1st Edition

Professionalism for the Built Environment

By Simon Foxell Copyright 2019
    404 Pages
    by Routledge

    404 Pages
    by Routledge

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    In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, this new book provides thought provoking commentary on the nature of the relationship between society, the prevailing economic system and professionalism in the built environment. It addresses the changing responsibilities of professionals and in particular their obligation to act in the wider public interest. It is both an introduction to and an examination of professionalism and professional bodies in the sector, including a view of the future of professionalism and the organisations serving it. 

    Simon Foxell outlines the history of professionalism in the sector, comparing and contrasting the development of the three major historic professions working in the construction industry: civil engineering, architecture and surveying. He examines how their systems have developed over time, up to the current period dominated by large professional services firms, and looks at some options for the future, whilst asking difficult questions about ethics, training, education, public trust and expectation from within and outside the industry. 

    The book concludes with a six-point plan to help, if not ensure, that the professions remain an effective and essential part of both society and the economy; a part that allows the system to operate smoothly and easily, but also fairly and to the benefit of all.

    Essential reading for built environment professionals and students doing the professional studies elements of their training or in the process of applying for chartership or registration. The issues and lessons are applicable across all building professions.

    1. Introduction

    2. The beginnings of professionalism

      • Before professionalism (pre-1818)
      • The establishment of professional bodies
      • The early years of professionalism

    3. The foundations of professional organisations

      • Association
      • Knowledge
      • Standards & ethics
      • The public interest

    4. Mature professionalism

      • The post-war consensus
      • The end of deference
      • Formalisation of education
      • The impact of Thatcherism / neoliberalism
      • Globalism
      • The range of institutions

    5. The wider picture

      • Ethics and responsibilities
      • Society and questions of trust
      • Value and values
      • Comparisons with professions in other sectors
      • International comparisons - Europe and beyond

    6. The professional & professionalism

      • Integrity and impartiality
      • Trustworthy
      • Competence and currency
      • Responsibility
      • A duty of care to client/s
      • A duty of care to society and the environment
      • Reputation and standing

    7. The role(s) of professional institutions

      • Membership and imprimatur
      • Professional services
      • Keeper of the flame and/or conscience of the profession
      • Learned society: Knowledge resources & development
      • Codes of conduct / ethics
      • Compliance / discipline
      • Education and training (including ongoing CPD)
      • Mutual support
      • Special interest groups
      • Collective forum and voice
      • Cultural activity
      • Social club / hub
      • Promotion & PR
      • Sectoral advancement

    8. The workings of professional Institutes

      • Governance & status
      • Codes of ethics
      • Big tents vs specialist interest groups
      • Oversight of education & entry
      • Quasi-governmental and legal roles
      • Intellectual property
      • Conflicts of interest
      • The survival instinct

    9. Recent developments in professionalism

      • Social change & expectations
      • Technological developments
      • Industry change and the relationship with the construction industry
      • Government policies & initiatives
      • Professional education and training
      • Professional individuals / Professional service companies
      • Celebrity & the media
      • Pros and cons of professional membership
      • Work across borders / internationalism
      • A decline in status / influence / relevance?
      • The environmental challenge (climate change, pollution, biodiversity, resource use etc.)

    10. Significant current trends in the built environment sector

      • Multi-disciplinarity & diversity
      • Building Information Modelling (BIM)
      • Big data, aggregator websites, social networking etc.
      • Evidence based design
      • Performance based contracting
      • Zero/low carbon
      • Climate adaptation / Resilience
      • Corporate social responsibility
      • Retrofit / emphasis on existing building stock

    11. The future

      • Future scenarios
      • Edge Commission of Inquiry
      • Agents for change
      • Professional institutions
      • Non-professional bodies & groups
      • Corporate professionalism
      • Professionals and professionalism
      • Professional education
      • Entry routes into the professions
      • New roles for professionalism
      • Alternatives to professionalism
      • New Professionalism


    Simon Foxell is Principal of The Architects Practice. He has designed buildings across the UK including houses, schools and offices and in 1996 was awarded the prestigious Benedictus Prize by the Union of International Architects. In recent years he has worked with schools and local authorities, designing new facilities and advising on development programmes. He was lead design adviser to Birmingham City Council’s Transforming Education programme from 2007 to 2010.

