Written by Paul Traynor, Director at Light Bureau
When we hear the words ‘VE Day’, I’m sure most right-thinking people will process that as ‘Victory in Europe Day’ and get a warm feeling about our national heritage… plus a day off work!
For those of us in the construction industry that is translated as Value Engineering Day, something to dread rather than celebrate, but it’s a fact of life we cannot ignore.
Some words sound stranger the more you say them and some word combinations sound stranger still. I asked my daughter what she thinks I might be talking about when I say ‘Value Engineering’.
Bearing in mind she has designers for parents perhaps she has some form of genetic memory, a sensory understanding of what that word combination infers? Not at all. Like everyone else who’s normal, to her it sounds odd. My daughter’s interpretation is that it’s . . . ‘engineering that’s valuable, like cars’ . . . as opposed to making something that isn’t important. Fair enough.
I co-presented at Surface in February with Helen Berresford from ID:SR about some projects our practices had realised together. In the Q&A session someone asked us about Value Engineering and I quoted someone who once said
“It doesn’t deliver value and it’s certainly not engineering.”
I checked online and can’t find the person to whom that’s attributed, but to me, it’s a sound definition.
I thought that Value Engineering was a recent concept – or only coined in the last 10 or 15 years – but was surprised to find out that it’s been around since 1942 – just before Victory in Europe day in fact – by Larry Miles for General Electric. Owing to the war, it was necessary to research alternative materials because of limited supplies and ways of building products that were simpler with fewer skilled people and a huge demand for munitions.
As a concept, true Value Engineering does make sense – taking and improving the performance of something by studying it’s function and build, then producing an optimised product that actually improves the previous design. It’s hard to find examples of cheaper but better innovations that don’t just rely on mass production.
How we all enjoy decent quality goods at prices we can afford, like our smart phones. In construction, building off site is a way to achieve good or consistent quality and, crucially, reduces time on site. Prefabricated pods for kitchens and bathrooms are commonly adopted in residential projects. The client doesn’t have to lose something or down-spec and the user gets a product they enjoy. So far so good.
But that’s not generally what takes place in construction projects when all the client’s hopes and aspirations and all the brilliance and innovation invested by the designer get stripped out of the scheme. In the same way, we don’t use the word ‘cheap’ preferring ‘cost-effective’ .
We don’t want to call this what it really is – which is cost-cutting.
Value Engineering is usually a standard deliverable now – a line item in the overall scope of services. Should it be? Or should it be an exceptional exercise because of some unforeseen change in circumstances?