Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Architects - How Stupid Are They?

I've long been amazed by the consist stupidity of architects, so I've collected together a few common 'errors' made by that sad profession. In fairness, architects are stuck between a rock (planning law and a hard place (the building industry). On the other hand, you don't hear them complain, they just do the stupid thing and take the money.

In no particular order:

1. Pigeon Sh*te

It's a sad fact of life that pigeons - rats with wings - have taken over many inner city areas. Originally cliff-dwellers, they find the ledges around buildings ideal to socialize, spread disease, and have diarrhoea. So architects need to learn to design buildings that discourage this practice, rather than give them ideal nesting sites, coffee bars and open plan toilets.

You'd think that now we know that pigeons are serious disease vector, as well as a serious polluter, that architects would learn. You reckon? Next time you pass a new building, look up - there's a one in three chance, in this enlightened age, of finding a heap of guano; the building has been designed with pigeon-friendly ledges.

And if a pigeon craps on your head, there's no point reaching for a tissue - by the time you find it, the pigeon will be miles away.

2. Tall Doors

The Tallest man in the world, ever, was less than 9 feet tall - 99.99% of people are below 7 feet tall. So why do so many buildings have doors that are over 9 feet in height?

The doors are heavy to open, prone to falling off their overworked hinges, plus allowing a draught only otherwise seen in a giraffe house at the zoo.

And on the rare occasions that they are mechanized, you can't help but wonder at the pointless waste of energy.

3. Unique Features

I have no trouble understanding an architect's need to add unique features to a building; they are, let's face it, no strangers to vanity. But doesn't it occur to the idiots that uniquity adds hugely to the costs of maintenance?

Repairing a rectangular pain of glass, two feet by one foot, is a doddle - quick, easy and cheap. You try applying those adjectives to an irregular octagonal window with a sepia tint.

A feature of modern cities is new buildings with bits missing, where they are waiting six months for a replacement - or until they can afford that replacement.  Or worse, a bodge job that makes the building look even sillier than when it was built.

4. Non-balconies

What, pray tell, is the point of a balcony structure that sticks out less than six inches from the front of the building? Especially when over 50% don't even face the sun? Answers, on a postcard please, to the College of Architects.

5. Sound Insulation

The government has forced architects to factor in some heat insulation; these things can be easily measured (though results can be easily, er, faked), but there has been genuine progress in that area. So why don't these professions apply the same brains (and possibly the same materials), to ensure that a chess game at number 24 doesn't deafen those at number 26? Is it really too much to ask?

6. Bedroom Size

There seems to be an understanding that a three-bedroom house can include one bedroom that's six feet by five. You can tell architects are well paid, as they'd never want to live in such a rabbit hutch. Of course they may blame estate agents, claiming that they really designed a store room; but can they be that stupid?

7. Solar Panels

I'm not saying they don't exist, they may, but out of my sight ... but shouldn't they be designing roofs with integral solar panels on new buildings? Shouldn't every new house have solar panels designed in? Aren't architects the group who should be saying "Hey! WE can improve on current designs?"

8. "Fitting in with the neighbourhood style" - 1

Go to Foster and pay him to 'fit in with neighbouring styles', and he'll design in steel and glass. Give him a greenfield site, and he'll design in steel and glass. Ask him for a building that challenges existing expectations, and he'll design in steel and glass.

9. "Fitting in with the neighbourhood style" - 2

The other extreme is arguably worse; the new building is a monstrous parody of the surrounding buildings, a glass and stainless steel travesty of the beautiful buildings of previous eras.

10. Shoulder width is greater than 15 inches

The difference between a squalid and claustrophobic building and a spacious, airy one isn't just the ever diminishing ceiling height, it's also the width of corridors. An office corridor needs to allow at least two people to pass without touching; fail that simple test, and you have a building where people constantly have to squeeze flat against the wall to allow another's passing. Ridiculous!

Not just offices, it's happening in schools too; two 11 year olds can pass easily, but sixth-formers and teachers struggle. No wonder fights break out and discipline breaks down.

 I wonder if it ever occurred to an architect that their work actually affected people's lives? Silly question. Of course not - there's no profit in such weird thoughts.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

UK Pension Tax

For twenty years, successive governments have raped and pillaged private pensions, allowing companies 'pension holidays' in the good times, and wholesale closure of schemes in the bad times. Now they want to use their success at impoverishing private pensioners as a stick to beat public sector pensioners with.

As ever, the government's case is a sham, based on half truths, and carefully forgetting their own part in the public sector pension 'crisis'.

But on closer examination, the government's role is clear.

Take two public sector pensions; the teachers, and the NHS workers. Similar schemes, both built in the day that a fair pension was taken for granted, and a generous public sector pension was the one 'perk' of an underpaid profession.

Currently, the teachers pension scheme is not in deficit at all; forcing the teachers to pay more to get less is no more or less than a tax. But the health service scheme is indeed in deficit, and appears to have a weak case in resisting the changes proposed. But why is it in deficit?

In education, some small areas have been privatised; cleaning and cooking, perhaps the grounds too. But in total, a small percentage of jobs have been put out to tender, and so the current scheme members can adequately meet the needs of the pensioner predecessors - as the scheme intended.

But in the health service, legions of staff have been privatised, with new joiners outside the pension scheme; cleaners, porters, laundry staff, even some senior managers, now contracted out in tax-avoiding private companies. In total, while the NHS still has many thousands of staff, the proportion allowed to enter the pension scheme has markedly reduced, leaving a far smaller number to pay the pensions of those who retired before their jobs disappeared.The current staff contributions cannot possibly bear that load; a load created by the government and forced on the NHS, against consistent - if unsuccessful - union arguments.

Why should the workers be forced to pay this bill, a bill created wholly by the government? If the DoH did their sums, they would almost certainly find that those occupational groups within the pension scheme were self-funding; it's the pensions of those groups no longer paying in that is crippling the system.

Few would argue, in isolation, against a delayed retirement age; but as staff can only ever reach 50% of their final salary, once that point was reached, they would no longer be profiting from the employer contribution anyway. And there's the rub; the government has been happy to confuse their dual roles - employer and government. The previous government had already made one raid on pubic sector pensions, with the result that all new employees already have 65, not 60 as their retirement age. If the government had stolen private sector pensions (rather than simply encouraging employers to), there would have been riots in the city, as well as private sector strikes. So why is it OK to steal public sector pensions, just because it's the only perk they have left?