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Why is construction so backward? - reviewed by John Worthington

We are grateful to John Worthington, Founder, DEGW, and Chairman of Building Futures, for his review of Why is construction so backward? If you wish to contribute your review please email Ian Abley. We welcome a discussion.

Why is construction so backward? James Woudhuysen, Ian Abley, Stefan Muthesius and Miles Glendinning

In recent years British construction has been particularly vocal in its self-flagellation. Much of the critique has focused on the structure of the industry and has been inwardly focused.

Why is construction so backward?, whilst hard hitting, provides a new outwardly focused perspective to explain the shortcomings of the industry.

The proposition propounded is that much of the industry's ineffectiveness to deliver good quality, good value buildings in a timely manner, is the result of old mindsets, constraining planning bureaucracy and looking for solutions to inappropriate questions. Why is construction so backward? is prepared to be daring, reframe the question and posit new paradigms.

The authors cross disciplines and professions and the book draws its inspiration by reflecting effortlessly across the literature of property, business, market research and construction. It is a kaleidoscope of ideas, examples and images, that gives it a refreshing depth of insight and breadth of vision. It recognises the malaise to be equally about perceptions and processes, as it is about investment, technical resource or innovation.

Within the sector of housing it highlights the fact that production has declined since the 1950s, when industrialization was embraced, and identifies lack of long-term vision, professional elitism, and conservatism as barriers to a fundamental rethink of production.

Opportunities for real technological change have been clouded by political rhetoric. Batch runs of craft assembled factory units make a poor companion to the strides made in mass housing production in Japan or the Netherlands.

What the book lacks in academic depth it gains in its breadth of exploration. It is not nihilistic, but clear in its analysis, and positive in its pointers. It is stimulating, provocative, and could provide valuable foundations to kick-start a broader debate.

John Worthington, Founder, DEGW, Chairman of the CABE/RIBA collaboration Building Futures, and Visiting Professor at the School of Architecture, University of Sheffield

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Sustaining Architecture in the Anti-Machine Age, edited by Ian Abley and James Woudhuysen

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