    He is a core member and co-ordinator of the Edge, the built environment think tank, and is on the Green Construction Board’s Routemap group. He is a former member of the RIBA Council and Board and was Chair of both Policy and Strategy and RIBA London region as well as Vice chair of Practice and Building Futures.

    He is a member of several Design Review panels including the Home Office’s, The London Borough of Islington and Shape East. He is an RIBA Client Adviser, member of the Academy of Urbanism and a former Board member of the European Forum for Architectural Policies.

    "Mind changing! It is relatively rare to read a book that actually changes your mind about something that really matters to you. Refreshingly, this is such a book. As one who has consistently and confidently prophesised the decline, if not demise, of the professions of the built environment, I am now renewed with a fresh hope for their future. Simon Foxell has, somewhat inspiringly, given hindsight, insight and foresight to this engaging subject. Hindsight, in the way he scholarly describes their historical foundations and subsequent flourishing. Insight, by skilfully examining what some see as their present malfunctioning, misdirection and marginalisation. And, most of all, foresight, for his strategic exploration of their future prospects, promise and potential with his outline ‘six-point plan’ and collaborative sense of purpose. The challenge of reforming the professions of the built environment remains daunting, but I am now imbued with a greater feeling of optimism, expectancy and direction."

    John Ratcliffe, Professor Emeritus DIT & Founder, The Futures Academy

    "Professionalism for the Built Environment raises our awareness of the foundations of professional society and sets the agenda for a radical reappraisal of the educational and institutional structures we may require in the future. This book stimulates debate on the professions’ responsibilities to civil society, company and self.  It provides an authoritative briefing for practitioners, educators, clients and all concerned with creating a built environment that is equitable, fosters wellbeing and improves livelihoods."

    John Worthington, Co-founder DEGW, Formerly Commissioner of Independent Transport Commission and Director The Academy of Urbanism

    "This comprehensive discourse explores the origins, development, rise and uncomfortable transformation of our Built Environment Professional Institutions, all fascinating. For more than 25 years Simon Foxell has been exploring these ideas and has assembled a great story. This book concludes with a collective challenge that is beautifully articulated by considering the many pressures facing a new young chartered professional. Yes, professionalism clearly has great value but, in a rapidly changing world with automation threatening, can the institutions pool their efforts for the greater good of humankind and our planet? This is essential reading for aspirants, practitioners and academics."

    Robin Nicholson, Senior Partner Cullinan Studio

    "A real gem for any professional interested in improving collaboration amongst built environment professionals. Professionalism in the Built Environment touches on the past to inform an effective plan for the future of our industry. As a Head of Department for Architecture and the Built Environment, I am delighted to see a book that will bring the professions closer together and will become the ‘must have’ for all built environment professionals."

    Elena Marco, Head of Department Architecture and the Built Environment, University of the West of England

    "This book looks at the professions’ need to reinforce the actual and perceived value which ultimately justifies their existence: highly topical and of genuine importance in the UK but also globally. The author treads a careful path between dispassionate and survivalist analysis, with wide-ranging examples from earlier times and other sectors. The thorny issue of whether professionals can reclaim the benevolent arbiter role without having any (or much) "skin in the game" is addressed as is the role of ethics, supported by a comparison of institute code of conduct topics."

    John Field, Past President CIBSE (2016-17)

    "Anyone entering the built environment professions should ground themselves in an understanding of how today’s society arrived at its current relationship with the professions. As the labour market evolves, the dominant status of professions within our class structure is being challenged. Professional practices are definitive in governing how we build, but must be clearer in guiding the professional to reconcile competing priorities, balancing public good with private gain. In the future, built environment professions will have to reckon with the planet’s most serious challenges. We should therefore be both critical and concerned with the fitness of built environment professions. This book equips the professionals themselves to make that assessment of their profession. It is accessible to all who work building our future, yet stands on the shoulders of the intellectual giants who have analysed the emergence of professions over three centuries – a history intertwined with that of the RSA." 

    Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive, Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA)

    "This is an energetic and engaged survey of ethical issues raised in the evolution and current state of the professions most responsible for the built environment in England. It offers a stimulating and valuable contribution to debates over the ethical responsibilities of professionals more broadly." 

    Melissa Lane, Class of 1943 Professor of Politics, Princeton University

    "Simon Foxell continues the important work begun by RIBA Past President Frank Duffy. For the profession of architecture to survive and prosper we must build a body of knowledge that is of more value and accessible to society and to our clients. In an era when most service delivery is advertised as being ‘professional’ we must set new standards for the definition of ethical professionalism. We must play our part in the huge challenge to diversify and rejuvenate the building industry, improving how we develop and retain talented people from all walks of life.  Deploying artificial intelligence alongside these strategies, we can increase the perceived value of our service, advice and design solutions. We can thereby expect in due course to receive a more valuable return for that contribution.  Simon Foxell’s book provides us with vital and insightful analysis towards achieving this goal."

    Benjamin Derbyshire, President, Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)

    "This is a hugely interesting and important book examining professionalism and the built world in which we live. Ranging from the occupationally created social order of Florence in the middle ages to Nazi Germany’s use of architecture, and ending up at today, Foxell has produced a magnificent portrait of how society, economic structures and the built environment intermesh. A compelling analysis is presented of how engineering, surveying and architecture impact on us today. A truly impressive book, which I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone interested in understanding why their lived experience is as it is."

    Professor Gerard Hanlon, Queen Mary University of London

    "In an era of abundant information, rapidly developing machine intelligence and an erosion of public confidence in ‘experts’, questions of what it means to be professional have never seemed more pressing.  This excellent book is a timely reminder of the importance of professional values, not only for all those involved in construction and the built environment, but for society more generally. Simon Foxell has provided an honest, insightful and compelling analysis of contemporary challenges facing built environment professionals and their institutions. In doing this he has positioned the role of professionalism where it should be: in supporting the creation and development of a built environment that is fit for everyone. A very worthy achievement indeed. Highly recommended." 

    Professor John Connaughton, Head of Construction Management and Engineering, School of the Built Environment, University of Reading

    "This is a must have book for professionals working in the built environment. It is absolutely bursting with useful information and insight. For the new entrant there is a clear explanation of what it means and how to be a true professional. For the student of history there is a comprehensive and intriguing account of how we got here and why we are the way that we are. For practitioners and business leaders there is a compelling analysis of the current state of the professional services sector with many clues about how to build a value proposition based on professionalism and avoid the commodified race to the bottom. For leaders of the professions there are both challenges and supportive suggestions about how we need to deliver social value in a highly competitive and fast changing market economy. I always like a book that helps organise my, often disparate, thoughts and this was definitely one of those!

    Ed McCann, Director of Expedition Engineering and Vice President of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

    "This book provides a fascinating insight into the history of the professions of architects, surveyors and civil engineers, which puts into perspective many of the challenges resulting from the fragmentation of the construction industry we are currently witnessing. By drawing out the parallels between the industries in the UK, Germany, France and America the book explores the organisation of professional bodies further. It lays out the bare facts of the challenges to our industry, which we need to learn from and use to push our profession forward." 

    Caroline Buckingham, Director caroline buckingham architects and RIBA Vice President, Practice & Profession

    "Given the rise in public awareness and expectations of the ‘professional’ in any sector of the economy, there has never been a more important time to explore the key aspects of professionalism in the built environment arena. Given the Grenfell Tower disaster and similar catastrophic events around the world, the need for a professional approach when addressing construction methods, building regulations, health and safety guidelines, environmental statute and land use policy is a prerequisite to ensure public confidence. Otherwise, fundamental ethical behaviour and the financial transparency of the property sector are put at risk. This is a superbly written review of a wide range of professional areas all supporting the built environment and I endorse it wholeheartedly."

