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So long, architect

24 March 2016 | Martin Read


The 1974 classic The Towering Inferno and its connection to building design and subsequent facilities management. Not as tenuous a link as you might think, writes Martin Read.


There’s a piece of dialogue at the end of disaster classic The Towering Inferno that moviegoers would be forgiven for forgetting.


The plot of this 1974 blockbuster is simple: Fashion is dead, along with plenty of the characters. Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Robert Wagner, even OJ Simpson are among the era’s A-listers caught up in a huge fire on a shiny new skyscraper’s opening night. But it’s the film’s joint superstars who share its final lines.


The fire is out, and firefighter Steve McQueen says to the building’s architect, played by Paul Newman, “You know, we were lucky tonight. One of these days you’re gonna kill 10,000 in one of these firetraps, and I’m gonna keep eating smoke and bringing out bodies until somebody asks us... how to build them.”


Newman looks up at the wreckage and at McQueen: “Okay,” he says, “I’m asking,” – to which McQueen replies: “You know where to reach me. So long, architect.”


Now, here’s the thing. The start of the 2016/17 financial year is more than especially significant from two very significant FM perspectives. Most eyes will be on the steady increase in labour costs locked in by the National Living Wage (NLW) start in earnest. But at the same time, 4th April marks the first day that centrally procured public sector projects will require the implementation of building information modelling at Level 2. So while on one hand we’re discussing the incentivisation and morale of facilities personnel, next month should also be when the Newman character’s new-found inquisitiveness gets matched with McQueen’s operational nous for the benefit of all future building design. A new, FM-enabled era of Buildings That Actually Work.


OK, so it’s a bit of a stretch to go from well-established fire codes to the wider role of FM in building design, but what that scene brought to my mind when I saw it was the grand aim of Government Soft Landings: “To align the interests of those who design and construct an asset with those who subsequently use it”.


Famously, McQueen and Newman were contracted to have the same amount of screen time in The Towering Inferno. In terms of BIM and the design-build-operate lifecycle, does FM now have the equal amount of screen time it deserves? FM organisations are at various stages of preparedness, but time marches on. 


Clearly, BIM remains of marginal interest to many in FM whose operational nous may never be brought in to inform the design of a new build. And it is understandable that most eyes will be on the issues of cost and productivity at service delivery level. But the April BIM Level 2 deadline shouldn’t pass unheralded. In fact, Level 3 was just mentioned by George Osborne in the latest budget; a real opportunity remains for FM to make its mark.


Finally this week, some housekeeping; as mentioned, the Living and National Living Wage rates are also on the new financial year agenda. We ran an enjoyable webinar on the topic last week with representatives of Kronos, Aviva, Clean Space and the Living Wage Foundation. It’s available on demand at tinyurl.com/FMW-NLW-Webinar, or check our YouTube channel.


Martin Read is managing editor of FM World