heard our clients echo this, are finding that getting the full technical picture earlier can help to speed along the resolution of a dispute (or prevent one even crystallising). 

In short, design for construction is complex. Appreciating the role of the designers and their innate knowledge of projects - and the role of forensic designers to glean that knowledge after the event - might be key to driving down claims.   

Please join our European launch of CRUX 2021 where I'll be joining the panel to discuss the findings.