    Dr Louise Brooke-Smith, Partner Arcadis LLP – UK Head of Town Planning and Head of Social Value, RICS Past Global President (2014-15)

    "The professions need to move with the times and what Simon Foxell’s book points out is that professional organisations do have the ability to change with society’s changing demands, even though often it involves a lot of kicking and screaming. His historical analysis of the development of professions globally and across the principle disciplines of the built environment is both comprehensive and eminently readable. From the incongruous detail of the 1887 RIBA entrance requirements, through the turbulent history that led to the development in the 1930s of the separation of the profession from its regulating authority, to Egan, Morrell and the rise and fall of CABE, this is a definitive study that will stand the test of time. Perhaps for longer than the professional climate it defines."

    Peter Clegg, Senior Partner Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

    "How best can the professions, for whom certainty is a touchstone, navigate such very uncertain times? Simon Foxell finds a compelling path that starts with a meticulous and fascinating examination of the development of construction professions and proceeds to an illuminating comparison of their cultures across continents. Running through these stories are masterful analyses of both foundational and contemporary questions of ethics and morals and their intersection with practicalities. Through these Foxell suggests the way ahead. Although the focus is on construction professions, all will find much food for thought here. A culmination of two decades of engagement with professional dilemmas, this book goes further and deeper than any other."

    Sunand Prasad, Senior Partner Penoyre & Prasad LLP and RIBA Past President (2007-09)

    "There has never been a more appropriate time to examine the relationship between our built environment professions and the society that they serve. Recent events such as the Grenfell fire and the collapse of Carillion have brought into question the level of trust in which our professionals are held. Simon Foxell has produced a comprehensive review of how the professions in the built environment have developed over the last 200 years and, importantly, addressed what it means to be a professional in this industry today. I commend this book to current practitioners, students and those operating in the policy arena."

    Professor Peter Hansford, Chair of Construction and Infrastructure Policy at University College London and former Chief Construction Adviser to the UK Government

    "This is a book on a subject that should be dull but which is actually engaging and full of vital lessons for society. Tracing the history of three powerful institutes, Foxell shows how dilemmas professionals struggle with today – public interest vs. private gain, occult knowledge vs. openness, established order vs. rapid change – are rooted in how the professions formed and how they guarded their privileges. Proving that this can’t go on, the author offers solutions to keep the professions relevant and valuable. All professionals and policy-makers (as well as clients and the public who rely on them) should act on these solutions."

    Dr Richard Simmons, Chief Executive the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment 2004-11

    "This is a fascinating and important book, which by tracing the historical constitution of professions, leads us to a critical point in the contemporary context, where the service provision aspect of professional life in a financialised world has overwhelmed the professions’ wider responsibilities to society. Foxell ends with a compelling set of suggestions as to how the professions might regain the trust from clients and the public, a trust that has been rapidly eroded in recent years."

    Professor Jeremy Till, Head of Central Saint Martins and Pro Vice-Chancellor Research, University of the Arts London

    "Britain is belatedly waking up to the full damage that will have been done, once all facets of society are conceived in terms of efficiency maximisation and return on investment, especially in the built environment. In this urgent and timely study, Simon Foxell looks at the ethos of professionalism, and how it carves out a space of responsibility between market and state. As Foxell convincingly argues, a revival of long-standing professional ideals will be crucial, if we're to achieve a better balance between social and economic responsibilities in future."

    William Davies, Reader in Political Economy, Goldsmiths, University of London

    "Simon Foxell captures so well the broad sweep of the history, the current state and the potential futures and dilemmas of the built environment professions – especially the threats to their ethical codes and integrity and how their public interest mandate etched into their origins is endangered. This book is enriching. It makes the topic feel urgent. It forces us to ask what kind of cities we want and how the professions need to collaborate across boundaries so cities become the best they can be while addressing the global issues that really matter to all of us."  

    Charles Landry, Author of The Creative City: A Toolkit for Urban Innovators

    "Foxell’s comprehensive reader on ethics, morals and the public interest is a rich mine of information, explanations and discussions providing the reader with many entry points to the subject. You won’t agree with everything, but the important thing is that these subjects become part of our everyday discussions and arguments about how to balance the survival of our professions and the planet." 

    Stephen Hill, Director C2O futureplanners

    "This book is both timely and important, coming as it does in the wake of the Grenfell fire in London, at a time of acute housing shortage in the UK and in the context of global climate change. By charting the evolution of the built environment professions, the author encourages us to consider the changes now required if they are to remain relevant to both society and their members in today’s world."

    Peter Oborn, Director Peter Oborn Associates and former RIBA Vice President International (2011-17)

    "Now that sociologists have largely abandoned serious study of the professions, it falls to those on the inside to do this necessary work. In Professionalism for the Built Environment, architect Simon Foxell embraces this challenge. He combines a much-needed snapshot of the current state of the UK's building professions with an in-depth historical survey explaining how we got here. This presentation of a coherent set of ideas for moving forward could well reinvigorate the entire field of study."

    Professor Tom Spector, Oklahoma State University

    "This book should be read for three fundamental attributes: (1) its description of the building professions together; (2) its description of professionalism as a concept and practice that is constantly under construction; and (3) its in-depth, cross-disciplinary, and cross-national histories of the construction of our building professions. The book's analysis of the building/design professions shows how changes in the concept of a "profession" are always linked to permutations in the economic regime (e.g. capitalism). The story told here is not of an oligopoly of socially-motivated citizens operating outside the market but, rather, of an entrepreneurial class trying to establish a brand. Foxell is much too judicious to use these terms in his precise historical narrative, but that doesn’t diminish the fact of its message nor its call for the need for change."

    Professor Peggy Deamer, Yale University

    "This is an amazingly thorough analysis of how the professions of the built environment have developed. Focusing on architecture, civil engineering and surveying, Simon Foxell tracks how the notion of what it means to be a professional has been influenced by changes in the political and social climate, both in the UK and abroad. He also shows how the relationships between education, the professional institutions and practice have continuously evolved. In this fast changing world, with the increasing impact of technology, globalisation, global warming and events such as the Grenfell Tower disaster, he challenges the professionals through their institutions to re-evaluate their modus operandi and to put the public interest, including concern for the wider environment, first." 

    Jane Wernick, engineersHRW

    "Foxell presents an optimistic overview of current professionalism. This is unbelievably timely in the post-Grenfell era when questions arise about the trust with which construction professionals are held. We have known that a cavernous performance gap exists, but with the highly public exposure of the failing eco-system which created a perfect storm for Grenfell, this has now been extended into a credibility gap. This book provides a critical approach to the past in order to create a view of a better future. A strong case is made for the key Institutes collaborating and rebuilding trust. All professionals need to read this excellent book and re-invigorate our performance, ethics and attitudes, working together across the professions to earn and rebuild public trust."

    Jane Duncan, RIBA Immediate Past President

    "Focusing on the development of the built environment professions in England – with extremely helpful forays into the United States, France and Germany – Simon Foxell’s erudite and lucid Professionalism for the Built Environment provides great clarity on the origins of the rigid institutional carapace originally built to support and protect the built environment professions as well as a thought-provoking reflection on the nature of professionalism. More importantly, Foxell considers how present institutional rigidities are impeding their growth, development and innovation capability… Foxell’s measured and thoughtful book presents an important provocation to the professional institutions, and to the professionals that they represent, to be ignored at their peril."

    Flora Samuel, School of Architecture, University of Reading, Reading, UK. Citation: Flora Samuel (2018): Professionalism: past, present and future, Building Research & Information, DOI: 10.1080/09613218.2018.1502982